A few years ago, artist Melinda Hackett fought her neighbors in court for the right to keep the tree-house she had built in the backyard of her West Village townhouse.
Having moved from Connecticut not long ago, Hackett had envisioned the tree-house as a sort of refuge for her daughters, who were still adjusting to city life. But neighbors who had deemed the structure unsightly and “suspicious” called in the police, hoping to have it taken down. A court battle ensued and Hackett walked away victorious—not only was she given permission to keep her tree-house, but the structure was also granted landmark status.
The story gathered press mentions from the local news and since then, it seems the tree-house may have served as Hackett’s mascot. Like the tree-house, Hackett is laid-back and welcoming, and like the contents of her paintings, the tree-house has a circular, spiraling design.
When looking at one of Hackett’s pieces, you can’t help but suspect that you’ve stumbled upon images from a giant microscope; when I ask Hackett if she studied biology, she isn’t surprised by my question, and tells me she hasn’t, though nature plays an undeniable role in her pieces. “There’s always something people react to in my paintings. But I don’t have a story to tell, the viewer tells the story,” she adds.
Cellular organisms, marine life, coral and pod forms are what Hackett turns to for inspiration for her playful and vibrant paintings. “It’s like I have a whole inventory of organic shapes in my subconscious that I rely on and refer to in my pieces,” she says, noting that her painting process is fairly intuitive. “I can’t preconceive what a painting will become, it is something that is instinctive, which is what makes it really fun to me.” If the seamless flow of Hackett’s paintings is any indication, her instincts seem to benefit her for the better. Each of her pieces introduce viewers to what appears to be a meticulously constructed world, where shapes and colors complement and interact with each other as they would in nature. In fact, there’s a sense that Hackett’s paintings go beyond the limits of the canvas, belonging to a larger realm—one in constant motion.
From her studio overlooking the infamous tree-house, Hackett starts by layering drips of translucent paint over solid colors. The cluster of solidified paint drops on the hardwood floors of her townhouse are a testament to hours Hackett spends creating the geometrical worlds of shapes that she refers to as “swirlies” and “twisties.”
Perhaps Hackett’s intuition comes from her artistic family. A founding board member of the International Center for Photography, Hackett’s mother was a photographer herself and taught at the ICP. Hackett’s family is also heavily involved with the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton.
However, spacial influences seem to be at the heart of Hackett’s artistic disposition, considering the history behind her townhouse seems to rival that of Hackett’s backyard tree-house. She bought the 19th century home from David Byrne of the Talking Heads in 2005 (and kept his sticker-coated refrigerator to prove it). Though Hackett’s relaxed and easy going personality seems in her nature, perhaps the new-wave ambiance of the house’s former owner is ingrained in its walls. My suspicions are confirmed when when Hackett tells me she hides a peace sign in each of her paintings.