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Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Art in Chess


“I have come to the personal conclusion
that while all artists are not chess players,
all chess players are artists."

Marcel Duchamp

In his mid-thirties the French born artist Marcel Duchamp gave up art to study chess. Considered to be, along with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists, Duchamp is arguably best known for his controversial found object art works.

Some thirty odd years later he told Time Magazine in 1952 I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art—and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position."

Now almost half a century after his death, Duchamp’s fascination with the strategic board game has been reinvigorated through the work of British painter Tom Hackney.

It was whilst he was studying at London University’s Goldsmiths College for his Masters in Fine Art that Hackney conflated Duchamp’s fascination with the game he had played as a child.

As he told Aesthetica Magazine “The idea for the chess paintings came out of my time at Goldsmiths, partly as a reflection on the strategic language applied in art discourse. I was also interested in Marcel Duchamp’s abandonment of art for chess – a ‘move’ in itself and something viewed as a direct challenge to the whole enterprise of painting. These elements combined, paradoxically, opened up a space for painting. Both activities (chess & painting) share an oscillation between the arenas of the eye and of the mind. The paintings are based on transcriptions of games played by Duchamp, the path of each move painted in sequence in white or black gesso.

As a serious chess player Duchamp kept a record of his moves in the games he played and Hackney’s study of the games has resulted in the paintings.

As he explained to Axis Web “The games were all originally played by Duchamp. As a serious player, Duchamp recorded many of his games by notation, as is common practice, to be studied later and reviewed to see how the game took its course. These notations have since been assimilated into various online databases, books and articles which I have researched and collected as source material for the paintings.”

Whilst the paintings are built up using black and white the colored versions relate to Duchamp’s design for a colored chess set. 

As Hackney has said “Duchamp assigned colors to the different pieces in relation to their movement and strategic power. The resulting paintings locate themselves more emphatically within a tradition of abstract painting but without taking a typical route to their form.”

And it is a tribute to Hackney’s skill as a painter that these transcriptions of Duchamp’s games are so aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

About which Hackney says “I think the aesthetic of this work resides in an overall form. We all have an awareness of chess to a lesser or greater extent, and the same can be said for painting. Perhaps in this work both elements can balance each other, without prioritizing painting over chess or form over content.”


Hackney’s exhibition of these works Corresponding Squares: Painting the Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp is currently on show at Saint Louis World Chess Hall of Fame until the 11th of September.


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