Inside Across Time with Artist Herb Jackson
by The Avid Pen
This November, the latest exhibition featuring work from North Carolina artist, Herb Jackson opened at the Hidell Brooks Gallery. Across Time, features paintings dating from the late 1970’s to the present day and is full of colors and layers, that are the hallmarks of the artist’s work.
After seeing the exhibition for myself, I knew I wanted to know more about Herb Jackson’s process, his inspiration and more about the artist himself and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to share this interview with you.
Since winning his first award for art in a juried exhibition as a teenager, Jackson’s work has been featured in galleries in the US and abroad in over 100 single artist exhibitions.
You were a regular at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC from a very young age. What was it about the art that first drew you in?
My interest started when I saw work by my sister who was good at rendering. My father admired what she did. So it started as sibling rivalry. There weren’t many art galleries or books in the 1950’s so that was my source of excitement.
Was there a particular artist who inspired you at the beginning of your career?
If I had to pick, since we’re a nation of lists, it would be the Spanish painter Antoni Tàpies and Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini.
Tell me about a typical day in your studio…
Hard work, since I’m standing for long hours putting on the layers. I work on only a square inch at a time, without making it look like I only work on a square inch at a time. I will put on the pigment and take it right back off again. There is a level of insanity to what I do. I can spend hours putting something on that I’m just going to take off the next day, but that is just part of the process.
You use a variety of colors in your work, going from vibrant oranges and reds to pastels that are more subdued. What would you say is your preferred color palette?
The universe. I work with anything that comes along. I don’t set out to make a painting with only one color dominant. I let the painting take me where it wants to go. I can go from high-key colors to low-key colors. One color I don’t use a lot of is green. I feel that nature does it better. Although once when I had just come back from the Amazon I did use green, it was unavoidable.
I loved the shimmer/diamond effect of the paint you’ve added to many of the pieces featured in the current exhibition at the Hidell Brooks Gallery. When did you start using this particular paint?
I started using it when Golden first introduced a holographic paint. Holographic has no color and works the same way a diamond does in refraction of light. The particle itself is clear. It’s also important to point out that it’s not glitter in the paint because glitter has color. Glitter will also fade over time.
When I asked for them (Golden) more, they said it was too expensive to produce. So I have the worlds supply of that particular particle. I don’t use very much, since what I have could fit in a Dixie cup, but I feel adding it to a painting provides a mysterious shift in the spectrum as you move right to left. There are also other layers where I use pearlized/iridescent paint.
Why do you prefer acrylics over oils?
I use acrylic because it dries fast. There was no acrylic when I first started, so I began with oil. So while the painting from the previous day was drying I would work on the next.
I use various materials to keep the acrylic paint from looking shiny. Pumice (volcanic ash) is one of the materials I use for a matte look. There are very few people who know what I use to create my work.
Another interesting note. My son invented an acrylic watercolor (QoR) that is available through Golden Paints. It provides a more intense color value than you will find in traditional watercolors. The paint also has qualities that allow it to be built up.
Jackson’s paintings are built up of many layers which are scrapped off as they are applied. Shapes & marks come and go as the painting develops into a hundred or more layers.
Your paintings are made of many layers that are scraped off as you are applying them giving your work beautiful layers and textures. Did you always use this process to create your paintings, or is it a technique that you developed over time?
I would say I always used this process because I liked glazing. Early on I would add many layers through transparent glazes, but then I got really interested in surface and I started doing things like soaking newspapers and adding acrylic which wasn’t very stable. When I tried doing the same thing with sand it was too heavy.
Once I discovered pumice, I got both the texture and it’s light and similar in consistency to talcum powder. I also like to work on canvas because of the way it moves. That’s also why I have to scrape off layers.
You’ll notice in my earlier work featured in the second room of the Hidell Brooks Gallery, that if you just let the paint build up, it gets pretty thick and it tests the boundaries.
So essentially layering has always been something I’ve been interested in. Plus, I think that’s very much the way our lives are. So it makes sense to me as a process.
Your work has been featured in 80 collections including collections at both the British Museum in London and the Brooklyn Museum in NYC. What do you consider to be the greatest achievement of your career?
I don’t quite think that way. I guess if you want to sum it up, doing this everyday for 61 years is an achievement. Longevity is part of the story and it’s sustained me since I was 12 years old and I’m 73 now. My achievement is doing what I love.
I don’t really care about awards. I find seeing the finished work to be the true reward.
I love the titles of your paintings such as Falling Into the Night, Angel of the Night Passage and Veronica’s Veil. Do you come up with your titles while you’re working on the piece or after it’s been completed?
Never at first. The only exception was Veronica’s Veil which is a series. When I start a Veronica’s Veil I know it’s going to be one of the series. The other paintings are non-series oriented so I don’t know where it’s going at first. About 2-3 weeks into the process I’ll know where the painting is going. By the time it’s coming together the painting is telling me what it wants to be called. I used to do a lot of writing and words are of interest to me.
Titling is not my favorite part, but if you don’t title it either people get mad or you can’t respond to a question about a painting. If someone was to ask me if Untitled #3 was available, I wouldn’t know what they were talking about. However, if they were to ask is Falling Into the Night available, I’d be able to tell them yes or no.
The key for the title is to not define the way you look at the painting. I don’t want to tell you how to look at it. It’s all up to you.
How did you decide on which paintings you wanted to share in the current exhibition?
The thesis for the show, was juxtapose older pieces and newer pieces. So I would say what was missing from the exhibition were the middle years. I wanted to contrast between the quiet pieces and the new. The rest is determined by the room itself. A painting is a matter of relationship with itself, but a show is a paintings relationship to another and an exhibition is a work of art in itself.
What do you enjoy the most about working with the team at the Hidell Brooks Gallery?
They are lovely people and very enthusiastic. It’s not just merchandise to them. I always want who I work with to have a love of art and not to be just selling it. Rebecca & Katharine have a passion for what they are showing.