I went to the St Louis Art Museum the other week, where I breezed my way through the galleries like a tumbleweed through the desert. While art often stops me in my tracks, it’s not often that I spend more than a few passing moments enjoying a work before moving on to the next one; beauty is everywhere, but to find something truly striking is another story.
Upon stumbling into the Oliver Lee Jackson show, I was truly awestricken by Painting 5.12.11 (oil on linen, 2011). Never before has a painting truly captured my attention and held me in its presence for so long. Compared to the bright yellow painting radiating to her left, and despite her large size of 9 x 9 feet, this painting is somewhat subdued, though it seems she has much to tell us.
Despite the bold markings in the center of the piece, the first thing I noticed was the smooth tri-colored background. A dreamy rose blush around the edges gives way to a refreshing minty green. A soft baby blue is nuzzled at the center, reminiscent of a piece of hazy sky shining through a gentle break in the trees overhead.
Seeing these 3 colors together, I can’t help but think of wide horizons, an air of freedom and potential, the energetic vitality of life and how viewing life through rose tinted glasses makes anything seem possible.
Slightly to the left of center is a pillar of lines and images. Grouped together as they are, these markings are almost anthropomorphic. Just compare Jackson’s Painting 5.12.11 with Bougereau’s Birth of Venus (1879).
This torso-esque form is enveloped in the space she inhabits, but the space surrounding her also exists within her and shines forth from her core.
She contains both life and death. A pair of what could be disjointed breasts hover over an infant sucking their thumb. A skull is hidden in the black scribbles of her thighs. Towards her heart, we find what could be 2 figures leaning together, covering their faces with their hands to ensure their secrets remain forever theirs. Or perhaps it’s no secret that they’re protecting, but a kiss.
The more you look, the more you see. Disjointed and unfinished figures, indecipherable forms with splashes of color throughout, all interacting with one another.
Oliver Lee Jackson’s Painting 5.12.11 evokes thoughts of intimacy, self-knowledge, and submersion in the outside world.
What is our relationship to the ways in which we experience life? How do those experiences affect our relationships with everything and everyone around us? In what ways do those experiences and relationships influence who we are? How is all of that challenged and changed by our personal perspectives and biases?
These are hardly original questions. That being said, they’re still interesting to think about every now and again.
Thank you so much for reading! Visit the St Louis Art Museum to see Oliver Lee Jackson’s paintings in person (it’s free!) 🎨