Oliver Lee Jackson in Conversation with Harry Cooper

March 16, 2024

Video: Dan Finlayson

Oliver Lee Jackson in Conversation with Curator Harry Cooper

On the occasion of Machines for the Spirit, Oliver Lee Jackson’s premier solo exhibition with the gallery and his first in Los Angeles since 1982, BLUM is pleased to present a conversation with the artist and Harry Cooper, Curator of Modern Art at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Cooper and Jackson met when Cooper invited Jackson for a residency at the Harvard Art Museums alongside saxophonist and composer Marty Ehrlich, with a proposal that the two artists create an exhibition and music installation in homage to their close friend Julius Hemphill, who passed in 1995. In 2002, Harvard's Sert Gallery presented the exhibition Duo, featuring Jackson's paintings and an accompanying soundtrack by Ehrlich. In 2019, Cooper organized a solo exhibition of Jackson's recent paintings at the National Gallery of Art. Cooper has written about Jackson's work in brochures and catalogs, and most recently contributed a text for Jackson's print folio Dear Friend, a collaboration showcasing Hemphill's original scores.


About Oliver Lee Jackson

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 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. 


About Harry Cooper

Harry Cooper is the Curator of Modern Art at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. A native of Bethesda, MD, Cooper studied studio art at the Corcoran School and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard with a dissertation on Piet Mondrian. He worked at the Harvard Art Museums for a decade before joining the National Gallery in 2008. He has organized or co-organized exhibitions on the work of Mondrian, Medardo Rosso, Frank Stella, Stuart Davis, Oliver Lee Jackson, and Black "self-taught" artists of the South (including the quilters of Gee's Bend). His latest exhibition, a Philip Guston retrospective, was seen at the fine arts museums of Boston and Houston as well as the National Gallery before concluding its run at Tate Modern on February 25.

Cooper's publications include essays on Juan Gris, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Martin Puryear, Mark Rothko, Ed Ruscha, and Fred Sandback, as well as The Cubism Seminars, which he edited and introduced for the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts in 2017. He is an active scholar focusing on issues of materiality and technique, word and image, sound and image, and history and experience in the interpretation of modern art. He is also a student of jazz and an alto saxophonist. 

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