Ryan Hackett

Bethesda, MD | by November 20, 2011

Maybe the most nat­ural way for me to present a stu­dio visit with Ryan Hack­ett is by offer­ing a subjectively-​​captioned pho­to­graphic tour of his cur­rent studio-​​home, a one-​​story house on a tree-​​lined street in Bethesda, Mary­land, near Rock Creek Park, where he lives with his wife and two young chil­dren.  Its patio-​​garden is under heavy ren­o­va­tion, and Ryan makes his paint­ings there, in a small out­build­ing.  But his art mak­ing is everywhere.

I’ve known Ryan’s work for about ten years, from the sum­mer of 2000, when he was a found­ing mem­ber of the artist col­lec­tive Decatur Blue, located on the floor above an auto-​​body shop on Ver­mont Avenue a block away from the 9:30 Club. In those days, as well as now, his work was hybrid:  as an exam­ple, an abstract paint­ing in a plex­i­glass box was con­nected to a fog-​​machine which would blow a cloud of vapor across it, so it was sonic and per­for­ma­tive, as you watched and heard the machine work.  Not great for pre­serv­ing the paint­ing, but the piece was unforgettable.

After Decatur Blue (along with Sig­nal 66, another DC inde­pen­dent venue) lost their spaces, he wisely left DC with his wife to get an MFA at the San Fran­cisco Art Insti­tute, grad­u­at­ing in 2007, return­ing here to work. And in 2010, he received the Sond­heim Prize for his show in Bal­ti­more.  As I said in the attached video from the Kojo Namdi show, what was truly sig­nal in Ryan’s pres­ence in this area was that he actu­ally chose to come back here, as an aes­thetic deci­sion and a career choice…

Ryan e-​​mailed me that he was hav­ing a show in late Octo­ber, in New York, Nat­ural Syn­thet­ics, at the Arse­nal Gallery in Cen­tral Park, so would I want to see what was up with the new stuff?  Absolutely.  So this first image is from the kitchen, a crib vis­i­ble, as well as a paper-​​wrapped shell of a tur­tle, con­nected to another white box, by an elec­tri­cal cord. On the right is an organ, which Ryan retrieved from its almost land­ing in a dump­ster at the Katzen Art Museum at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity.  And what’s audi­ble are insect noises, from another piece in the room.

 

The next image is closer.  Each sculp­tural piece in his show also has an audio com­po­nent, so they’re never only sculp­tures, but venues for per­for­ma­tive events, cre­at­ing a fur­ther level of abstrac­tion.  Next image is one of Ryan’s ear­lier paint­ings, in the same room, of a photo-​​reproduction of an owl super­im­posed by an extremely abstract form, and what’s sig­nif­i­cant in this piece, as in all his work, is that these forms are intended to merge, as if they imply each other’s presences.

 

The rad­i­cal mys­tery of that con­junc­tion may be why Ryan Hack­ett makes art.  These are not hip con­trivances, but real inquiries into the deep, obvi­ous cre­ativ­ity seen in nat­ural form, and how con­scious human aes­thetic inten­tions may be — ought to be seen — as also fun­da­men­tally nat­ural.  So their improb­a­ble union may seem impro­vi­sa­tional, and sure, that’s what it is — but remem­ber what seri­ous grace has emerged from jazz and rock impro­vi­sa­tional expressions…

So then, here’s Ryan inside, with his eyes semi-​​closed, then out­side in the patio under con­struc­tion, and finally at the entrance to his paint­ing stu­dio.  He doesn’t like to be pho­tographed, for all the right rea­sons, but here the three images are.

To these next two images taken from one of his newest dip­tychs, in his paint­ing stu­dio… What Ryan has always moved sort of relent­lessly into are hybridiza­tions of the human and the nat­ural, whether visual, phys­i­cal, or audi­ble, and his new paint­ings are fur­ther such inves­ti­ga­tions.  This time, he’s merg­ing images of human objects, like a hand-​​held video cam­era, with nat­ural forms, like a cicada, and his impro­vi­sa­tional abstrac­tions are more com­plex, and more wildly expressive.

Such abstract expres­sions used to be ends in them­selves, con­sid­er­ing artists like Franz Klein or Jack Younger­man, where sheer painterly energy, or the beauty of abstract nat­ural form was plenty enough. But it’s, uh, the 21st cen­tury… so.  What’s Ryan doing?

This next image is another fierce union of human struc­tures — a roof antenna — and an elk’s horn, by an even more impos­ing and com­plex set of abstract forms.

Ryan says, in his press release: “As our cul­ture moves fur­ther from the nat­ural world, we con­tinue to pull cer­tain ele­ments of it along with us. The more we pull these ele­ments along, the more bizarre their man­i­fes­ta­tion. Nature relax­ation CDs, pot­ted plants, and cap­tive ani­mals pro­vide a few eerily sooth­ing exam­ples of how we attempt to remain con­nected to nature while fur­ther embed­ding our­selves in urban environments.”

But there’s every rea­son to see these works as alle­gories.  These 21st cen­tury days seem to be all about the ungovern­able con­di­tions of both nature and human cul­ture, and our best art reflects the beau­ties and the truths of this unfold­ing, vast drama. Ryan Hackett’s hybrids — sculp­tural, sonic, or painted — demon­strate how both the nat­ural and the human worlds can be rec­on­ciled, assim­i­lated — and over­whelmed — by a com­mand­ing abstrac­tion, that may rep­re­sent fate, dharma, divin­ity, and/​or the endur­ing, essen­tial power of the unknown…

To see more of his work go to  www.ryanhackett.com and to G Fine Art.


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