At The Beach, 2020
Materials: Mosaic (glass, stone on wood), 37” x 53” overall, individual pieces range from approximately 7” to 22”, (beachball commissioned by Summa Health).
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge Street), blue neighborhood, sixth floor, outside staff lounge H6-313.
This lively “scene” relies entirely on the movement, gestures, and colors of the (mostly) human figures represented. The seven vigorous figures have been arranged to suggest teams, a decision made by the artist Jacques P. Jackson in discussion with Meg Stanton, curator of the Summa Collection. He then created the large beach ball as focus and located the largest figure, the undulant mermaid, at center, to situate the action on the seashore. We feel a sense of lightness and joy.
Jackson participates in a very old tradition of depending upon the movement of bodies and limbs to convey his main idea: Sculptors and painters in ancient Greece demonstrated far more interest in perfecting representation of the human body than in spending a lot of time on heads and faces. And in that, we are fortunate because marble sculpture is particularly vulnerable to breakage at the extremities (ankles, arms) and at the neck, where forces are concentrated on slender volumes, which is why so many surviving ancient Greek statues lack these – the accidents of time! By contrast, Jackson has deliberately chosen to omit feet, hands, and heads from the start, as a way of reducing the human form to very generalizable parts in which, here, he captures the essence of selected motions for a total sense of joy. You can observe how another artist, sculptor Stephen Canneto, chooses to convey exuberant activity in his signature commission for Summa Health located at the main entrance to 141 North Forge St. The strong similarities between the two pieces – groups focusing their attention on keeping a large colorful ball aloft -- make the differences in means and meaning stand out dramatically!
Mosaic is a technique even older than marble statuary: In antiquity, the audience chambers and residences of powerful rulers had “decoration” on all surfaces: walls, ceilings, and floors. Underfoot, the need for durability led to choosing stone: At first artisans created pebble mosaics, using found stone of varied color, and with time they began cutting the stone into more or less regular three-dimensional pieces with flat sides, most often small cubes. These were set into a matrix in the floor; rare and highly colored stones were especially prized. Visible from no more than 4 to 6 feet away (the distance from your eyes to the floor), these mosaics were organized to create patterns and then specific images. Over time and in different cultures, mosaics could be increasingly elaborate, again as patterns or as representations, and often were strategically located in order to impress visitors, clients, and strangers with the wealth of those who could afford such elaborate, painstaking display.
In about the fourth or fifth century of the Common Era (CE, sometimes referred to as AD), artists began to cover walls and ceilings, too, with mosaic. In these cases, with no one walking on them or scraping heavy chairs back and forth, artists found that they could use glass instead of natural stone. Given that glass is manufactured and colored by choice, no longer were rare and resultantly expensive materials needed. Glass mosaic offered a durable, if still painstaking, means of telling stories on walls and ceilings, and colored glass was widely manufactured across Roman lands, so available relatively inexpensively. An additional effect was that glass glittered, reflecting and refracting light, which, back in those days, came from the flames in lamps, candles, and other pre-electricity sources. When mosaics were set into curving surfaces, such as the underside of arches and vaults, that glancing light bounced all around and turned them into lively, sparkling places for images, which grew more and more elaborate, particularly as they might be, high up, further from the eye of the beholder and so make use of that distance to blend optically various colors and patterns.
We can observe that Jackson uses various-sized glass cubes (called tesserae, pl; one is a tessera) in these mosaics: Those in the beach ball are nearly all uniform in shape and size (and very small; miniature mosaics were highly valued in the Middle Ages!), while in the other figures they vary widely, per the artist’s intentions. In the mermaid, he has made the main tesserae various kinds of triangles to suggest (fish) scales, while mirrored surfaces back other tesserae to reflect and sparkle. He also celebrates a wide range of colors of varied intensity, with subtle gradations in shading or in other details, such as embedding plaid fabric under the glass to create pattern, in order to suggest bathing gear -- or not. Female figures break the generally flat and angular patterns of the tesserae with their prominent, rounded breasts, a visual pun.
After growing up in Cleveland, Jackson studied art and graphic design at the Atlanta Art Institute and then returned to Cleveland to join the arts community here. He describes himself as a wood-worker at heart and often builds wooden objects into which his mosaics are incorporated, as well as single figures such as these, which he thinks of as sculpture (in contrast to the traditional classification of mosaic as two-dimensional). As he creates these figures, which range in size, he spins stories about their personalities, backgrounds, and interactions, to accompany the formal and aesthetic choices he makes. He hopes that those of us beholding the works can also engage in developing narratives prompted by what we bring to each.
Where you can see more of this artist’s work:
Jacques Jackson has created the Body-Body collection of mosaic figures that celebrate human diversity, individuality, and sexuality. You can find many of his works online at SoulHouse Décor. In addition to works like these figures, he paints, uses the mosaic technique to embody inspirational words and verses, and makes other work in wood and mixed media for use as jewelry and amulets containing ancient symbols or contemporary materials from Egypt and the Near East.
Jackson has exhibited work in “About Body|About Face”, a real-time/real-space exhibition which, including the virtual reception from November, you can still view online, organized by the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve. Online, you can also find a recent interview conducted by RampArts in conjunction with an exhibit there. He has also shown work at the Worthington Yards Project and in other venues across northeast Ohio.