WORDS Peter Chawaga
The work of Nashville’s John Jackson has ranged from figurative representation, often rendering subjects in the nude and juxtaposing scenes of natural intimacy with the distracting presence of modern technology, to abstract expressionism, utilized to articulate scenes real and imagined.
His painting SeXBOX features two naked figures provocatively positioned on a mattress, the male distracted by video games and the female by her cellphone. Frond Pond with Beet Plants, another painting, is an aerial view of the namesakes seemingly floating on surface water, brightly colored and translucent. The drawing Stria 1 is less representative, a dark linear mark, smudged and spread just right of center.
“My work evolves, as do my influences,” Jackson explains. “Currently my work is more abstracted. I’m riding a new wave after a breakthrough at the beginning of the year. I may return to previous representational styles for commission work.”
Jackson landed such a commission recently, as the new PUBLIC New York hotel in Manhattan called upon his depictive style for ten paintings in its recently christened space. The hotel, run by a cofounder of the city’s infamous Studio 54, Ian Schrager, opened its doors last month and boasts a high-design aesthetic and multi-media performance space.
“I was honored to get this commission because the Ian Schrager Company is known for its uncompromising, superlative style and taste,” says Jackson. “It has designed some of the most beautiful, stylish, award- winning hotels in the world.”
Kristin Bailey, a vice president of interior design at Schrager’s company, found Jackson’s work on Facebook and reached out. She envisioned a series of relatively small paintings, 10 inches by 13 inches, that featured famous images from the Baroque period. The two of them chose the inspirations and Jackson executed the paintings.
Now hanging in the PUBLIC New York are Jackson’s takes on work like Memling’s 15th-century Portrait of Maria Portinari and Rembrandt’s 17th-century Minerva. But rather than strict reproductions, these snapshots often focus on a single feature or aspect of their original counterparts, such as the determined expression and revealing bodice on the Virgin Mary in Caravaggio’s Madonna and Child with St. Anne, or the loosely clutched medallion in Bronzino’s portrait Lodovico Capponi.
The works, hemmed by frames custom made in London, stand in wooden, backlit shelving behind a bar in the hotel. The shelves also hold statuettes, glassware, and books, creating a menagerie for visitors.
“The paintings are part of a whole wall that creates a feeling of beauty, interest, and style,” says Jackson. “They are part of an environment that strives to make people feel good inside.”
Commissions offer artists a chance to follow a prompt, to have their work showcased somewhere it might not be otherwise, and to collaborate with a patron. If the artist is particularly lucky, they may even spark a new perspective for their own pursuits.
“I learned more about how my art can influence an environment and how people feel,” Jackson says of the experience. “I will keep that in mind as I continue my current, more abstract work.”
As Jackson continues his journey, one that has been remarkably productive and successful, his style and approach will undoubtedly evolve even further, whether into something new entirely or a return to the styles he has explored in the past. Without a doubt, that journey will stand to make the bar at the PUBLIC hotel more inspiring.
To learn more about PUBLIC New York hotel, visit www.publichotels.com. See more of John Jackson’s work at www.facebook.com/johny.jackson.