PST: Richard Jackson makes a painting with a drone airplane crash


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After one aborted attempt at takeoff, artist Richard Jackson finally got his big, paint-filled, remote-controlled model airplane off the ground late Sunday afternoon. He circled the craft high above the grassy field adjacent to Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium, then brought it in low to smash head-on into a 20-foot-square canvas erected in the field. (That’s the paint-splattered moment of impact in the photograph.) A rainbow of color instantly streaked the canvas, already emblazoned with a military or club-style insignia.

Jackson launched his ‘Accidents in Painting’ as part of the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival, which continues citywide through Jan. 29. (Some reviews are here.) Next month Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts, which hosted Sunday in the park with Jackson, will open an exhibition based on the event. That’s appropriate. Jackson showed a similar project in a Zurich gallery in 2003; yet a certain pointed resonance attends an art center built in a former National Guard arsenal in a region that owes much of its established prosperity to a once-flourishing defense industry.


The work’s raucous lampoon of Abstract Expressionist painting recalls the post-World War II era that saw America emerge as an international artistic powerhouse while Europe smoldered in ruins. In the 1950s the U.S. government’s veiled promotion of dynamic, New York-based ‘action painting’ as a Cold War propaganda tool, symbol of a muscular cultural freedom that could contrast sharply with Communist control over individual expression, is unmistakable in an airplane elaborately painted in enemy-deceiving camouflage greens.

Many in the crowd likewise murmured about a remote-controlled, camouflaged airplane being deployed for an action painting today. The use of high-tech drone aircraft has emerged as a controversial subject of American military action in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East. The Times reported in December that at least 230 drone missile attacks were launched in Pakistan alone in the previous three years, killing more than 1,700 people; civilians were among them. Jackson’s historicized, toy-like version spoke volumes. As in his September show at David Kordansky Gallery -- reviewed here -- he turned destructive chaos into creative force. Chance certainly guides the splatter of paint. However, on Sunday the elaborate planning, construction and execution of the project were impossible to miss. (Jackson, 72, studied both art and engineering in college.) Deliberate yet hazardous design belies the claim of art as ‘accident.’

Short videos of Sunday’s ‘Accidents in Painting’ have begun to turn up on YouTube. Here’s one of them:


More art reviews from the Los Angeles Times

-- Christopher Knight