Oliver Lee Jackson
The painter, printmaker and sculpture Oliver Lee Jackson was also an educator, activist and member of the Black Artists Group (BAG) in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s a testament to his achievements that his works on view at Andrew Kreps, which span from the 1970s to today, are utterly confident abstractions. This isn’t to say that his formalist work should be considered separately from his activism—rather, the two impulses coexist in single paintings, seen in lone figures who rise out of blooming, anemone-like washes, as if stand-ins for subjugation and alienation.
Jackson applied his loose brushstrokes—inspired by improvisational jazz—quickly, varying from plosive color to shapes set against pure white, blue or black backgrounds. See, for instance, Painting No. 3, 2021 (9.19.21) (2022), in which a pink-silhouetted figure is set within various coral-like and mitochondrial shapes floating across a dusted bright-blue ground. Or No. 4, 2018 (2.3.18) (2018), where deep red gouges cut into the creamy white background and coalesce into a face with distinct eyes and an ambiguously shaped mouth. Unlike the other works in this exhibition, I read the figure to be a Black man. Jackson insisted on the mutability of his works and their public interpretation, and this figure’s posture suggests an avenue for the viewer to analyze their own instincts as well. Is it a posture of contemplation? Of defeat? Of resistance? Of peace? Nearly every painting in Jackson’s exhibition gives you such pause. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Oliver Lee Jackson, 8.20.18, 2018. Mixed media on gessoed panel, 96 x 72 inches. Photo by Dan Bradica, courtesy Andrew Kreps Gallery