Artist Kyle Hackett's Moving Homage to the Augustus Washington Daguerreotype
Kyle Hackett is a young artist (born in 1989), but evidently gifted beyond his years. This past June, the Washington Post reported that he won the ten thousand dollar "Best in Show" prize in the Bethesda Painting Awards, outdoing seven other finalists. Hackett is a 2013 graduate in the Masters of Fine Arts from the Hoffberger School of Painting, Maryland Institute of Art. According to the school's alumni page, "Hackett sees art as a ‘powerful instrument of social transformation.’ By understanding its history, he says, he can inspire others to understand differences in social, racial, and economic identities through his work." Readers can and should visit the Kyle Hackett Studio here, and also the artist's facebook page.
I learned about Hackett because of his painting, After John Brown, an oil on aluminum portrait that presents an homage to John Brown's familiar 1840s "vow" daguerreotype, made by African American photographer, Augustus Washington. In a recent article by John Seed in the Huffington Post arts and culture section (22 Dec.), Hackett's After John Brown is featured as one of the ten most memorable paintings from 2014. The article quotes Hackett's own commentary on his work:
"This is a self-referential portrait. I recall the image of insurgent abolitionist, John Brown and his declaration of war on slavery. I made when my brother faced trial in court and was labeled as a young black male, despite being of mixed race. He was incarcerated.
The pressed hand represents hope or a passage back into time that would allow me to participate and give a testimony. Out of desperation to be authentically heard, I broke the illusion of painting/underpainting with my handprint. I satirically indicate a touch of criminal identity (fingerprints) prosecution, inner-rage and the doubt of overcoming or defending race when on trial."Journalist Seed nicely concludes: "The mark of the artist's hand serves as a signature and an accusation, giving this work both tremendous immediacy and a lingering sense of moral challenge."