Archive for category Author: Kurt Jackson
Kurt Jackson is that rare creature, a creator who is as at home with the written word as he is with the paintbrush. Eloquent in both media, this is his account of the natural world as he sees it. If this was a collaboration such as say, Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words, you’d describe it as an illustrated account, or perhaps a curated portrait. As it is, though, the two strands are inseparable and the paintings, drawings, poems and accounts of travels, excursions and experiences are a single piece.
I said that Jackson is a rare creature, and the truth is that this is a unique work and has to be taken as a whole. The words don’t explain the pictures and the pictures don’t illustrate the words; both account for the landscape as it is and as Jackson sees and experiences it. To open the book is to enter a world that is very personal, and yet at once recognisable. As individuals, we’ve all been caught in motorway jams and wondered at the variety of flora that populate the verges. (That’s from a chapter entitled Weeds that makes it clear that these neglected plants are anything but second-class citizens). We’ve also marvelled at the majesty of an oak tree and perhaps wandered through the undergrowth of a woodland, disturbing small creatures as we go.
So, what is the book like? Well, imagine looking out of an all-seeing window and listening to the words of an eloquent writer. Somehow, the two meld and sound becomes vision, vision sound. It’s no accident that Robert Macfarlane contributes a preface. He gets it.
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I seem to have reviewed a lot of Kurt Jackson books lately and it’s always a pleasure. This is not only because I like Kurt’s work, but because they’ve all been beautifully produced and so varied that quantity has not brought repetition. Kurt is an artist who likes to try new subjects and what we might call his voyage of discovery is always as fascinating as the final result. There haven’t been any obvious failures yet, but I can’t help thinking I’d even be enthusing if there were one!
The term “bestiary” implies not a collection of animal portraits but rather the fabulous creatures of mediaeval legend. While you won’t find such things as the Cockatrice here, you will notice that the subjects themselves are artistic interpretations rather than faithful portraits. The cock on the front cover is a good example, capturing as it does the many colours of the feathers and a sense of life and movement rather than a static and unrealistic pose. Looking inside, you’ll find the grey washes that depict the murmurations of Starlings over Marazion and the enigmatic Song Thrush Song, Porthbean, where the subject is invisible and merely contributes to the experience of the scene; the title teases the viewer with the anticipation of what only the artist can hear.
Other subjects are more lifelike: shellfish, butterflies, birds, but they all exist within their surrounds and you quite often have to look for them. Wildlife in the field does its best to camouflage rather than reveal itself.
As a piece of production, this book is a delight to handle. Weighty without being heavy, large enough to hold as well as see and printed on good quality paper, it’s an artefact rather than a product and a joy in its own right.
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If that sounds like a different, and certainly intriguing authorship, this is a different and intriguing book. Kurt Jackson is unusual as a visual artist in that the written word is an important part of his work. He writes well himself and doesn’t adopt the painter’s common maxim that “my art speaks for itself”.
At this point, I think it’s worth quoting what amounts to a manifesto from the information sheet that came with the book: “A dedication to the environment is intrinsic to Kurt Jackson’s art and his politics, with a holistic involvement with his subjects providing a springboard for his formal innovations.” OK, I agree, that sounds about as pseud as it gets, but it also sums up Kurt’s work perfectly and I’d challenge anyone to put it better and avoid sounding as if they were wearing red spectacles and check trousers. If you know anything of Kurt’s work, you’ll know that his involvement with his environment is complete.
The book is a series of interpretations of single-point places around the United Kingdom – that’s to say, individual viewpoints rather than extensive explorations. They’re as varied as Penarth Head, the Grand Union Canal, Paddington Station and Spaghetti Junction. The places are chosen because they’re there, rather than because they necessarily have an attraction for the artist – though, of course, Kurt finds a kind of beauty in all of them. Each painting (sometimes accompanied by small details or sketches) is complemented by a description by a different writer, both friends and colleagues as well as people Kurt simply admires. A template of the letter that went out is included and this makes it clear that the locations were chosen by the writers rather than the artist, a brave and bold move that requires a large degree of confidence and even chutzpah.
If I say that the result is interesting, I mean just that, not as a sort of back-handed compliment. Kurt takes what he’s given and produces some amazing results. Many of the places have a natural beauty, or perhaps a sense of mystery, but some must have been a challenge. He’ll have known that, of course, and it’s a challenge he must have wanted to rise to. The result is an impressive, as well as rare, fusion of the verbal and the visual and there’s a link to readings of the pieces in there as well, if you want it.
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I’ve always felt that looking at an artist’s sketchbook can be, or at least feel like, an invasion of privacy, a bit like reading private correspondence. However, when it’s offered freely and is of this sort of quality, those reservations don’t need to be applied. The fact is that many artists would be pleased if their finished works were up to the standard of what Kurt knocks off as an aide-memoire.
Sketchbooks are a central part of the process of Kurt Jackson’s exhibited work and are, as becomes clear, more than just visual notes made at a specific time and place. Rather, they are the place where he evolves the finished result, almost in the manner of a discussion with himself. As a result, they’re even more illuminating that you might think. The other useful thing here is that we have Kurt’s own words to describe the process. This is much more than just an “I did this, I did that” progression, rather a description of the way the scene developed and what was happening at the same time – “A buzzard flaps from bank to bank as we pass underneath – a continuous line on my page, up one bank the birds shape and come down the other bank – all joined together, all connected. A dark, fluid pencil line.” This stream-of-consciousness becomes poetic and all-absorbing, merging the written word and the painted shape into a single work of art.
This is a remarkable book that says much more about the creative process, practically, intellectually and spiritually, than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s utterly compelling.
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