South of Savoy, c. 1978
13 x 21"
Prarie Gold, 1960
color etching, ed. 40
8 5/8 x 18 1/2"
Flowers on Table, 1949
oil on masonite
18 x 28 1/4"
Vinyard Bouquet (a.k.a. Mostly Daisies), 1961
28 1/2 x 22"
etching and engraving, edition unknown
19 3/4 x 11 3/4"
Tree Image, 1957-1958
color reduction woodcut, edition 12
19 5/8 x 11"
Vintage Beat, 1955
color reduction woodcut on rice paper
16 7/8 x 9 3/4"
engraving, aquatint, softground etching on zinc, edition 25
20 5/8 x 11 3/4"
Toy Vendor, Oaxaca, 1951
linocut on rice paper, edition 12
17 7/8 x 6 3/8"
At Sixty-four, 1990
Reduction woodcut, edition 14
10 x 8"
Siti of Dusk, 1990
reduction woodcut, ed. 14
11 3/4 x 11 7/8"
In the more important works I aspire to create unforgettable paintings that appeal disquietly...that give the beholder something more lasting than a momentary visual titillation...that arrests the viewer and draws him into many levels od appreciation.
- BMJ, 1967
The skies here are so pure, like the underside of a seashell...I drive around and look, and listen to the wind moving through the corn, watching the steam rise from the plowed fields...after a rain or driving out in the snow, I got more and more excited about the prairie.
- Billy Morrow Jackson, 1996
Billy Morrow Jackson, 1926-2006
by Mark Jenkins
A clear-eyed poet of the prairie, Billy Morrow Jackson is best known for his paintings of rural buildings and their environs, in which nearly all the canvas can be devoted to dramatically lighted sky. Yet Jackson also painted nudes and small-town scenes, as well as historical murals for NASA and the state capitols of Illinois and Washington.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1926, Jackson earned a BFA at Washington University in Saint Louis and an MFA from University of Illinois at Urbana. His early works, mostly watercolors and prints, were representational but modernist. A sojourn in Mexico in 1949-50 inspired expressionist prints of poverty and circus life. His first oils, produced a few years later, showed the influence of Impressionism and even Cubism.
As abstraction came to dominate American painting, however, Jackson moved in the opposite direction. In the mid-1960s, Jackson depicted rundown houses and barns in great detail. Soon, he was pulling back from those structures, using them as the distant focal point for compositions that emphasized ground and sky. The latter was sometimes blue, but more often dusty yellow or sunset red.
While Jackson's landscapes are luminous, the painter never adopted the reflection-heavy approach of the Photorealists, even in his pictures of Midwestern downtowns. In style and sensibility, Jackson's 1960s and '70s urban scenes are closer to Edward Hopper's than those of his contemporaries.
Jackson did not ignore the era in which he lived; his subjects included the civil rights movement and the space shuttle. Yet the artist is rightly associated foremost with the flat land and broad skies of the American Midwest. In that specific locale, Jackson captured universal qualities of light and space.
From a very young age Billy Morrow Jackson took classes at the Nelson Museum of Art in Kansas City MO. He was always sketching. But at eighteen, and with the advent of WWII Jackson became a U.S. Marine and served on Okinawa and other regions in the Pacific. After the war he returned to his home in Kansas City. Once readjusted to peacetime he moved to St. Louis to begin his studies at Washington University. There he studied with Max Beckman and Fred Conway.
He also haunted the jazz clubs in St. Louis, always carrying his sketchpad, ink, pen and brushes. Visits to those clubs were spent making quick sketches of the musicians. From these sketches he developed a series of prints and paintings using jazz as a theme.
Jackson married Blanche Mary Trice in 1949 and they moved first to Mexico City, then Oaxaca and San Cristobal. They resided in Mexico for almost two years. Paintings and linocuts from that time include: (Click to view them at janehaslemgallery.com)
The couple returned to Champaign-Urbana IL where Billy taught and received his MFA. After graduation he continued teaching at the University of Illinois until his retirement. The Jacksons had four children; Robin Todd, Aron Drew, Lon Allen, and Sylvia Marie. Their life went along as usual, the children growing up. They purchased land at Martha's Vineyard and summered there every year. Jackson happily painted and made prints of places and things in his immediate life; a bouquet of wild flowers, his family, summer tourists arriving at the Vineyard and scenes of the Illinois prairie.
Gradually Jackson became one with the great prairie. He observed the large clear skies with distant farms rising from the flat landscape. He began painting the prairie abstractly using geometric forms to build the compositions. His paint was thick and opaque and often applied with a palette knife producing colorful mosaic like works.
Untitled - Prairie Scene, 1962. oil on paper, 10 1/4 x 28 1/2"
If you have ever been on the prairie you will have noticed the almost constant wind. An important painting in 1963, Wind Walker, Jackson focuses on a despondent young woman walking against the wind. One finds a plethora of leaves, seeds, butterflies and milkweed pods blowing toward her. Every seed, piece of cloth, and the prairie seen far in the distance is painted with finite detail yet one wonders if the overall concept of this painting is charged with Bob Dylan's, song, Blowin' in the Wind.
Wind Walker, 1963. oil on canvas on panel, 48 x 96"
It was also around this time that Jackson produced a series of Civil Rights drawings.
He consistently demonstrated a sympathy for social and political causes. The civil rights drawings were published as a series of posters. All funds from the sale of these sets were donated to various civil rights organizations.
born 1926 Kansas City MO
died 2006 Champaign ILeducation
public collections1949 BS Washington University, St. Louis MO1954 MA University of Illinois, Champaign
1954-1987 professor emeritus University of Illinois, Champaign
Georgetown University Art Collection, Washington DCIllinois State Museum, SpringfieldIndianapolis Museum of Art, INKrannert Art Museum, Urbana-Champaign ILLibrary of Congress, Washington DCMetropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkNational Gallery of Art, Washington DCNelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City MOSioux City Art Center, IASmithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington DCSwope Art Museum, Terre Haute INWichita Art Museum, KSWright Museum of Art, Beloit College, WI
The Sunday Star
Washington DC, May 31, 1970
Up the hill at the Jane Haslem Gallery is the other hot news item. The show there is of paintings and drawings by Billy Morrow Jackson, an extraordinarily good and original realist painter. The news is that the National Gallery of Art has acquired one of is paintings, here reproduced. Since the doors of the National opened it has been universally believed that it accepts no art except that of artists dead at least 30 years. With the obvious exception, for obvious reasons, of Salvador Dali, this has been pretty much the rule of action. Clearly, it is so no longer. Jackson is not only alive but he is an American and 44 years old.
Jackson paints, landscapes mostly, but occasionally looks at small town fragments of the Midwest and even interiors. He paints with total fidelity to the look of things and he does so magnificently. It is probably true that most painting of this sort is second or third rate these days, but this has to be seen and examined closely to be fully appreciated.
A typical landscape is a long, low view of a barn or house, the textures beautifully rendered, including things like puddles in the road and fading paint, all set against a universe sky, again very subtly painted with almost imperceptible gradations of color. Technically, he is in a class with Andrew Wyeth, a statement that oughtn't to be made lightly, although the vision is completely different. We are confronted with the true honest-to-God American Middle West, presented with compassion and genuine liking in a way that was never even approached by the regionalist school of the 30s.
The drawings on view are for posters he did a decade ago on the subject of civil rights, race relations and segregationists. They are savage attacks, mostly, on political and cultural figures, drawn with great control and very effective.