Oliver Lee Jackson: the abstract reaches of human representation

 

Oliver Lee Jackson – American, born 1935

 

from an exhibition of his paintings at the National Gallery, Washington, DC in 2019

 

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Jackson has been an artist for more than 50 years: painting, sculpting, print-making, working his art in his community. 

 

He has infused his art with the jazz cadences of his close friend and comrade (in the Black Arts Group in St. Louis), the composer and saxophonist, Julius Hemphill (1938-1995).

Oliver Lee Jackson lives now in Oakland, California.

 

All paintings on view were loaned by the artist.

 

 

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Painting, 2003, water-based pain and silver leaf on canvas

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

The artist says that his art is based in figuration but that these figures should not be linked to actual people or real-world scenarios.

 

 

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Painting, 2003, water-based paint and silver leaf on canvas

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

Jackson says also that he is not telling a story of any kind.  That his paintings have no names tends to discourage the temptation to narration.

 

He also says that he is content to leave the interpretation of his art to viewers.  

 

 

 

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Painting, 2003, water-based paint on canvas

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

Here then is an exploration of figuration chased, stretched, metamorphosed into abstract forms to represent humans accommodating themselves to the world.

 

 

 

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Painting, 2004, oil-based paint, enamel paint, applied linen and mixed media on linen

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

 

The artist doesn’t see the definitions of ‘abstraction’ and ‘figuration’ as excluding each other when it comes to painting  human experience.

 

 

 

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Painting, 2009, oil-based paint on linen

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

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Painting, 2010, water-based paint, metallic enamel paint, and applied canvas on canvas

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

 

 

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Painting, 2010, water-based paint on canvas

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

 

I like the figural elements in the painting below:

some joyful, some falling down, some sitting down, some bowing down, some sadness, dancing, watching, grouping together, and some apprehension because life is short and then we die.

 

I like the spareness and discipline in the flow of paint on the canvas. Both seem to suggest possibility and even autonomy for the ‘figures’ on the canvas.   

 

I like the round circle moving toward the forehead of the blue figure.

A call to order(liness) or a reminder that there is order if we want to seize it, even if ambient chaos seems to predominate in our world.

 

 

 

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Painting, water-based paint and metallic enamel paint on canvas, 2011

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

 

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Painting, 2011, oil-based paint and oil-paint stick on canvas

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

 

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Painintg, 2011, water-based paint, acrylic paint and silver and gold enamel paint on canvas

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

 

Oliver Lee Jackson would seem to be modest in declining to guide interpretation and avoid the urge to narrate stories.

 

But then his palettes are rich in colour, texture and movement. Figural elements reacting to their surroundings and to each other might stir our recognition or our memory or even action.

 

He knows, or he hopes, that there are sufficient visual hooks and open spaces on the canvas to allow us to adventure as we choose.

 

 

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No, 15, 2015, graphite, chalk, oil-based paint, and enamel paint on linen

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

 

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Triptych, 2015, applied felt, chalk, alkyd paint, and mixed media on wood panel

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

The artist has attempted to meet the tradition of representation and figuration using his chosen vocabulary:

 

improvisation, figural elements, rhythmic movement, surface textures involving both fabric and paints of different kinds.

 

 

 

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No 3, 2016, oil-based paint, enamel paint, and spray enamel paint on wood panel

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

I like most of all the thoughtfulness which this artist has applied to the disciplined use of two divergent artistic expressive modes to explore an expansive rendering of human representation. 

 

And succeeded, in my view. 

I like the way he has given us the freedom of his canvases even though it is us he is depicting.  This is masterly.

 

 

 

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No. 7, 2017 (7.27.17), oil-based paint on panel

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

 

 

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No. 5, 2018, oil-based paint on panel

Oliver Lee Jackson, American born 1935

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Oliver Lee Jackson: the abstract reaches of human representation

  1. Transporting and joyful. The canvases seem almost alive with their movement.
    Thank you for introducing this most vibrant artistic output.

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