Not everyone sees the connection between civic engineering and fine arts, but Kyle Hackett does.
During his sophomore year at the University of Delaware, Hackett switched his civic engineering major to fine arts. He thought both fields shared some of the same principles: having the time and space to generate your own ideas and to think about “what you want to think about,” he said.
Hackett will speak at 7 p.m. Friday, July 13, in the Hultquist Center as part of the Visual Arts Lecture Series. He’ll discuss his path from undergraduate school to working as a professional artist.
This is Hackett’s first time visiting Chautauqua Institution.
“It’s a lot to take in,” Hackett said. “What I appreciate the most is the respect for creative arts, and how people outside the art school have an interest in that. It seems like you have access to a lot of culture all at once, and people are really taking advantage of it.”
He was a “tinkerer” growing up, Hackett said, and “always drawing.” Studying engineering his freshman year made sense because he thought it would allow him to solve civic problems creatively. But Hackett began studying fine arts instead, the following year, when engineering wasn’t what he’d anticipated.
“For me, there wasn’t enough creative freedom, and I felt constrained,” Hackett said.
Hackett, a visual artist, primarily crafts oil paintings but has worked with other mixed media as well. He was particularly inspired by Dutch and Flemish masters who employed the seven-layer technique, an intricate painting process that “only people who had the luxury of time could know,” he said.
Hackett’s work is centered on self-reflection. At the start of his career, this was “daunting,” he said, particularly at his first solo exhibition. Since then, Hackett has grown comfortable with showcasing his work, even when the subject matter is relatively personal.
“It’s no longer intimidating because you recognize that we’re human,” Hackett said. “And to be human, it means to be flawed, so we all have these insecurities and these things, but not everyone is willing to talk about it or put it out there.”
With his work, Hackett hopes to evoke empathy from people and to “reconcile the past with the present,” he said. He considers his position in the art world in relation to artists whose techniques he now studies and emulates, and questions how they compare to one another.
Hackett received his master’s degree in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2013, and has been teaching art at American University since last year.
His work was featured at a production of Othello at American University last winter. Professor of Theater Caleen Jennings produced a modern version of the play with added “stage combat, a solo saxophone, original artwork, and a multiracial cast,” according to American University’s website.
“Kyle Hackett’s artwork and the moving collages created by the cast sparked meaningful dialogue and enabled our ensemble to face some of the tough issues in this play,” Jennings told American University’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“A lot of my inspiration is a self-reflection on my position within art history and my position within contemporary society,” Hackett said. “When I say ‘position,’ I mean socioeconomic, racial and cultural positions, and how I measure up to that.”
Hackett often paints himself as a “sitter,” or someone who would pose for paintings during the 18th or 19th century. On his website, Hackett says he “hopes to foster new realities and new ways of being understood as not brown or white, wealthy or poor, but human” with his work.
“By opening up a conversation about what painting used to be and where it is now,” Hackett said, “there’s new territory to