A new solo exhibition by Henry Jackson, now on display at Sandra Lee Gallery, explores the nuances of the human figure and how it interacts with its environment. Modeling with shape, color and textured mixed media, Jackson, a San Francisco native, asks the viewer to “grab reality in abstractions.” Every work is “Untitled” to avoid specific connotations and emotions, so that the viewer isn’t led in a certain direction but instead must take the plunge and engage with the subject matter, facing the confusion of where the body ends and the landscape begins. Each work depicts a recognizable but ambiguous human image that’s either working with or against its surrounding landscape, at times battling against the environment and other times finding harmonious peace.
In a state of tension between abstraction and representation, Jackson’s figures are in one sense visually primitive, but in another, full of ceremony and ritual from the sculptural process that went into creating them. They become complex in asking the viewer to extract emotion, identity and place from scenes that Jackson describes as fluid, an “ever-changing place.” And there’s no end to the interpretation–Jackson says it’s a continuum: “Nothing really has a period at the end of a sentence.”
His figural studies raise questions about the psychology of existence–do we exist if we cannot define our surroundings? Are all figures merely a combination of shapes that could instantly be disassembled or obscured by an inhospitable environment? Jackson’s combating brushstrokes, colors and shapes are both pieces of a whole and also conflicting individual elements that expose fractures. The artist’s creative process is visible, as shapes and colors are added in layers to reveal the human figure. But in making the act of creation transparent, Jackson has also made destruction a theme, since it’s easy to see where the disparate parts could slip away and tear the already fragmented figure apart.
Jackson intentionally keeps the lines in his works blurred by using tools that don’t allow for too much precision and are at times clumsy, making his exploration of the figure a parallel to the viewer’s experience: purposefully challenging, with a sense of presence and soul that’s buried and impossible to define in any certain terms.
It’s easy to see the influence of Willem de Kooning and Richard Diebenkorn in Jackson’s works, as the figures fight for definition while they’re pulled in multiple directions. But Jackson says he’s also intrigued by more realistic depictions of the figure, like Rembrandt’s careful studies of how the figure interacts with light and shadow. Ultimately, Jackson says, “we’re combating with the environment. Sometimes we’re consumed, and sometimes we’re the successor.”
Henry Jackson, A Solo Show will be on view at Sandra Lee Gallery, 251 Post Street, through November 10