BILL JACKLIN Recent Work, New York

MARLBOROUGH GALLERY | FEBRUARY 14 – MARCH 17, 2012

One thing that readers of art criticism expect is contextualization: This work was derived from, is similar to, or contrasts with such-and-such. But what about the poor critic? Imagine being required to round up the usual suspects when an artist contains multitudes of references. One might as well compose a list review.

Bill Jacklin, "The Feast of San Gennaro," 2011. Courtesy Marlborough Gallery.

British artist Bill Jacklin, who moved to New York in 1985, has been making dynamic-atmospheric paintings of New York life ever since. His subject matter in these colorful, “moving” pictures includes people eating pizza, mid-bite, in Little Italy; ice skating in a massively larger-than-real-life Rockefeller Center; populating Times Square; sunbathing in Battery Park; and standing in the surf, a pair in starlight. Dogs and N.Y.P.D. mounted cops abound.

Here’s a Jacklin fine art shortlist:

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Peasant Dance,” 1568
Sir Henry Raeburn, “The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch,” 1790s
Edouard Manet, “Races in the Bois de Boulogne,” 1872
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Bal du moulin de la Galette,” 1876
Georges Seurat, “Une Baignade, Asnières (Bathers at Asnières),” 1884
Alfred Sisley, “Allée of Chestnut Trees,” 1878
Childe Hassam, “A Rainy Day in Boston,” 1885
James Ensor, “Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889,” 1888
Camille Pissarro, “Boulevards de Montmartre,” 1890s
William Glackens, “Central Park, Winter,” 1905<
Marc Chagall, “Paris par la fenêtre (Paris through the Window),” 1913
Edward Hopper, “Soir Bleu,” 1914
Joaquín Torres-García, “New York Docks,” 1920
Paul Cadmus, “The Fleet’s In,” 1933
Romare Bearden, “The Family,” 1975
and many, many more.

Like pre-modern representational art, Jacklin’s work borders on commercial illustration, resembling that of Brad Holland, Raymond Briggs’s “The Snowman,” and urban-themed works such as Hilary Knight’s “Eloise,” Emmy Payne’s and H.A. Rey’s “Katy No-Pocket,” and Dr. Seuss’s “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”—cityscapes in which phantasmagoric worlds jostle by. Here, Jacklin’s scenes recall Red Grooms, whose “Ruckus Manhattan” Marlborough first exhibited in 1976. What they don’t reference, fortunately, is Richard Estes’s (also represented by Marlborough) ’70s-era photorealism, in which a postnuclear Gotham is deserted under cloudless skies.

The odd work out in Jacklin’s current show is “Skaters” (2011), fabricated in corten steel, in which a blade-traced racetrack riot overwhelmed by skaters is most reminiscent of Wanda Gág’s monotone children’s book Millions of Cats, American primitive cut-paper landscapes, and even Kara Walker’s faux-naïf silhouettes. “Skaters” forces Jacklin to abandon his trademark sfumato atmospherism as the laser cuts crisp and the work’s three-dimensionality creates a shadow duplicate four inches behind, akin to his mottled paint shadows. It’s lovely, if rusty, defined as much by the emptiness of its double-take negative space as by its substance.

If there’s a weakness in the show, it’s Jacklin’s apoliticality. His “Zuccotti Park, NYC I” (2011) appears to show protesters, tents behind, cavorting into mounted police. Or maybe it’s Zuccotti Park in summer, uncognizant, oblivious. The ambiguity has no upside for Jacklin, who avoids a confrontational mood, sacrificing the poignancy of Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” of 1936, or Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, or Robert Frank. As an independent observer, Jacklin needn’t be so kind.

Over the course of his career, Jacklin’s defining quality has been his stylistic consistency. Like Edward Hopper, who ignored the seismic contemporary art movements of his lifetime, Jacklin has been paintbrushing representational urban peoplescapes for the greater part of his 27 years here—works infused with a kind-hearted curiosity and childlike transcendency. That he has chosen New York’s teeming masses in summer and the ice skating winter motif as his subject matter connects him with numerous Western artists over the last half millennium who captured their own times and quotidian pursuits for posterity. Jacklin’s holiday New York is an idyllic one, engulfed in mist for museumgoers from a future time.

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