PLACE. Kurt Jackson. First published in 2014 by Sansom & Co., an imprint of Recliffe Press Ltd. Currently sold out at the Jackson Foundation, but you can always get a copy via the Inter-library loan system.
"Everyone has a link to somewhere special," writes painter/zoologist Kurt Jackson in the introduction to his book Place, one of a series of beautifully crafted publications that explore the art of landscape painting in and around Cornwall, South West England where the artist lives, as well as other far-flung places throughout the UK. My first encounter with Jackson's art was via A New Genre of Landscape Painting, another high-quality book published in 2010 that sets the stage for the magnificent display of painterly imagery contained in numerous exhibition catalogs and site-specific books published by the Jackson Foundation over the years.(kurtjackson.com) All of these sources, along with Jackson's films on the Internet, add up to some of the most enjoyable visual art encounters with the natural environment I have ever experienced. Rereading this classic recently and looking through my collection of other Jackson books and catalogs as I often do for inspiration, set me to wondering what exactly makes a Kurt Jackson painting so appealing. Is it the intimacy of the focus on the subject? The dynamic composition? The vibrant colors? The magical light? Of course, it's all of these factors and much more, but I think Richard Mabley, writing in Two Woods, identified the essence of Jackson's achievement as "the sheer vitality of the paint itself."
What makes Place unique, in addition to all the beautiful paintings, are the insights of the 32 contributing commentators the artist recruited for the project, "Friends, colleagues and admired writers," who wrote about their links to special places throughout the British Isles that served as subject matter for the featured works of art. The narratives provide a powerful unifying thread that elucidates the factors that make it possible to establish real affinity with a beloved locale. The effect of Place extends far beyond the burning desire it provokes to own an original Jackson painting. The book is also a testament to the power of Jackson's art to spark creativity in others and even motivate them to celebrate their own "somewhere special," just as it inspired my photographic exploration of White Clay Creek Preserve here in America.
I was reminded of this recently when I purchased Hawthorne Autumn, a limited-edition Jackson etching. As we opened the package and laid the print on the table at the frame shop, I recalled the scene from Jackson's book Botanical Landscapes when folks attending the Woodland Trust summer workshop gathered under the artist's lead to study and paint the Hawthorne, an occasion he described as "a perfect potential lesson plan for schools and classes, whether discussing ecology or the attachment to your area, history, geography or just looking at the aesthetics and lie of the land." It was a beautiful example of the transformative power of Jackson's enlightened environmental activism that lies at the heart of his creative focus. Bell Mooney described this eloquently in Two Trees/Five Senses/A World: "I believe his greatness as an artist stems directly from his reverence for a natural world which, being constantly threatened by human folly and greed, is nevertheless restored to power and glory in his art."
Helen Dunmore in her beautifully written essay From the Source to the Sea, delves further into the mysterious grip Jackson's art has on the viewer's senses in her observations about his relationship with the flow of time, the importance of living in the present moment and the way art facilitates and intensifies that imperative. "Perhaps Jackson's paintings gain some of their aesthetic power from this tension between what is recorded and what is lost forever. Their fascination is akin to that which we feel when standing on a bridge, watching the endless flow of a current that never eddies in exactly the same way twice. These paintings remind us of the limitations of our own days, as well as the intensity of their pleasures. We will die; but first we will see this."
What do we see? In addition to the sheer beauty of it all, we perceive the connections to the primal biological forces that created us and that continue to challenge and sustain us on this vulnerable and imperiled planet in the sentient universe we call Earth. Gregory Bateson, the pioneer ecological systems thinker, championed the idea that active interaction with the living world can be a facilitator of the wisdom needed to lead mankind out of the current environmental crisis, an issue central to Kurt Jackson's work. According to Noel G. Charlton writing in Understanding Gregory Bateson, "The route to this realization is via personal engagement with the more-than-rational-processes of the natural world and human art . . . By recognizing beauty in the world we can identify sane and health-giving possibilities for action."
Bateson's idea is right in sync with what the BBC described as Kurt Jackson's "deep regard and respect for nature, reflected in his environmental concerns and involvement in campaigns to preserve the balance between man and nature." Ecologist magazine Arts Editor Gary Cook says Jackson's "love for the wild ecology of the UK's favorite coastline has made him one of the country's most respected art activists." Jackson's work, and especially his book Place, provide ample means, not only for "recognizing beauty," but also for establishing the essential ground rules for salubrious environmental activism via the visual arts.
"I have a paranoia that when I attempt to paint, sculpt or respond to a particular part of the world my response may fall into that of simply a tourist, like the brief snapping of an image, producing a fleeting trivial record that has no depth or link to anything other than than the desire to visit," Jackson writes in Place. "To follow a river, ancient track-way or path through the Landscape slowly and repeatedly: over, across and through (and occasionally even under the countryside using the practice of making (visual imagery) is the ultimate way to discover, understand and ultimately become intimate with a place."