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Chester County Press

Kennett Square artist Robert Jackson gets a spotlight for artists he admires

10/14/2016 09:01AM ● By J. Chambless

Robert Jackson published his book, 'Behind the Easel,' in 2014, but it has sparked two major new exhibitions.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The hard work and good fortune that have followed Robert Jackson since the publication of his 2014 book, “Behind the Easel: The Unique Voices of 20 Contemporary Representational Painters,” continue next weekend with two exhibition openings that will put all 20 artists – including Jackson – in the spotlight again.

Speaking at his Kennett Square studio, Jackson beamed with excitement at the prospect of welcoming 19 of his favorite artists to the region.

Jackson's distinctive still lifes of toys, snack food and fruit having witty adventures are owned and exhibited nationwide. He regrets that he doesn't actually own any of his paintings anymore. They are all sold to collectors or placed with galleries. He admits that's a great problem for an artist to have, and he's not complaining, but he acknowledges that the pace of the next few weeks is going to be particularly intense.

“Behind the Easel” was published in November 2014, nicely coinciding with Jackson's 50th birthday. But the process of producing it took about two years. He was inspired to put it together, he said, because he admired the artists.

 “I didn't go to art school. I fell in love with art on my own, and did art on my own,” he said. “I'd go up to New York and see shows, and many of these are the artists I'd race up to the city to see. I learned a lot from them. But I also thought, 'Why isn't anyone writing about these people?' I was waiting for the great book on these artists, and finally I thought I'd waited long enough, and my career had gotten to the point where I'd started showing with them. I thought, 'OK, I'll write the book on them.'”

With a 1982 book, “Realists at Work,” as a springboard, Jackson said he wanted to expand the concept and let the artists speak for themselves. He asked them each questions and printed their responses, along with seven color images for each artist. “I wanted color, and I didn't want three images on a page. I wanted full-page images,” he said. “When I approached these artists, I told them I would do seven images for each of them – all full page. I asked them to each send me 10 images and I picked out of that. All the words are theirs.

“A lot of other art books are full of a bunch of art critics talking about stuff you're not interested in,” Jackson continued. “I wanted to write for the public, and for collectors. I didn't care about what kind of brushes they used. I wanted to know how they keep coming up with ideas. I asked them questions about the creative spirit, and what they were trying to say.”

The result is a highly readable, beautifully designed book that took a year to appear in print after Jackson submitted the final material. But it's had a nice, ongoing shelf life.

“It's a very different kind of market than the mass-produced paperback,” Jackson said of the art-book market. “It's a $60 coffee table book. I thought these would fly off the shelves, but you go to a Barnes & Noble and there's one of each art book there. There's not 25 copies. If they sell out, they might not get them back in.”

During the writing and design process, Jackson was speaking at the Delaware Art Museum and had a preparatory mock-up copy of the book in his car at the time. The museum had bought one of his paintings (“The Apple Guy”), “and I told the curator, Margaret Winslow, I was doing a book and that I'd love to see it travel as a museum show. I asked what a museum would look for. I brought the mock-up in, and they called me up later and said, 'Can we have that show?'”

Under the guidance of Winslow, the project began to come together. “I said I didn't want to be the curator,” Jackson said. “I already did the book. I've talked to the artists enough. But it had been three years since I first collected their artwork. Most of them had new work that they're really proud of. I asked if they had new things they wanted to show.”

There will be one to four works by each artist as part of “Truth & Vision: 21st Century Realism,” opening on Oct. 21, based on the scale of the works, Jackson said. Some artist paint tiny works and others go large, limiting the number of works the museum can handle.

But the Delaware Art Museum isn't alone in its love of Jackson and the other artists. Somerville Manning Gallery in Greenville is opening its own show on Oct. 20 to coincide with the museum exhibition.

“It's a darn good show. All the artists will be there, too,” Jackson said. “The difference is that if you go to a museum show, you see giant works and museum guards. Then you can go to Somerville Manning and get right up close to them. That's really cool.”

All the artists will be visiting for the dual openings, Jackson said, and there are special lectures and programs scheduled during the run of both shows.

“So I've got all these realist artists coming in. What do I do with them?” Jackson said, laughing. “I called up the Brandywine River Museum and we got a private morning tour of the Andrew Wyeth studio and then the museum. Then we're doing lunch another day at Galer Winery. I reserved the back room, and we'll all just hang out and talk business and life. And we'll talk about what's next – does this all die after the end of the Delaware shows, or does it go on? As a group, we'll figure out what's next.”

Jackson is humbled and honored by the reception given to the artists he's loved for so long. And it's especially fitting that realist artists are coming to the land of Andrew Wyeth to represent the future possibilities of the artistic style.

“It's an honor that the museums around here have been extremely nice. These are going to be stunning shows, and I'm thrilled with what's been pulled together. Realism has a niche and a fan base, so all these artists have a respect for Andrew Wyeth and what he did,” Jackson said. “Maybe he's their favorite, maybe not, but they do tip their hat and say, 'This is a guy that carried the torch.'”

The Delaware Art Museum (2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, Del.) presents “Truth & Vision: 21st Century Realism” from Oct. 22, 2016 to January 22, 2017. It features works by Steven Assael, Bo Bartlett, Debra Bermingham, Margaret Bowland, Paul Fenniak, Scott Fraser, Woody Gwyn, F. Scott Hess, Laurie Hogin, Robert C. Jackson, Alan Magee, Janet Monafo, John Moore, Charles Pfahl, Scott Prior, Stone Roberts, Sandra Mendelsohn Rubin, Daniel Sprick, Will Wilson, and Jerome Witkin. On Oct. 23 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., Jackson will discuss the exhibition at the museum. Other events with the exhibiting artists are also scheduled. Visit www.delart.org.

Somerville Manning Gallery (101 Stone Block Row, Greenville, Del.) presents “Behind the Easel: The Unique Voices of 20 Contemporary Representational Painters” from Oct. 20 to Nov. 19. A reception with the artists will be held Oct. 20 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Call 302-652-0271 or visit www.somervillemanning.com.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.


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