The Art of Now

The Dixon pulls out all the stops for this one-of-a-kind show.

(page 8 of 8)


Jed Jackson

Even as as a small boy, Jed Jackson was painting 
in oils. No wonder his mom dressed him up one Halloween as a French artist, complete with beret and goatee. Since then he’s established a name for himself for works that pulsate with life.

“I paint scenes where people are engaging and interacting,” says Jackson, “and I load the images with references to other events or times to create layers of possible interpretation.” Through the use of color and its “involuntary emotional associations” and images often drawn from the past, he creates “mindscapes” with open-ended morals. “The viewer will be influenced in a particular mode,” Jackson explains, “based on prejudice and wishful thinking.”

Growing up in Southern California and later Jonesboro, Arkansas, Jackson earned his BFA from Memphis College of Art and his MFA from Cornell. From 1999 to 2006 he served as chairman of the art department at the University of Memphis, where he is currently a professor of painting. His works belong in several corporate collections around the U.S., and a high point in his career to date has been a 2006 exhibit in Rennes, France, at the Franco-American Institute. “A number of my family members and friends came to the show,” he recalls, “and that will always be a great memory.”

To achieve the rich color and depth of his works, Jackson uses monochrome underpainting and over-glazing in transparent oil emulsions, methods used by early Flemish masters, pre-Raphaelites, and French academics. To create his “mindscapes,” Jackson pulls up the past in a transhistorical manner — “any period or topic is fair game,” he says. “This is commonplace in literature and film but less so in the visual arts,” he explains, “where there is enormous pressure to be ‘au courant.’” But Jackson, who has learned directly from “dead teachers,” likes risk-takers who “dare to walk on the edge that divides success and failure. Safe, accommodating artists don’t interest me.”

Pop culture inspirations for Jackson range from the “enhanced reality” of Technicolor, to 1920s cinema, to such directors as P.T. Anderson and Stanley Kubrick. The Sherlock Holmes movies of the 1940s inspired the painting above. But culture in all its forms — whether art, music, movies, or literature — is a gold mine for Jackson and he speaks fervently of its power: “When I stand in front of a [Jacques-Louis] David in the Louvre or sit in a dark theatre watching Grand Illusion, or listen to a Beethoven concerto or a John Coltrane solo or a Bob Dylan lament, the artists are equally valid and alive for me. They are alive in the present — vivid and pulsing and stimulating me to think more creatively. This is true immortality, and it is available to everyone.” 

Jed Jackson | 221b, 2007-2008, oil on wood, 11x14” Courtesy of the Artist and Duane Reed Gallery


Marilyn Sadler is senior editor of 
Memphis magazine. 
For more information on “Present Tense,” 
go to

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