Gerald Jackson

November 7, 2021 – January 9, 2022

Gordon Robichaux is honored to present Gerald Jackson’s first exhibition at the gallery following our presentation of his work at the Independent art fair in September and recent exhibitions at White Columns and Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba House.

Jackson (b. 1936 in Chicago, Il) is a radical polymath, humanist, and visionary who embraces the spiritual dimensions of art to grapple with the cultural and social conditions of our time. Over the past sixty years—thirty years in a large loft on the Bowery at the center of a vanguard community of artists and jazz musicians and the past two decades in Jersey City—Jackson has created a variegated body of work: painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, collage, clothing, performance, poetry, and music. 

Gordon Robichaux’s exhibition highlights the interdisciplinary nature of Jackson’s practice with a presentation of paintings, collage, and sculpture created over the past twenty-five years. The works reveal his philosophical and conceptual approach to artmaking: his exploration of the power of color and light as agents of healing and transcendence, and his use of existing cultural and spiritual languages to construct new, liberating mythologies.

In his ongoing body of work dedicated to the colors blue and green, Jackson embraces their associative power (green verdant earth; blue sky and water) and their spiritual capabilities. He works with our fundamental human connection to these most pure and basic colors that cut across social constructs like race and class. The fields of blue and green in this group of paintings are punctuated by vertical marks—“zips”—that suggest the human body in a landscape, or human consciousness in alignment with the infinite. Horizons are sometimes split open, revealing optical patterns or rainbows, hinting at a sublime dimension beyond what is visible. Another group of paintings on canvas and paper bring blue and green geometries into vibrational contact with red, black, and metallic gold. Here, Jackson uses color and form to map our relationship to the cosmos—earth, sky, sun, and infinite void. Similarly, blue, yellow, and green paint applied to a found mirror obliterates the viewer’s reflection, subsuming the individual within a field of color.

Jackson’s found-object sculptures also reference humanity’s continuum with the cosmic. Towers constructed with cultural debris—compact discs, glass vases, a gold plastic figurine of a basketball player, ceramic plates, a small clock, a statue of Michelangelo’s David painted blue, plastic bowls—are shrine-like talismans that also recall Egyptian obelisks communing with the sun and sky. The compact discs interspersed within the structures transmit prismatic rainbows of light and color. 

Jackson has also explored the possibilities of photocopy technology since a residency in the early 1980s when he began reproducing, enlarging, and collaging found images to create new cross-cultural spiritual mythologies. Included in the exhibition is a large paper collage with an array of images: Ornette Coleman sheet music (Coleman was a friend and one-time roommate), a snapshot of Jackson in front of the Vatican, a black rose, a Botticelli painting, Egyptian symbols including an Ankh, a black Japanese maneki-neko cat, and a typed poem by Jackson. Drawn text in a variety of sizes punctuates the images and suggests aural sensations: “BLUE”, “GREEN”, “DIVINE PROVIDENCE”.

A group of photocopies made with images from books includes a range of spiritual and secular sources: Egyptian sculptures and tomb decoration, an altar in a Christian church, and the queen’s chamber in a royal palace. By illuminating the photocopies with colored chalk, pastel, and watercolor, Jackson animates them back to life. Two new large paintings made for the exhibition incorporate found images enlarged, printed, and covered with barely visible brushstrokes of acrylic matte medium, setting mechanical reproduction against what Jackson calls evidence of “human touch.” In one painting, Josephine Baker appears as a divine being, reminiscent of the Hindu goddess Kali, her body a sublime form painted the blue of the sky or the sea. 

Throughout, Jackson affirms the restorative spiritual power of art to heal and transcend humanity’s destructive forces—inequity, racism, violence, injustice, and the destruction of the natural world. 

Gerald Jackson (b. 1936, Chicago) lives and works in Jersey City, NJ. He has recently presented exhibitions at White Columns, New York (2021)—celebrated in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and New York Magazine—and Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba, New York (2020). Jackson’s history was outlined in an expansive—and essential—2012 interview with his friend the artist Stanley Whitney that was published as a part of BOMB magazine’s ongoing Oral History Project, which is available on BOMB’s website. 

After a stint in the army in the early 1960s, Jackson relocated from his native Chicago to New York’s Lower East Side, where he became a part of a community of vanguard artists and jazz musicians centered around Slugs’ Saloon, a now legendary jazz club on East 3rd Street that was active from the mid-1960s to 1972. After earlier studies at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute and then later at The Brooklyn Museum School, Jackson started to exhibit his own work from the mid-1960s onwards and was represented by New York’s Allan Stone Gallery from 1968 to 1990. He has had numerous exhibitions including at Strike Gallery, Rush Arts (curated by Jack Tilton), Gallery 128, and Tribes.

His work has been included in a number of key group exhibitions including: Afro-American Artists: New York and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1970); Black Artists: Two Generations, Newark Museum, Newark (1971); Jus’ jass: Correlations of Painting and Afro-American Classical Music, Kenkeleba Gallery, New York (1983); The Black and White Show, curated by Lorraine O’Grady, Kenkeleba Gallery, New York (1983); Notation on Africanism, Archibald Arts, New York (1995); Something To Look Forward To, curated by Bill Hutson, Phillips Museum of Art, Lancaster, PA (2004), and Short Distance To Now – Paintings from New York 1967–1975, Galerie Thomas Flor, Dusseldorf, Germany (2007), among others. 

Jackson’s work is held in the collection of The Studio Museum in Harlem, and his 1973 illustrated artist’s book of seventy-nine linoleum cuts, Adventures in Ku-Ta-Ba Wa-Do, is in the collection of both the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Thank you to Gerald Jackson and his manager Rai Alexandra for their support and collaboration.