San Francisco

Jack Jefferson

M. H. de Young Memorial Museum

An eight-year retrospective of Jefferson’s work, beginning with canvases characterized by an overall complexity and including his latest Embarcadero series. In these latter he is concerned with the central image, suggesting geographical location by means of color and what seems to be a waterfront profile. In a series concerned with Mission Street, beginning in 1957 and developed concurrently with another series on Jackson Street, Jefferson often used dark and murky colors, with the brush stroke pacing the eye up and across the canvas. These were the moods of the streets.

The Embarcadero series is active in another way—there is a persistent boring-in action, with one color looking for a weakness in the other’s surface and only the powerful brushstrokes keeping them under control. One is reminded of the incessant attack of Nova Scotia’s famous tidal bore, unrelenting but somehow resistible. Jefferson’s idiom and palette are one with his subject, in this case figurative abstraction and primary colors with earthy reds predominating. His fact-sheet mentions both Still and Rothko, and the shadow of Clifford Still lingers on the big red Embarcaderos.

Elizabeth M. Polley