Conversation with Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson – An American in Paris

Paris, in the middle of the night. At 2 A.M., Richard Jackson's face appears on my laptop screen. Overseas, up in Northern California, it's only 5 P.M. Some interviews are rather classic – face-to-face in a coffee shop – others go beyond the scope. The time difference verges on that somewhere else, less traditional. Simply put, I'm conducting this interview from my bed, literally, sitting in pyjamas. It's way too late to do it otherwise. I had seen to it that my « audio » mode on FaceTime was enabled, but I still didn't know if Richard could see me or not. At least I could see him. He could be my grandfather (I doubt he would appreciate me saying that), wearing a cap on his head. A hunter hat. For the true hunter he is, open season is sacred. What is more, his many representations of colorful ducks are the expression of his strong and unaffected passion. Comfortably sitting in a sofa, true to his phlegmatic nature, the 78 year-old artist succinctly answers my very first question. That's actually an understatement. Briefer would have been silence.

- « Why did you want to reproduce the La Palette bar within the GP & N Vallois Gallery? »
- « Well, because it's right in front of it »
- « You're not helping me Richard ! »
He's laughing.. First glint, first contact..

- « You seem to enjoy painting everywhere but on canvas. You often transpose paint onto unconventional materials such as windshields, wood, walls, but also the floor, like the rotating Vespa spreading paint like a paintbrush, horizontally… This continuous paint movement outside the canvas, what does it mean to you? ».
- « Since the 1950s, nothing interesting has occurred in painting ».

See no contempt there. For so long now, the artist has been theorizing through his practice and even on material itself. He was already bored of answering questions too distant from the « making ». And yet here he goes, in a further passionate elaboration, rather terse at first, but soon he increases the pace, as a thrilled child talking about a new toy would. In this case, it was the full-scale reproduction of the La Palette bar, an enormous installation.

It had to get out of control, to turn into a performative dimension, and above all, paint had to be living. He explains to me how he would also like to have « paint all over the gallery ». It's neither a whim, nor an intention to mess up just for the fun of it.. The reason why he stages paint jets, controlled by mechanisms he enthusiastically designs, is because he intends to give presence to the medium, to agitate it and lead it to a limited loss of control. It's an extreme bias, allowing to distantly relate his work to a mad dog emerging from the canvas. Either a dog gone mad, or a dog urinating, in reference to Bad dog, his massive sculpture of a labrador with the paw up relieving itself, on top of the Orange County Museum in California. Some might say he's playing the provocation card. Maybe.

Although he always uses it as an instrument of creation, of a subtle vision and a form of authentic work. In this regard, how many assistants does he require to complete his sometimes extremely technical projects ? He humbly answers « My wife ! ». Rarely assisted, if ever. A man comes to help from time to time (retired, for this exhibition). He does not wish to delegate and insists on tensioning himself his canvas on stretchers.. Obviously, buying ready-to-use stretched canvas would be far too easy.

By loving to build and make, Richard Jackson embodies the true enjoyment of a man who succeeds in building his own bar, all alone. Like a family man who plans to rebuild the family house. This vision was gradually replacing the one I had of the world-renowned artist. Or should I say, both visions were now overlapping and binding into one. The image of a zany and touching character, former gold digger, Christmas tree vendor, house painter and paper boy for the New York Times. In a past life.

Léa Chauvel-Lévy

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