Marcel Duchamp was first introduced to chess by older brothers Raymond and Jacques at the turn of twentieth century, around the same time as he began to make his first committed attempts at painting and drawing. Art and chess were central elements of the Duchamp family milieu; activities practised with intellectual rigour and ambition. The game of chess was to accompany Duchamp for the rest of his life as a focus for his mental energy and as a glass through which he viewed art and life.
Essentially, Tom Hackney’s Chess Paintings, which are based on the great chess games of Marcel Duchamp, make conceptual reference to two significant texts of the 20th century, one being Duchamp’s famous ‘preface’ to The Large Glass (1915–1923), which he wrote on a slip of paper around 1915 and later, in 1934, published in the Green Box.
Tom Hackney: Corresponding Squares: Painting the Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp
Francis Naumann Fine Art, New York | World Chess Hall of Fame, Saint Louis, Missouri
“Heeding Marcel Duchamp’s hope, expressed in a 1946 interview in the Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, that future artists would ‘…put painting once again at the service of the mind,’ British artist Tom Hackney has created a new-millennium style of geometric abstraction based on the grid and executed following tenets of process art.”
Upon first glance at the tessellated surfaces of Tom Hackney’s paintings, the mind’s eye is flooded with images by the artists that these canvases subtly recall. The austere sincerity of the neo-plastic explorations of de Stijl founders Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, the chance-based mathematical abstractions of François Morrelet, the visual assault of the early op-art works of Larry Poons, and the later prints of Anni Albers, rooted in the refined geometry of the experimental textile designs from her days at the Bauhaus, all bear distinct but distant formal resemblances to Hackney’s rectilinear arrangements of line, shape, and color.
Since 2009, a crucial material for Tom Hackney’s art has been readymade chess data derived from games played by Marcel Duchamp. In 1923, Duchamp famously claimed to have given up art for chess, preferring the latter’s abstract beauty to the more concrete exercises of the former. Hackney’s choice of this specific material, enlisted in order to further the project of an ‘abstract’ art, therefore plugs him into a powerful network of historical dynamics.
Tom Hackney’s Chess Paintings are made by translating sets of found chess data into abstract paintings by way of a small number of discrete technical procedures and material components. The linen ground is divided into an eight-by-eight square grid, about the size of a tournament chessboard. Once a game is chosen, each of its constituent moves, from opening to endgame, is translated one by one into a single coat of either white or black gesso. Set down in sequence, each new coat is superimposed upon previous ones, so that earlier passages of play become obscured by subsequent developments.