Outside the Orange County Museum of Art, a gigantic, robotic looking creature’s right hind leg remains frozen in high lift, like an oversized canine marking his territory. If the gesture weren’t enough, a huge splash of yellow paint on the building declares ownership.
Take that, Jeff Koons (and your balloon doggies).
“Bad.Dog,” is the creation of Richard Jackson, setting an irreverent tone for his first 40 year retrospective at the museum titled “Richard Jackson: Ain’t Painting a Pain.”
Regardless of the title, it’s not a 1960s art-school style anti-painting diatribe but an intelligently conceived show that proves how painting can be so much more than just applying pigment to canvas.
Originally trained as an engineer, Jackson is an introspective thinker as well as a painstaking craftsman who draws and builds models such as “Untitled (Model Maze Eugenia Butler Gallery, Los Angeles”) 1970 in the manner of architects and his colleagues.
Sixty-five works, including installations, sculptures, wall paintings, stacked canvasses and drawings on paper, described by the artists as blueprints for projects, cover a period between 1969 and the present. The exhibit in Newport Beach is through May 5.
Throughout, he questions the relevance of art as its been practiced through ages. Yet, he pays tribute to pioneers of 20th century art, some of whom were his peers and whose sensibilities have influenced his: Edward Kienholz’s use of unconventional materials and uncontrolled, so-called broom paintings; Jackson Pollock’s drips (parts of the museum look as if Jackson had channeled him); Wayne Thiebaud’s way of making paint look like gooey confection; and Llyn Foulkes’ sleight of hand turning painting into theater of the absurd.
Born in 1939, Jackson lived among the group of Los Angeles artists and now resides in Sierra Madre.
Curator Dennis Szakacs describes works beginning around 1969 as “inversions and reversals.” He defined that as canvasses that can serve as brushes or sculptures, some of which are left blank while the walls themselves are painted around them in seemingly haphazard patterns. The composition, he said, compels audiences to figure the whole setup out and thus become part of the art. “It is an ephemeral process, to be experienced at a given moment,” said Szakacs of works that must be disassembled at show’s end.
Picture 5,050 canvasses stacked in numerical order: one is placed on the floor next to two, to three and four, and the stacks grow until one walks around a growing wall of canvasses joined together by bright, primary-colored paint.
“There is a method to the madness in Richard’s work as his pre-study drawings show ideas growing in complexity and size,” explained Szakacs.
Method, madness and, arguably, obsession converge in a room-size installation titled “1000 Clocks.” Four walls and the ceiling covered with clocks set to tell the time simultaneously, making one freakily aware of minutes ticking away mercilessly and summoning a post-Dantean punishment for procrastinators. The outside walls show the clocks’ innards, uniformly sized and beautiful in their own right.
Jackson explained that he made the clocks and every single moving part by hand to celebrate his 50th birthday.
But, even he preferred to speak about his work surrounded by a less disquieting installation, “Beer Deer,” which alludes to his passion for hunting and life in the West. “The deer are decoys that we had to cover up every time we shot paint onto the walls and canvasses as not to alter the works on loan from collectors,” he explained. Placed on a carousel platform, the mechanized deer are designed to shoot paintballs from their backsides.
Some might find disturbing his “Ballerina” series, composed of crushed replicas of Edgar Degas’ bronze dancers, some covered in fake blood. “I don’t like Degas,” explained Jackson. “I just could not find the required reverence everyone has for him,” he said.
However, few will fail to put “The Laundry Room (Death of Marat),” 2009 into appropriate context. The 1793 Jean-Louis David painting showed the assassinated French revolutionary journalist Marat slumped in his bath, manuscript in hand. Jackson’s incarnation shows him in a vivid red setting with a computer and a washing machine.