Amidst The Flowers, I Tell the Hours
7th - 28th August 2021
This simple, poetic motto is etched on the face of a sundial to invite passersby to pause and be mindful of the fleeting nature of time. It has an air of the inquisitive and has a certain poignancy during this time of working in isolation as an artist.
The themes of the passing of time and mortality draw together this exhibition from two series of paintings of still life and window subjects. They permeate all aspects, objects, tones, colour and composition. Like the action of the sun on the ancient sundial, the paintings capture a moment, marking the time of day, recording the season. It is a comment on the act of painting in a world of accelerating change
‘Crystals of Time’
A personal reflection on the experience of durée and still-life in the paintings of Angela Hackett.
‘What guides poetic thinking is the conviction that although the living is subject to the ruin of time, the process of decay is at the same time a process of crystallisation’ - Hannah Arendt, ‘The Pearl Diver’
In this exhibition of recent paintings spanning 2019 to 2021, Angela Hackett admits the viewer into the sequestered space of the artist’s studio where, following the tradition of the painted still-life, she observes scenes of contemplative affect encountered at its very edges. While working within her inner-city studio on Bedford Street, Belfast, the subject of Hackett’s paintings return time and again to the same quiet corner of the room, overlooked by a towering, period window. While we enter these intimately scaled works through a narrow depth of field, demarcated by a sill adorned with a small spray of carnations and ornamental bust, the space in Hackett’s canvases appear nonetheless expansive, brimming with prismatic colour and mosaic-like form. It is at the point of this threshold, by the tall airy window looking onto the bustling city-street, that Hackett observes the advancing hours of the day as it prints its projections of sunlight and shade across exterior and interior alike. A recurring motif in each of the studio scenes is also the window’s attendant tree. At times a dominating, anthropomorphic presence as in ‘Winter Daydream’, where its branches rise up, synapse-like, setting the frosted panes ablaze. At other times it figures as an indexical trace, a creaturely shadow lurching across the ledge in late evening sun, (‘Slow comes the hour’). It is hard to deny that what we perceive in each of Hackett’s still-life canvases is not so much a world arrested; fixed perpetually as nature morte, but rather shimmering realms of vibrant luminosity; tableaux vivants where air and space itself becomes invigorated with an irradiating materiality.
Throughout this current body of work Hackett engages explicitly with classical themes in painting, in particular the Albertian metaphor of painting as window onto the world, the implicit subject of her work might be thought of more accurately as la durée or duration. It was the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, who developed the concept of la durée to describe the internal, subjective experience of time’s passing. Bergson’s theory observes that no two successive moments in time are identical to one another, for each moment inheres within it the memory of the moment that has just gone before. This movement from moment to moment, according to Bergson, is not divisible in our external, objective reality and can only be accessed through qualitative, subjective experience of the world. Bergson concludes that it is specifically through our qualitative experience of time as la durée that free will is exercised.
Hackett’s decision to position her gaze and her palette at the very boundary where studio and street intersect appears to emulate the dynamical condition of Bergson’s thinking subject, poised at the threshold between two distinct experiences of time. The world of the bustling street might be considered analogous to the experience of objective, external reality - determinate, measurable existence, following the rhythm of clock-time or Chronos. The contemplative space of the studio on the other hand, denotes qualitative, subjective experience akin to Bergson’s durée. The studio is a realm of inward reflection and spontaneous action - an arena for the creative act that ultimately orientates us in the direction of free will and instinctual self-expression. And perhaps therein lies the radical function of Angela Hackett’s work, quietly imparted in her profoundly meditative canvases. Like Hannah Arendt’s pearl diver who plumbs the depths of tradition in search of the “rich and the strange”, Hackett deep dives not only into the tradition of painting but also into the rich internal world of the self and her own duration, bringing to the surface pearls of creative truth for our delight and contemplation.
Michelle McKeown, July 2021
Michelle McKeown is an Irish Visual Artist currently undertaking doctoral study in painting and feminist theory at Ulster University, Belfast.