Studio International

Published 23/06/2014

Richard Jackson: New Paintings

Hauser & Wirth, North Gallery, London
23 May – 26 July 2014

Richard Jackson (born 1939) has been a pre-eminent figure on the American art scene since the 70s and, in his current exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, he certainly leaves his mark. Influenced by both Abstract Expressionism and action painting, this show is a playful, yet disturbing synthesis of the two.

The well-lit gallery is awash with colour – largely primary colours, black and white. The walls and floors are covered in paint splatters, splodges, drips and explosions. It is far more like a studio or warehouse than a gallery. Canvases are hung back to front, and paint pots and canisters lay strewn across the floor.

The first thing you notice is the row of men, bent over, pants down, standing on crude plinths, seemingly drinking paint through pipe-like straws from canisters, before emitting the colours through their exposed anuses on to the wall behind. It is like boys competing over how far they can urinate, only this seems somehow more bodily, more visceral, less playful.

Next to the men is a yellow, inverted, hanging horse’s head, surrounded by the same tubing, twisted and contorted, filled with yellow paint, to spell out the question (and the work’s title) Who Painted My Horse Yellow? Well, the lineup of possible culprits, the identity parade, is narrowed down by each contender’s – or offender’s – colour-coordinated T-shirt, giving away the secret as to what is coursing through his veins, infiltrating his digestive system, and colouring his soul.

In the back corner of the gallery is an office installation with a sex doll sitting astride a photocopier, churning out page after page of Xeroxes of her exposed genital and anal orifices. One such image has been blown up extra large, painted on canvas, and hung on the wall. A shredder is overflowing with strips of bright coloured “confetti” and a wire bin is filled with paint-sodden balls of paper.

There are two room-like structures within the larger gallery confines. The first is House of Pain-t, a geometric box, filled with further canisters, pots, tubes, paint splashes and neon words spelling out their own colours – echoing the transparency of the defecating men’s colour coding. The second substructure, placed dead-centrally, is built from back to front canvases, marked up in pen. Inside, it is tiled like a shower room, with three showerheads, each emitting a primary colour. The floor, raised on boxes from the ground, is again covered in paint splatters. Stepping away from the open door are smeared red footprints. There is the suggestion of something macabre, Psycho-like, maybe a high-school horror.

Jackson often works with the image of a clown, and one hangs inverted here, breasts for eyes, and another penile tube, firing paint against the wall. There is something very Freudian about the entire show. References abound to the anal stage, the second stage of psychosexual development, when the child experiences conflict between his id, ego and superego, learns about bodily processes and that what goes in must come out, and first expresses an interest in his erogenous zones. Jackson claims to want to send up the figure of the genius artist, by setting up these installations whereby the paint is applied by anything other than his own hand. Nevertheless, he is at the heart of it all, and the work is most recognisably his. While his superego may wish to distance the adult Jackson from the puerile and anally fixated output, by creating figures to act out his id’s desires, the artistic ego still mediates very strongly between the two.