A VISIT WITH ROBERT C. JACKSON AT HIS STUDIO IN KENNETT SQUARE, PA
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Carver Mostardi
This story was featured in the August 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art August 2013 print issue, or get the Southwest Art August 2013 digital download now…Or better yet, just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
Describe your studio. I rent space in an old 1925 American Legion building. It has wooden floors, plaster walls, and high ceilings. It’s not big, but I’m comfortable here. It’s coming up on six years that I have been here, so it has slowly transformed into a home for me.
What elements were important to you in creating your studio? The two most important things for me were high ceilings and north light. I tend to paint large and prefer not to lie on the floor to paint the bottoms of paintings. This studio has 12-foot ceilings, so I can raise my easel as high as I wish. I also like to paint from life, and natural north light is much more subtle and less harsh. I rarely turn on the lights in my studio.
Your studio is in downtown Kennett Square. Describe the town. Kennett Square is a small town in southeast Pennsylvania. My studio is right on the main street that runs through town. It’s one of those wonderful small towns that spans about four blocks, with a couple of barber shops, a library, a post office, great restaurants, a few art galleries, and a Mexican ice cream parlor. Everything I need. Artists tend to know the area because the next town over is Chadds Ford with the whole Wyeth legacy.
What is your favorite subject matter and why? I like to play around with a bunch of things, but I guess the most consistent items in my paintings are my soda crates. As a still-life painter, I got bored with the tabletop and wanted to find something that let me get away from that. The soda crates are wonderful slices of Americana, full of nostalgia and bright, vibrant colors with unique patinas. And they allow me to put text into a painting. I’ve been collecting them for years now and have them all over my studio. Often the text becomes an integral part of my narratives.
What music do you listen to in your studio? Right now there is Langhorne Slim, Old 97’s, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers, and Wilco. My oldest daughter is in college studying opera, so she has given me a list to go through. I often have movies or television series playing via Netflix in my studio, too. They have to have great dialogue, though, because I miss so much of the visual.
Describe your style of work. That’s always a toughie. In his book about my work, Professor Philip Eliasoph called my style “post pop” because he saw my work as a realist approach to pop. I am definitely a realist painter and do want to be relevant to today’s society. Having a narrative or story is pretty important to me. I also am unafraid to use humor.
Tell us about your sense of humor. I love to laugh. I tend to think people take themselves too seriously. Most art centers around drama, but I’ve made it my goal to make room for the comic. I like the idea of giving people a smile. The tough part is to make it go beyond a one-liner and give them a smile for years to come. I want the painting to last.
What sorts of things do you keep in your studio? A whole bunch of art books. I didn’t go to art school, nor was it my first profession. I graduated from college in electrical engineering and worked for Motorola for five years as a systems engineer, designing radio systems. I quit that and went into the ministry for six years, and I quit that to be an artist about 17 years ago. Art has been my passion and hobby, and I love looking at art. So, I really want my art books accessible as reference. I’ll often grab one as I walk up the street for lunch.
Do you keep works by other artists in your studio? Not really, as my studio is pretty compact. Plus, I’m not sure how comfortable I am leaving work in this old building. I do have a drawing by Isac Friedlander from 1937 and a quick sketch by my friend Dan Sprick here. And I collect works by other artists, but they are all over my home. I have works by Scott Fraser, Dan Sprick, Steven Assael, Robert Vickrey, George Fischer, Jerome Witkin, Debra Bermingham, and Richard Maury, to name a few.
What impresses you most about other artists’ works? I am definitely a fan of realism, but I am especially attracted to works that have a strong marriage of concept and craft. There has to be a good idea to go along with good painting.
What is the proudest accomplishment in your art career? Honestly, I’m pretty happy making a good living from something I love to do every day. The rest is gravy. I suppose, however, that it has been really nice to have museums beginning to purchase my work over the last couple of years. It gave me a good smile when my 9-year-old son, Luke, went on a field trip to the Brandywine River Museum and was able to stand up and point out his dad’s painting. I’ve had a couple docents tell me that story.
If your studio were on fire, what one thing would you save? I’d be really bummed about the art books, but they’d be hard to grab, so I guess it would have to be the painting I was working on or had just finished.
Where do you like to take people when they come to visit? To the Brandywine River Museum for the Wyeths, to Longwood Gardens for the world-class conservatory, or on a walk up the street to the Half Moon Restaurant & Saloon for a good beer and some crab nachos.
Arden Gallery, Boston, MA; Gallery 1261, Denver, CO; Gallery Henoch, New York, NY; Somerville Manning Gallery, Greenville, DE; Southport Galleries, Southport, CT; Zenith Gallery, Washington, DC; www.robertcjackson.com.
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