Rich layers of life from one of L.A.'s pioneer black female artists
“Texture” is the operative word in describing Suzanne Jackson’s show at O-Town House, where a dozen recent works abound with layers of paint, paper, fabric and wood, as well as bits of string, loquat seeds, pistachio shells, leaves and fine garnet rubble.
Just as compelling is the show’s historical texture, an unusually rich layering of place and time.
The guestbook is a good illustration. Visitors signing enact a performative connection to visitors of 50 years ago, who inscribed their names in this same book when they attended openings and events at Jackson’s Gallery 32, located in the same complex as the current show, the Granada Buildings.
Jackson settled in L.A. in 1967 after studying art and working as a professional dancer. She took classes with Charles White at what was then the Otis Art Institute nearby, and between 1968 and 1970 she devoted one floor of her two-story live-work studio mostly to exhibitions of fellow young, African American artists, materially adventurous and socially engaged.
David Hammons showed his first body prints there. Betye Saar organized an important show of black female artists from L.A. Jackson hosted musical events, discussion forums, poetry readings and fundraisers for such causes as the Black Arts Council, the Watts Towers Arts Center, and the Black Panther Party. Those who signed in include Wanda Coleman, John Outterbridge, Yvonne Brathwaite, Sue Irons (later Senga Nengudi) and White.
Gallery announcements, photographs and correspondence from Gallery 32’s short but significant lifespan fill a display case in the current show. The ephemera provides relevant biographical background for Jackson and wonderful contextual resonance for O-Town House. The show helps to flesh out the story of a cultural moment, and it makes a worthy addendum to the Charles White retrospective recently opened at LACMA and “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983,” coming in March to the Broad.
Jackson moved to New York in 1979 (the guestbook records the names at her goodbye sale), later studied theater design at Yale and taught for two decades in Savannah, Ga., where she now lives. She is also a poet.
A monoprint hanging near the entrance of O-Town House feels guided by automatic motion, spontaneous vitality. Streaks and swipes in dilute violet, persimmon and sea green stutter and dance across the page. Birds are suggested here, as in other works, but Jackson’s forms rarely commit. They flaunt their gestural, material freedom from edge to irregular edge.
O-Town House, 672 S. Lafayette Park Place, Suite 44, L.A. Thursdays-Saturdays, through March 23. (213) 263-9428, www.o-townhouse.art
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