Linda Hackett is anything if not determined. The time has come; the genie will no longer stay in the bottle. The creative juices are overflowing, the canvases beg to be displayed. Idiots is the Montreal artist’s first solo exhibition, but seeing the paintings quickly dispels the assumption that this is an emerging talent.

A designer by day, a painter by night, Hackett, 62, has been wearing two hats for a long time. While one occupation demanded precision and structure, the other released a very different kind of energy. It found its expression in paintings at once brutal and crude in their execution, and impossibly compelling in their playful, irreverent exuberance. But this is no ditsy art, far from it. It comes from a dark and deep place in the artist’s psyche, corners that she is driven to shine a light into; there are some personal demons to exorcise and art is the exorcist. To tell her story, she uses figures from pop culture and literature, psychology and myth that find their way into her wild compositions or inspire her lengthy titles. R.G.’s last stand at the Sands illustrates, as it were, the sad fate of Canadian singer Robert Goulet down-and-out in Las Vegas. Red box, blue door, Gertrude Stein’s on the second floor is as much about a dream the artist had, as it is about the French writer. There is play on words, The onus is on us in unison, as if the image of an interspecies – horse and woman – encounter wasn’t explicit enough, and myriad other references and double ententes.

Hackett, who is proudly self-taught, is fearless, and unencumbered either by subject matter or format. Her paintings tend to be large; there is no rule, just as there is no time constraint as she reworks some paintings at whim. Idiots is an exhibition that shocks, bewilders and entertains. The artist’s style is as fluid as it is unharnessed, verging often on art brut. The works are hugely uneven, from some awkward compositions and sloppy execution, to paintings with unexpected strength of visual expression, or impressively restrained treatment. The latter marks a predominately blue painting titled Garçon deux absinthe, with echoes of Francis Bacon. A figure sits to the left of the canvas, the rest is a blur of brushstrokes; the composition suspended just in time, complete in its asymmetry. Motherhood is an emotionally charged, powerful work, with two female figures, their heads overlapping, occupying the central space. There is drama taking place here, the painting is like a cry of anguish, while the vibrant palette further overwhelms the senses. The composition incorporates writing, a common motif in Hackett’s oeuvre, and has a Basquiat-like feel of graffito.

Whether artistically unimpressive, or packing a punch, her works are one woman’s valiant attempt to expunge the past, to embark, once cleansed, on an unshackled new creative path. For beneath all the paint, all the frenetic brushstrokes and provocative bravado, runs a current of existential angst. The ‘idiots’ in the title of the exhibition is a reference to Freudian ‘id’, as Hackett explains in her artist’s statement: “Since art or concreta, the physical manifestation of abstract intelligence, is created through the narrow lens of the individual artist: all works derive from the id, hence my collection of id’iots.” 

Espace 40, Montréal
Du 8 octobre—2 novembre 2014