Jackson’s ‘Painting’ Not a ‘Pain’ at OCMA

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Courtesy of OCMA
Courtesy of OCMA

What comes to mind when you think of the word “painting?” Do you recall the lush impressionist landscapes of Monet and Renoir? Perhaps the mess you made with your fingers as a child? Since last Sunday, the Orange County Museum of Art’s otherwise spotless interior has been splashed with paint of every color. Yet, the first retrospective devoted to Los Angeles-based contemporary artist Richard Jackson, OCMA’s newest exhibition proves to be much more than spilled paint.

Including eight not previously exhibited in the United States, the exhibition is composed of 11 large-scale installments as well as many other artworks such as Jackson’s own sketched diagrams of such installments and several sculptures. This groundbreaking exhibition delivers the message that a painting may not necessarily be confined to one particular canvas, nor is it always an inalterable art object.

“I needed to expand painting physically … I thought that if you use the whole environment that the painting is in, then you could paint around the corners, you could do all kinds of things other than a rectangular format,” Jackson told OCMA director and exhibition curator Dennis Szakacs in a 2010 interview.

The idea of an installation, which in Jackson’s work often occupies an entire gallery, in itself removes the common conception of a great work of art as unchangeable and permanently complete.

Four copies of the word “painting” in neon lights mark the beginning of the exhibition, each illuminating a different part of the word to display the exhibition’s title, “Ain’t Painting a Pain,” and demonstrating that words, like the medium of painting, can be robbed of their original function.

Many of the works in “Ain’t Painting a Pain” allow the viewer to get extremely close, some begging the viewer’s interaction. Jackson’s “painted environments,” common in his earlier work, are mazes made up of larger-than-human-sized canvases covered in huge splotches of paint and facing inward toward the viewer as he or she ascends the path created by the canvases. The painted environment featured in the OCMA exhibition includes paint drippings on the floor of a path created by a series of enormous canvases.

Courtesy of OCMA
Courtesy of OCMA

This work “allows you to experience the painting by walking into the painting,” explains a stylishly dressed tour guide before warning his audience that they may get wet if they choose to enter it.

In “5050 Stacked Paintings,” an installation which occupies the adjacent room, around 5,050 painted canvases are stacked on top of one another to create a monumental work of art in which the canvases themselves, rather than what — if anything — is depicted on them, demonstrate the meaning of this artwork.

Not all of Jackson’s work refers specifically to painting. “1000 Clocks” is an installation made up of four walls and a ceiling of square clocks showing the current time. With each passing minute, all 1,000 loudly tick.

Several of the works on display in “Ain’t Painting a Pain” also pay homage to famous artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Georges Seurat and Jacques-Louis David, offering renditions of some of their most famous works and ideals. David’s “The Death of Marat” from 1793 comes to life in an installation of the same name, which features an Apple laptop computer and a modern style bathtub.

As you exit the museum, you might notice what first appears to be an ominous black figure interacting with the building itself. Stepping further away, you notice that it is a colossal sculpture of a dog urinating on the institution. A long, thin, yellow splotch of paint covers a small section of the building beside the animal, further indicating the infinite possibilities for the place of painting in society, such as outside the art museum itself.

“Richard Jackson: Ain’t Painting a Pain” will be on display until May 5, and has already drawn significant attention from its many eager visitors.

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