Inspired by Africa | The living


What a viewer sees in an Oliver Jackson creation depends on how close their eyes are when looking at the canvas.

And just paying attention to the center at eye level and walking away – the way many tend to consume visual art – is a disservice to art.

“Seeing is everything in Oliver’s work,” said Robert L. Pincus, art critic and writer. “All he asks of you is to watch and to watch carefully.”

Jackson makes it impossible to look away and in his style of composition lies the ability to forever change the viewing habits of his observers.

Take his painting “Sharpeville Series I”, for example. Mainly composed of squares sketched in muted neutral tones, the work is the most muted and neutral at the place on the canvas where viewers generally concentrate as a starting point. At the top right of the painting is a small group of black faces with dark expressions. They look down at a streak of red painted at a 45 degree angle near the lower left corner of the painting. The eyes will instinctively look back and forth between the two focal points. The relationship between the two characters, and the space between the two, evokes as many questions as it does emotions while trying to interpret Jackson’s motivations in the creation of the work.

“If I put this mark next to this mark, it is intentional,” Jackson told Harry Cooper, senior curator and head of modern art at the National Gallery of Art, at a conference with the famous artist. and sculptor for the 2019 exhibition. “Oliver Lee Jackson: Recent Paintings. “

“I hope it has the effect of resonating – moving you.” So it’s yours. I am just an agent in many ways. But I am an agent with intent. I have goals, but my goals are not your experience. I can’t control this part, and I don’t intend to – it’s not important to me.

“Sharpeville Series I” is one of 12 paintings currently on display in galleries 249 and 257 of the Saint Louis Art Museum as part of “Oliver Lee Jackson”. The exhibition opened last week and will be on view until February 20, 2022.

“Oliver Lee Jackson” presents work that spans five decades and represents the vast breadth and depth of the artist’s creative range.

The exhibition is curated by Simon Kelly, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Hannah Klemm, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, with Molly Moog, Research Assistant. “Oliver Lee Jackson” is free and open to the public.

Oliver lee jackson

Jackson said his Sharpeville series was inspired by photographs he saw of the Sharpeville massacre, where South Africans were brutally gunned down for rising up against the apartheid system in 1960.

He said seeing the horrific effects of institutional racism, racial terror and colonization that blacks have endured outside of his own African American lens gave him the creative “aha moment” that inspired the series.

“I was far enough away that I could use these images without getting tangled up in 400 years of personal anger – and seeing it more clearly,” he said. “It was kind of cosmic poetry.”

His connection to the diaspora has extended far deeper than the pain and exploitation experienced by the residue of colonization and wider than what he offers with the Sharpeville series.

“[Africa gave me] a sensitivity that spoke without the dichotomies made in Western art, ”he said. “They say, ‘You can’t paint marble. It should be white. Well, it’s academic. Marble doesn’t care. When I went to Africa, you could paint it, use fabric, put beads in it – as long as it moved the person. It was all about getting it right.

The power and influence of Africa and its art run a common thread in the creative world. Among the countless devotees was the great Pablo Picasso – who spoke of his transformational experience when visiting the Musée d’ethnologie du Trocadéro in France, now called the Musée de l’Homme, in 1907.

“… To examine all those objects that people had created for a sacred and magical purpose, to mediate between them and the unknown and hostile forces around them, thus trying to overcome their fears, giving them color and shape”, Picasso said. , according to French writer Max Jacob. “… I understood what the painting really meant. It is not an aesthetic process. It is a form of magic that stands between us and the hostile universe, a way to take power, to impose a form on our terrors as on our wishes. The day I understood this, I found my way.

Jackson’s approach to art also changed forever when he saw the beauty of Africa’s “creators” – and how they used the continent’s endless natural resources to express its limitless cultural richness.

“It freed me up to use my sensibility in terms of the world,” Jackson said. “To combine it in a way where the feelings I had are reflected in the sensuality of the room – so that my feelings are clear, focused and rich.”

“Oliver Lee Jackson” will be on view in galleries 249 and 257 of the Saint Louis Art Museum until February 20, 2022. For hours and additional information, visit

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