“I would rather feel than think,” claims Nashville sculptor Buddy Jackson. The Tennessee native has spent his adult life in the visual arts. His desire for immediacy and autonomy of expression has led him through a series of career evolutions and modifications. Today, his sculpture, his home, and his aesthetic approach seem to indicate his sensitivity to beauty and his ongoing romance with creative expression.
His sensitive connection to the world and his innate capacity to bend the human form into expressive poses create a dynamic sculpture.
Art is in Jackson’s blood. “My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was a traveling portrait artist. He fell in love with one of his sitters—my great-grandmother. My granddad was a sign painter. He would design these signs at his kitchen table in a little house in South Knoxville.” Jackson used to sit with his grandfather and watch him paint simple small-town signs for local businesses. He says, “That is how I fell in love with making art.” This love for art acts as a catalyst for Jackson. “I like making things that weren’t here yesterday. I think it comes from my own appreciation of looking at things.”
Jackson naturally majored in art when he attended the University of Tennessee. He entered college with a love for painting, and his style was studied and realistic. His professors, a generation older than himself, had all been students of abstract expressionism. Jackson was often discouraged or singled out for refusing to deny his own artistic impulses in order to pursue an abstract style. He set up a studio in the attic of an old building on campus and worked diligently at his canvases day and night.
As his college career was coming to an end, one of Jackson’s professors advised him to switch from fine arts to commercial illustration, believing that his disdain for abstract expressionism meant he could never be a true painter. Jackson obediently followed his professor’s advice and left fine arts for over 20 years.
Directly after college, a young Buddy Jackson moved to Nashville. He intended to enroll in commercial art school, but his ambition and talent soon landed him a series of jobs as a designer. With a growing and loyal base of patrons he founded Jackson Design. Jackson saw great success through his business as a commercial designer. His company won several Grammy awards and produced the cover art for hundreds of albums. Jackson, though, felt that something was missing. “It’s a crazy, taxing business. Deadline after deadline after deadline.”
A friend in the music industry asked Jackson to lend his hand to a music video project, and at that point his life took a dramatic turn. Jackson received the task of making small Calderesque figures made from wire, string, and other found objects and materials to be used in his friend’s video. Tired from long days in the corporate world he would sit in front of the television at night and lose himself in these small sculptures. He decided to take a sculpture class or two and soon found that he was spending more time on his art than on his business.
His aesthetic approach seems to indicate his sensitivity to beauty and his ongoing romance with creative expression.
After 20 years in the commercial design industry, Jackson sold his business in order to devote more time to sculpting. Sculpture finally offered Jackson the expressive freedom that he had missed in the corporate world. Free to pursue his own muses, he often sculpts female figures in various powerful poses. He soaks up inspiration from travels and from encounters with interesting people. Most importantly, Jackson is energized by the act of sculpting: “A huge part of the process is the touch. It’s me and the clay. In some ways, I have this very traditional sense of the importance of craft. I’m married to that. I can’t get away from it.”
Just two years ago, Jackson made another career change in order to achieve greater autonomy of expression in his art. He stopped using artist’s models and ceased executing preparatory sketches for his work. Jackson claims that when using models, “I find myself trying to replicate what is in front of me. Working without models is liberating in terms of subject matter.” Jackson says that with these changes he “tried to create a vocabulary” of figurative gestures and forms of the body. He now utilizes the human form as a vehicle for expression rather than a starting point for an individual study. “Part of the reason I gave up working with models is that I want those expressions to be solely my expressions—some sort of honest expression.”
Jackson also began experimenting with Hydrocal plaster, which presented him new opportunities in terms of media. He also sculpts fired clay, terra cotta, and Hydrocal with a wax coating and produces bronze casts of many of his works. Jackson sculpts with handmade tools that he carves out of ebony by hand. His medium of choice is water-based clay. Although many sculptors lean towards the oil-based variety because it does not dry, Jackson likes the added pressure of handling a medium that must be finished quickly. “I finish it while it is wet and mold it while it is wet. I like the immediacy of that.”
The result of Jackson’s adventures in new media and his newfound freedom of subject matter is sculpture that produces poetry of the human form. Sculptors of the human body are faced with the challenge of producing more than a mere copy of a person’s physique. They must communicate mood, sense, feeling. Jackson’s sensitive connection to his world and his innate capacity to bend the human form into expressive poses create a dynamic sculpture.
In his figure Stretch, Jackson models the torso of a woman who appears strong, quiet, and liberated. The delicate curves of her body shape a figure that is simultaneously at rest and in motion. Her head finds a soft repose in her rhyming sinuous arms crossed above her body at the same time that her stomach and breasts arc energetically out of the solid trunks of her thighs. Incline offers a female form that pulls the body into a ramp of muscular activity. Her shoulder blades pressed into the ground, chin straining towards the collarbone, the figure twists her thighs and legs into a taut line. The delicate, small sculpture seems to defy gravity with its careful and impossible pose in space.
Jackson claims, “I want to explore the trunk, the torso. I don’t always do female figures, but a huge majority of them are. It’s important to me to show the power of women instead of this screwed-up idea of beauty portrayed in the media.”
His figures each seem to have a story. Some strike exultant poses reaching towards the sky. Others, like Waiting, capture quiet, private moments. Waiting offers a glimpse into the world of a small, seated woman. Her head outreached but hung low, she folds her limbs into the central line of her body. This inward movement creates a soft tension between the limbs and torso, her leaning body perched on the edge of a bench. It also produces a sense of hushed intimacy, a brief glimpse into an internal and thoughtful experience.
Jackson asserts, “If you look at my work, there is not a straight line. Flesh that lives bulges. It has a life that pushes out. I want those figures to feel alive—like they could breathe, like there is life bulging out of them trying to get out. It is part of the beauty of the human form.”
Buddy Jackson is represented by Zeitgeist Gallery. zeitgeist-art.com
by Deborah Walden