My big reason (aside from my usual interest in/amused fascination by contemporary art) for catching the Richard Jackson show at 51 E. Pender St., Vancouver, Canada where you can find the Rennie Collection (can I call it a museum? a gallery?) is that Jackson was an engineer. Or so I understood. I was intrigued by the idea of an engineer becoming a successful artist but after seeing the show I looked him up and found that according to his Wikipedia entry, he studied art and engineering.
He studied Art and Engineering at Sacramento State College from 1959–1961 and taught Sculpture and New Forms at UCLA Los Angeles 1989 – 1994.
So it seems that Jackson never worked as an engineer and I was a little saddened to lose that because it’s the kind of detail that makes the art even more interesting to me. Not being a visual artist or trained in art history, I primarily view art shows and the artists as collections of stories/narratives.
The Rennie Collection itself showcases only artists whose work is collected by Bob Rennie, a local and highly successful Vancouver realtor/developer/marketer. He’s no slouch in the art world, from an April 23, 2010 article by Maggie Langrick in The Vancouver Sun,
Vancouver’s ‘Condo King’ Rennie is a figure of international significance in the art world, a fact reflected in his recent appointment to the chair of the North American acquisitions committee at Britain’s Tate Modern Museum. His art collection includes works by more than 170 artists, 40 of whom he collects in depth.
The Wing Sang building that houses the collection has its own story which you can read here.
Jackson’s show, which runs until late Sept., is quite focused on bodily and other fluids, on the art world, and the act of painting in comparison to the Hatoum show which was the opening show for the gallery/museum which seemed fixated on one’s sense of place, the themes of alienation and rootlessness, and electricity. Jackson’s work is very physical and he does most of it where Hatoum conceptualizes a piece and often commissions craftspeople to realize her concept. I mention the differences because it’s interesting to consider how different artists respond to the same space. I have no grand conclusions about their respective responses other than to point out that Jackson has physically melded many of his works to the building’s structure, paint is on the walls or on the floor and in some places he’s laid his own floor of puzzle pieces over top of the building’s floor. In contrast, Hatoum’s work referenced the space obliquely. In the main floor gallery, Hatoum had affixed a sign to a wall to tell visitors how to behave. There was also a glass swing set (the type you played on when you were a kid, except it wasn’t glass) which in some ways had the effect of bringing the outdoors inside. I had some other comments about Hatoum’s show here.
Enough with the comparisons. Jackson’s work contains both humour and violence in jarring juxtoposition. I most appreciated his paintings where he uses canvases as his brushes. He dumps a puddle of acrylic paint on the front of a canvas and then picks it up and places it paint first against a wall and smooshes it around. Once the canvas makes contact with the wall, the artist loses some control of the process. Schematics for this piece in the main floor gallery are on the wall opposite so you can see some of the mural was planned but what happens on execution is uncontrolled. When Jackson is finished smooshing, he affixes his brush/canvas to the wall face first so the viewer is presented with the back of the canvas arranged in a pattern over parts of his mural.
This business of control and uncontrol and using unconventional ‘paint brushes’ comes up in another piece, La Grande Jatte (after Georges Seurat), an unfinished piece.
Jackson, a hunter, fires paint pellets from rifles (which are in a corner nearby) at a huge sketch broken up into a grid (series of targets) of Seurat’s piece. For anyone not familiar with Seurat, he’s a pointillist who worked by precisely placing dots/points of paint on canvas. (This essay about Seurat offers a more informed perspective.)
There’s some dark humour in an artist who’s (a) shooting his own canvas with (b) pellets that explode on impact so the paint is splattered while referencing an artist who was known for his precision. Given that engineers are obsessed with precision and Richard Jackson studied engineering, some questions (nothing substantive, just interesting) arise. The whole piece brought to mind Jackson Pollock, an abstract artist, who poured and dripped paint from cans onto his canavases. (More about Pollock on Wikipedia.)
The theme of control/precision in relationship to spontaneity/chaos provided an interesting dynamic but not the only one. There was also an element of violence. The guns represent overt violence but two other pieces which were sculptural figures of women suggested, to me, violence of one kind or another. One figure was a woman in the colour pink lying on her back with her hips raised, legs opened and a funnel sticking out of her anus. I have two associations with that, a colonic or torture. The other figure was a ballerina who was knocked off her pedestal or stage so she was lying head first on the floor, legs up in the air, one ballet shoe off. There was a pool of paint/on the pedestal/stage and at least one more pool of paint, this one in the vicinity of the figure’s head. It’s one of a series as is the upside down woman, each with different colours. The ballerina’s pools of paint are red.
Both tour guides (one was in training) maintained that the experience of seeing the female figures as part of a series would change that impression of violence especially since the other figures in the series bore different colours. I don’t think that anyone could ever read a figure that’s fallen to the floor and has a pool of fluid by its head as anything other than wounded and the object of some sort of violence, intended or accidental.
I do think that the presence of additional figures in different colours would lead the discussion away from notions of personal violence to more generalized notions of violence in the way that this paraphrase of a quote attributed to Stalin, “One is a tragedy, a million is a statistic,” does.
I found the show to be thought-provoking and that’s always to be appreciated. If you’re interested in other opinions about the show, there’s this excerpt from Robin Laurence‘s review at The Georgia Straight,
Jackson has been described as a neo-Dadaist, probably because of the bourgeoisie-baiting irreverence he brings to his projects. He’s also seen as someone who deconstructs painting, although he says he’s more interested in expanding its possibilities than in taking it apart. Still, he long ago assumed conceptualism’s stand against market-driven and craft-based approaches to the medium: he critiques the painting as a fetishized object while embracing the process of reinventing it. “I don’t like art,” he says, “I like the activity.”
Nonetheless, there is a lot of art on view, some of it temporary and all of it (as is true of every show produced in this venue) drawn from Rennie’s personal collection. Installed on the main floor is Rennie 101, a big wall work composed of semicircles of thick, vivid paint and stretched canvases. In executing this idea, Jackson loaded 20 small canvases with paint, then placed them face to the wall and rotated them, creating a series of concentric loops of colour. The canvases were then mounted, again face to the wall, in a corresponding grid formation. The entirety is a wonderful contradiction: geometric and organic, restrained and spectacular, it reflects not only the artist’s early studies in engineering but also his desire to invert and unsettle traditional forms and practices.
As you can tell, she knows a lot more about art than I do so it’s well worth your while to take a look at what she has to say. If you’re interested in the seeing the show, you can book here.