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Against Gravity: Remembering John Jackson

January 27, 2023 @ 5:30 pm - March 11, 2023 @ 4:00 pm

  • John Jackson, Bust, Wood, metal, 47 x 9.5", Collection of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve
    John Jackson, Bust, Wood, metal, 47 x 9.5", Collection of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve


Opening Reception:
Friday, January 27, 5:30 – 8:00pm
Remembering John Jackson: A Community Gathering:
Saturday, February 11, 1:00 – 2:00pm. REGISTER ON EVENTBRITE


In 2006, the art world was rocked by the double homicide of sculptor John Jackson and photographer Masumi Hayashi in the building where they lived and kept studios on the West Side of Cleveland. While nearly two decades later the tragedy of their deaths still looms large, what truly endures of an artist is the work they leave behind – work which in the case of John Jackson, is faithfully preserved and promoted by museums such as the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve.


This January, the Artists Archives will present Against Gravity: Remembering John Jackson, an exhibition which honors the memory and lasting visual legacy of the cerebral and experimental artist. Known for his assemblage sculptures and modernist paintings and drawings which tap into the subconscious, the show will feature 30 works, some of which will be exhibited in public for the first time since Jackson’s death.


A child of the rust belt, Jackson attended the Cleveland Institute of Art in the mid-70s, concentrating on painting and drawing. From there, he moved to Philadelphia where he started a business as a historical carpenter and began to develop an interest in sculpting in the round. His profession also imbued his creative practice with a sense of craftsmanship and precision, and forever set his core material as wood, though this attraction would take many forms from painting on wood panels, to traditional carving and the use of found objects.


It wasn’t until Jackson’s return to Cleveland in 1992 that he caught the assemblage bug in earnest, using the region’s decaying infrastructure as both a subject of his art and as a rich source of raw materials. “I view cities, for better or worse, as the locus of the culture,” Jackson explained. “Cleveland’s industrial landscape is fertile ground for anyone that shares my enthusiasm.” On display in Against Gravity will be a selection of Jackson’s tower-like sculptures, obelisks of factory waste which push upwards against the forces of entropy to produce, as Jackson described it, “pieces with a verticality and symmetry characteristic of a figure.”  Shown collectively, they create the effect of a garden of makeshift Brâncușis, sprouting with willful determination from the city’s slag-filled soil.


Jackson’s return to Cleveland also was marked by his participation in NewCelle, an experimental drawing group with fellow members Bea Mitchell and the mercurial Ed Mieczkowski of Op Art fame.  Informed by the science of chaos, the study of consciousness and the Surrealist practice of psychic automatism, the group took turns intuitively drawing within a cell-like form. In strict adherence to these principals, NewCelle chose to intently focus on the property of line. Jackson explained, “we decided that LINE, the singular domain of drawing, was our subject; and that other properties – color, texture and value–would assume minor roles, if any.” The exhibition will feature two of these sizeable collaborations, as well as several solo drawings by Jackson whose budding knobs and looping protrusions suggest the group’s profound influence.


The multiple paintings on display in Against Gravity form an aesthetic bridge between Jackson’s drawings and his sculptural oeuvre. Works like Untitled (Building) provide a cipher for understanding the impact of Cleveland’s post-manufacturing environment on his abstract work, with ramshackle geometric planes emerging through soot-tinged washes of color. Other pieces, such as Dance of Line, physically lift the line from the painting’s face, using a suspended wire to create a 3D effect which blurs the boundaries between media. Perhaps of most historical note, are several early watercolors which afford sweeping views of factories against grey-toned skies and foreshadow his use of industrial structures in years to come.


It is Jackson’s fearless ability to pursue an idea across form and media which is the hallmark of his artistic talent. The combination of his paintings, drawings and sculptures featured in Against Gravity: Remembering John Jackson captures his seeker’s spirit and provides a rare glimpse into his world several decades in the making – a fitting tribute for his faithful followers and a perfect introduction for neophytes alike. Jackson’s work will be on view until March 11.


To accompany the exhibition, Remembering John Jackson: A Community Gathering will be held on Saturday, February 11, 1:00 – 2:00pm. Join Helen Zakin, the sister of Archived Artist John Jackson as she reflects about his work and shares her memories about his remarkable life. Those who knew John are also invited to contribute their memories and stories to the conversation in a community-oriented setting. To attend the free program, please register on Eventbrite


The Artists Archives of the Western Reserve would like to officially thank and acknowledge Achala Wali who donated her collection of John Jackson’s work to the museum in 2019. Without her collection and tireless efforts to preserve John Jackson’s visual legacy, this show would not be possible.


Need special accommodations? We’re happy to help! Email info@artistsarchives.org to plan your visit or call 216-721-9020 for assistance. We’re looking forward to seeing you!


The Artists Archives of the Western Reserve has been proudly certified as a Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities “ALL means ALL” organization. All people deserve to have equal access to and be equal participants in all aspects of community life. This includes where a person chooses to live, learn, work, and play. Cuyahoga DD’s ALL means ALL initiative provides guidance on actions businesses should take to ensure that they are welcoming of all people and able to support their inclusion in all activities, programs and events. To learn more about the ALL means ALL initiative, visit the Cuyahoga DD website.


January 27, 2023 @ 5:30 pm
March 11, 2023 @ 4:00 pm
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Artists Archives of the Western Reserve
1834 E. 123rd St.
Cleveland, 44106-1910 United States
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