By now, you may have seen the sculpture, either in person or in countless forms of media: A giant black Labrador lifting its leg to emit a stream of yellow paint on the wall of the Orange County Museum of Art. Welcome to the unapologetic Richard Jackson and his retrospective: Ain't Painting a Pain on view through May 5.
Sometimes it seems as though a generation of aspiring artists coming of age in LA in the 1960's immersed themselves in the irreverent questions posed by Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, whose first retrospective was held at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963. Instead of looking to Picasso or even Pollock, artists who took on the visual challenges of advanced modern art, they looked to the artist who questioned the very meaning of making art. Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman, Terry Allen and Richard Jackson were just a few of them.
Jackson's assault on painting begins in the museum with the recreation of pieces from the 1970's and 1980's. He would slap multi-colored paint on a stretched canvas and then wipe it on the wall and leave the canvas attached there, face down. The painting became a tool, a big flat brush. This concept morphed into sculptural installations of painted canvases piled atop one another, face down, like bricks with the paint leaking out the edges like colored mortar. Big Ideas, 1000 Pictures was shown at Rosamund Felsen Gallery in 1980.
As the pieces grew larger and more complex, he must have felt like a painting machine, and machines became the focus of his activities in the 1990s and onwards, with varying degrees of success. At the entrance to the show, a gutted Ford Pinto is posed on its side topped by a pair of giant spheres. Painting with Two Balls (1997) as it is called is a machine that splatters paint wildly when in operation. Because painting takes balls, according to the attitude of the Abstract Expressionists. Jackson's smart ass humor about modern art history can wear thin in some of his primary colored three-dimensional installations such as The Laundry Room (Death of Marat) (2009).
The Maid’s Room, 2006-07
Fiberglass, wood, motor, video, electric system, acrylic paint and steel
90 1/2 x 200 4/5 x 102 1/2 in. (230.1 x 510 x 260.1 cm)
Courtesy the artist, Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, and Hauser & Wirth
Courtesy the artist
An exception is The Maid's Room, (2006-2007) his re-creation of Duchamp's Étants Donné, a door with a peephole through which a viewer sees the lower half of a reclining woman, naked, legs spread wide apart. Duchamp created the work in secret after officially retiring from art and it was only shown after his death in 1968. Jackson surely relates to such ambivalence about a career in art.
Though Jackson is well-known to cognocenti of LA's modern art history, only recently has he been getting the attention that he is due. Plaudits to OCMA director Dennis Szakacs who organized the exhibition. It travels to the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich and S.M.A.K. in Ghent, Belgium. For more information, go to OCMA.net.
Banner image; Bad Dog, 2013; Fiber reinforced composite skin and steel, approximately 336" x 384"; Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo © Grant Mudford