It may be important that I admit a bias towards the work of Richard Jackson at the outset of this review; I had the pleasure of interviewing the man for a longform article during the opening of New Paintings less than a month ago, and found him an ideal subject – thoughtful and vital and, above all, thoroughly uninterested in system or censorship. Unlike many of his contemporaries – Paul McCarthy say, or his good friend Bruce Nauman – Jackson has remained more or less outside the grasp of the mainstream, hyper-monetised art world, by virtue of being uncompromising to almost the Nth degree.
It feels like a contradiction, in some ways. That all of this beautiful, gleamingly finished and pleasingly 'Pop' performance should be the output of an anti-establishment artist is almost unthinkable, but this perversion is the very point – the man behind the work does not make his pieces for the megagallery alone. Engage him in conversation, and you will find him more of a frontier cowboy – an iconoclast – than a media-eager sop; he has one especially great story in which he forces Nauman to eat a deer's liver and heart.
Richard Jackson, Installation view; Courtesy of the Artist and Hauser & Wirth
He's crude, too, at times, a quality worth admiring in an artist (or a friend or lover, for that matter). Take Copy Room, for example – an installation work in which a rubberised sex doll sits upright on a photocopier churning out xerox replicas of its ersatz vagina, a painting of which hangs on the adjacent wall. His description of the artwork in discussion with Dennis Szakacs, curator of his recent retrospective, beats anything I got out of him in our time together. “If you buy it,” he shrugs, “you get a shredder, you get a copier, you get a girlfriend, and you get a Vermeer.” It's the sales pitch to end all sales pitches in art, as far as I'm concerned; the painting of the doll's vagina is one the artist ordered over the internet, via a Chinese studio, and it cost a few hundred dollars. The copier, I suspect, cost at least twice as much.
A supersized bobblehead of the artist inspired by a baseball souvenir is the show's most humorous highlight. With its mammoth skull set trembling by a motor, the sculpture is the willfully-silly spectre of The Artist As Celebrity: a mascot for the critic, with fingers dripping in paint. Likewise, Shower Room (whose horror-movie blood is replaced by paint in the Modernist red, blue, and yellow) has the ghost of Americana about it: it carries the look of the movies.
Richard Jackson, Shower Room (detail), 2013—2014, Wood, canvas, hardware, acrylic paint, gear pumps, plastic buckets, 354 x 321 x 321 cm; Courtesy of the Artist and Hauser & Wirth
One wonders how much the artist's residence in Los Angeles (since the sixties) has made this all-American use of size and bombast seem ripe for lampooning; likewise, the use of Hollywood-level technical skill in creating his full-scale sets and 'props' (the yellow horse in Who Painted My Horse Yellow, for instance) seem like nods not only to cinema, but to U.S. industry. It's a kind of technicolour dream, notably made in the States – one in which every child's asshole, clown's cock and horse's head is a fountain of colour, and beauty is pain[t].
(Image on top: Richard Jackson, Who Painted My Horse Yellow?, 2013–2014, Steel, neon, fibreglass, hardware, acrylic paint, wood, airtank , 331 x 368 x 368 cm / 130 3/8 x 144 7/8 x 144 7/8 in Base: 41 x Ø 368 cm / 16 1/8 x Ø 144 7/8 in.; Courtesy of the Artist and Hauser & Wirth)