Friday, November 7, 2014

                              a visit with Charles Hackwork


Does your space influence your work?

Yes. The space does influenced my work. Before my son was born 12 years ago, my studio was in a 2nd floor bedroom. I had a wall that was 8 feet high and 12 feet long. The paintings I produced in that room tended to be 8 feet tall and 8 or 9 feet long. Once my son was born and I moved my studio down to the basement, my work became much looser. For several years I worked with pouring paint onto the canvas to create semi-abstract pieces based on maps. The unfinished floor had drains which allowed me a lot of freedom. The current body of work consists of large scale drawings. I pin the paper directly to the walls. My ceiling is 6'-4" high so the largest drawings are about 6'-2" in height. I work standing up and draw directly onto the paper so I don't have any supports or guides to anchor my arm. This allows for broad gestural movements. 


Do you rely on new technologies in your practice?

No. My work is very much old school. I am currently using willow charcoal on paper. It is quite basic. For me drawing is a direct channel to my subconscious. I've been working on a lot of paintings lately but I never feel happy with the result and end up cutting them up into little pieces. But with drawing, there is no hesitation. I simply put charcoal to paper and images magically appear.


What’s your favorite work you’ve ever created and why?

I've been making and showing work for about 30 years so that is a difficult one to answer. For me the latest work is always the best. Having said that, there is a large painting from 1999 called From Mud to Miracle which I am quite proud of. It is a dream like narrative and was influenced by the Scottish painter Steven Campbell and the British artist Stanley Spencer.


How has your practice changed over time?
 I started painting seriously in the early to mid 1980's. My earliest influences were Francis Bacon and David Hockney. So my earliest works were large scale paintings that explored the figure-ground dichotomy. They were very colourful and loose. Around this time the European Iceberg hit Canada and we all became familiar with the Transvangarde (Clemente, Cucchi and Chia). As well German artists such as Joseph Beuys and Anslem Kiefer really influenced me. My work became very organic. The colours became dark and earthy. Cocoon like shapes hovered in blackness. Large organic pods held figures in various states of metamorphosis.
Then in the early 1990's I began to explore installation. Large oil stick drawings on the wall, sculpture and found objects littered the gallery space. I created a series of 3 installations called The Theatre of Reconstruction, Parts 1, 2 and 3, with themes of healing and transformation. In the mid-90's I stopped showing my work and studied transformational psychotherapy and expressive arts. I continued to make work but didn't show again until 1998. When I returned to series painting, my focus shifted to dreamlike narratives. I worked that way for about 3 or 4 years. During that time I did a lot of research into narrative painting from the Renaissance to contemporary work. After a while I felt glutted, I couldn't look at complex narratives any more. I began to explore abstract imagery. Two artist really influenced and inspired me at that time; Graham Peacock and Landon MacKenzie. This lead into about 10 years of abstract work based loosely on maps and mapping.
About 3 years ago, I decided to renovate my studio. During the few months I was working in the studio I couldn't paint so I started doing small drawings. These small drawings led to the larger narrative drawings that I have been focused on for the past 3 years.
Tell us about your process for creating a new body of work?

I spend a lot of time looking at art that inspires me. For this body of work, I looked at Bosch, Brueghal (especially the etchings), alchemy and mystical art, etc. I also gather photos and books with images that intrigue me. And then, I put paper on the wall and I start. I usually have an idea for the first figure and start with the eyes, then the nose and mouth, everything else grows from there. I work spontaneously, with no preparatory drawings. Employing a stream of consciousness approach, the drawing shifts and morphs very much the way a dream takes shape. Deep subconscious energies emerge into form and in their process of manifesting, their meaning and purpose becomes known. As the drawing develops I start to make decisions based on composition. I trust in the process and allow for strange juxtapositions to occur. 

Thanks Charles for the studio visit!
To explore Charles's archive dating back to 1985 visit: