New York

Jed Jackson


I remember stopping when I was a child at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant on the Pennsylvania turnpike and then having to leave the dining room because the Pennsylvania Dutch nudes in the paintings there were making me too ill to eat my fried clams. Those paintings walked the line between voluptuousness and grotesque flesh. When I walked into Jed Jackson’s show it was a HoJo flashback.

Jackson paints grotesque flesh, sensuality gone wrong. His canvases are a kind of American Gothic—Grant Wood meets Stephen King. He portrays flesh tumid with gristle and dense, rippled flab or overpumped with muscle. Skin is hideously transparent, repulsively reflective; its spectrum is off-off-white, beyond the palette-planet of Stanley Spencer and Philip Pearlstein. Jackson is a Fauve of the gruesome, Gauguin at Coney Island, Day-Glo in the Ash Can.

Jackson’s subjects are tableaux. The faces seem borrowed. The family gazing at an out-of-frame television in . . . We laughed about the TV set, calling it . . . THE EYE OF HELL, 1984, seems to include the faces of Chicago’s Mayor Daley and Clara Bow. The male archeologist in The Finding of the True Cross, 1985, seemed to me to be wearing the face of Diana Vreeland, and, as I was looking at Recurring Dream, 1984—in which a thin, dejected man seems to be rejected by a cruel, laughing woman who is leaving with a burly, hostile man—another visitor to the gallery looked at the rejected man and said, “Oh look, it’s Eddie Fisher.”

Jackson’s paintings are filled with hallucinatory light. Sometimes it is orange, late-afternoon light, casting extreme shadows and charging the scene with tension. Sometimes the light seems to be emitted from the surfaces within the picture, as if a hallucinogenically revealed wavelength were present. The moods of these pictures are miraculous but unholy. Revelations are in progress that are less than transcendental. There is an air of surrealism, but that air is breathed by characters who know what they are doing. This is not the realm of the unconscious. These are dramatic vignettes in which the iconography is Freud via Hollywood. This is allegory, not automatic writing. Its lessons are amusing; its morals are sly. But there is a cosmic vehemence here, as if satire were achieving satori. There is vengeance in this cartoon universe.

Here, sickness begins in society and ends up infecting nature. The sea is sick; the sky is insane. But there is promise at the end of a wracking laugh.

Glenn O’Brien