Oliver Lee Jackson, Installation view, BLUM Los Angeles, 2024, Photo: Hannah Mjølsnes

Oliver Lee Jackson

Oliver Lee Jackson

Machines for the Spirit

March 16 – May 4, 2024
Los Angeles


Oliver Lee Jackson’s paintings combine the emotive gestures of abstraction with the artist’s signature figural forms. Jackson achieves his characteristic abstract marks through a series of highly calculated and repeatable circumstances that have come to comprise his process. He lays the canvas or panel flat so as to approach the surface equally from all sides; this condition also permits Jackson to achieve specific, desired effects with the paint. Leaving moments of reprieve in his compositions, he consistently exposes his initial markings on the canvas as essential elements of the work, allowing the viewer a glimpse into every aspect of the structure of his finished painting. 

Jackson’s oil-based paintings act as mechanisms that are meant to prompt an experience in their viewer. The artist states that, like a machine, every part of a composition must work together to function in unison. As Jackson loads each composition with dynamic interplays between figure and field, the artist’s work provokes a process of leisurely and assiduous looking as the eye takes in a sense of space, illumination, figural forms, and the abstract marks signaling the artist’s hand. Working at a scale that encourages onlookers to imagine entering the work, Jackson prefers this intimate visual reciprocity between individual and composition to some of art’s more esoteric quandaries, saying of the latter, “They are trying to make a process that is dynamic stand still.”

Consistent themes are found throughout the artist’s expansive oeuvre, including the recurrent figure of the saxophone player—imagery which is representational of Jackson’s close associations with musicians throughout his life, as well as a deep love for jazz that the artist developed while growing up during what is now considered a cultural renaissance for the American Midwest. The likeness of shoes also recurs in Jackson’s paintings as a way of indicating to the viewer that they are stepping into another world, thus harking back to the exhibition’s title and the transportive impact of the artist’s work.

Jackson grew up in St. Louis, MO and began to exhibit his work in the mid-1960s, developing close associations with the Black Artists Group (BAG), and has since generated a prolific practice, notably with a recent solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in 2019. Jackson’s painting style lends itself to a certain multiplicity, reflecting on the ideologies of many movements and experiences over the course of six decades, as well as projecting its own distinctive singularity. Maintaining an emphasis on process and composition, Jackson aligns himself with the past while paving the way for painting’s future.

In 1982, Jackson relocated to Oakland, CA, continuing his prolific practice that has been presented in numerous solo museum exhibitions including: the Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO (2021); di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa, CA (2021); National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2019); Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, MO (2012); Harvard University, Cambridge MA (2002); Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA (1993, 1984, 1977); Seattle Art Museum (1982), and others. Honors and awards include a 2023 Lee Krasner Award for lifetime achievement from the Pollock Krasner Foundation; Award in Painting and Sculpture, Awards in the Visual Arts, Flintridge Foundation, Pasadena, CA (2003/2004); Fleishhacker Foundation Eureka Fellowship (1993); a grant from Art Matters, New York (1988); Nettie Marie Jones Fellowship (1984); and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1980-81). His artworks are represented in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Detroit Institute of the Arts, Detroit, MI; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA; Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA and many more. 

Selected Works


Frieze | Oliver Lee Jackson’s Indeterminate Abstraction


Oliver Lee Jackson in Conversation with Harry Cooper


ArtReview | Oliver Lee Jackson Wins the 2022–2023 Lee Krasner Award


Open Space | Oliver Lee Jackson in New York


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