Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Sam Jackson by Edward Lucie-Smith

In the run up to Sam Jackson's one person at Charlie's Edward Lucie-Smith has kindly written a text on the artist:

Everyone who takes even a mild interest in the British contemporary art scene knows that the situation is changing, and changing fairly fast. Partly this is due to the recession. A financial crash inevitably changes the art-market. Some once solidly established reputations begin to look as shaky as the whole financial system. Partly it is due to the passage of time. The BritPop movement has been the only game in town for about fifteen years now. That is a long period for any art movement to last. Damien Hirst is showing his work at the Wallace Collection and (very soon) will show it in St. Paul’s. Tracey Emin is complaining that a hike in income tax may drive her out of the country. In avant-garde terms, certain kinds of success are almost as bad as failure.

Nevertheless one feels the weight of an enormous inertia. So many people have investments in the current situation. Not simply financial commitments, but investments in careers, in institutions, in their own intellectual prestige. Change, now, will drive them out of their comfort zone.

In my view, one of the likely agents of change is an artist called Sam Jackson. What does he do? He paints. Worse still, he often paints very small. I can’t think of a more revolutionary combination in London right now. It challenges so many shibboleths about the nature of today’s art. Painting has been pronounced dead and gone on many occasions since the end of the 1980s. Somehow it has always managed to survive. It seems to be ready to outlive video, installation and most kinds of conceptual art. These are either in the process of being overtaken by ever-new kinds of technology, or they deliver too little in the way of visual pleasure while requiring too much explanation. As a professional critic I ought not to say this, but what I secretly hope for, when I go to a show, is art that makes my job redundant – art that confronts you, and explains itself.

Small scale does two things. It raises two fingers to the rhetoric that characterizes so much current art– a rhetoric of redundant scale. Does the work say more because it is so big? No, it often says less. The only relationship you can have with it is a public relationship, in a public space. I’m tired of being shouted at, and my guess is that a significant part of the audience for contemporary art is starting to feel the same way.

The other thing it does, especially if the work is properly installed, is to make you focus on the image. You look more closely, with a greater degree of concentration. Sam Jackson has a demanding eye. He paints portraits that are representations of psychological states. He paints erotic images that deliver a sly sucker punch. You look once, and wonder what this little image is about. You look twice – and then you know. Time to blush at your own dirty thoughts, boys and girls.

In a way, I hesitate to recommend some of these paintings - they’re so subversive. In another way they seem perfectly attuned to the times we live in. Just imagine – not so hard is it? – that you’re a banker on the run from a failed Ponzi scheme. If you collect Sam’s work, you can cram all your masterpieces into just one suitcase. Then it’s off to Rio, where they shoot down police helicopters and there’s no extradition treaty.

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