Suzanne Jackson’s holding on to a sound Reverberates

at O-Townhouse, Los Angeles (through March 23)
Reviewed by Genie Davis

There are so many different elements that make Suzanne Jackson’s exhibition, holding on to a sound, aptly named. Regardless of the medium, her work has a kind of musical component, a lyricism that seems to radiate from the wall where they are hung to the viewer directly, like a kind of cosmic tuning fork was at work. They are also hauntingly lovely images, and if you study them long enough, they evoke ideas of memory and mortality. There is a soft of netherworld quality to these works, vividly alive, yet floating in an ether between a dream-like state and waking, and between this world and the next.

Then there is the reverberating history of the location of the gallery holding this exhibition, a space recently opened in July 2018. O-Townhouse is in Lafayette Park, where Jackson herself began her career opening her own Gallery 32 in 1968. It was then one of only two black-owned galleries in Los Angeles, and located in the Granada building. Now fifty years later, this exhibition of Jackson’s work has been mounted in the same building, through March 23rd.

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Suzanne Jackson’s holding on to a sound, installation view

The gallery describes the exhibition as both lyrical and surreal, and it is certainly both. But it is also rooted in and of Los Angeles, that sound the viewer feels in their bones upon viewing it is also the hum of the city night, the LA freeways, the amusement park screams and waves crashing along the Santa Monica pier, and the multitude of voices and languages coursing through apartment buildings and sidewalks and streets. One supposes that lyrical and surreal could describe LA itself, as well as this artist’s work.

As to Jackson, her five decades in the arts have included a focus on images of nature and the meaning of her heritage. And whether working on paper in water colors or with acrylic paint, her work is always richly, densely layered, in terms of both meaning as well as with material and technique. She’s said “The imagery that everybody has sort of become familiar with, with the really strong white background and the sort of washy layers and layers of paint — that basically is kind of an old masters’ technique of layering the color for translucency. It’s like the layers and layers of color build a depth in the painting. And some of the paintings, as thin as the color looks, therecould be a hundred and fifty layers of color on each of my paintings.” Her 3-dimensional mixed media wall sculptures include a different sort of layering, including fabrics, papers, and netting.

She’s also said that she’s following the “tradition of the ancestors” as she works, responding to her own curiosity about African American heritage and culture. “The paintings synthesize selected cultural memory, integrating drawn, implied or painted line. Pinching, crimping and pleating become linear reconstructions of the painted surface…”

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Marilyn and Maya Watch Fog (2006)

Each individual work here is a rewarding experience as much as it is a work of art. Take the 2006 watercolor on hard board panel “Marilyn and Maya Watch Fog,” in which the colors seem to wash together yet remain separate, like light shining through stained glass. A thick fog, predominantly greyish white but also with an under pinning of yellow, green, and black swirls across the top section of the painting. Amorphous images of a woman with flowing hair and a dog look into it, as if reflecting its colors. The woman is clad in a purple garment, the dog has purple shadows on its skin; both conjure the image of royalty in this color and their positioning, as if commanding the fog, not just watching it. The bottom portion of the panel includes a fence-like grid, which may be anchoring them, or preventing them for drifting into the dream of this fog more easily. . .

To read the rest of Davis’s review, go to Riot Material magazine:

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