Telfair Museums presents Suzanne Jackson: Five Decades, the first full-career retrospective of the American artist (b. 1944). On view June 28 through October 13 at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center, the exhibition explores Jackson’s luminous output over a professional career spanning more than 50 years, highlighting her visual art as well as her relationship with other art forms, including poetry, costume design, and dance.
The 42 works—several on loan from noteworthy public and private collections—and complementary archival materials demonstrate Jackson’s artistic evolution from 1959 to 2019. Even individual works double as documentation to record the changes in her artistic approach, as she often works and reworks surfaces over multiple years in an intuitive, experimental process.
In addition to marking time over six decades of active studio practice, the works trace Jackson’s career across the continental United States, reflecting her stylistic shifts as she journeyed from California to the Northeast and finally to Savannah, as well as her professional shifts between student and teacher roles throughout her lifetime. Jackson’s professional art career began in 1960s California, where she contributed significantly to the communities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Idyllwild, respectively, including Jackson’s founding of the pioneering Gallery 32, which became a critical art space for supporting black artists in Los Angeles. In the 1980s, Jackson ventured east and changed her focus to theater design, completing an MFA from the Yale School of Drama. It was at this time that her relationship toward materials and processes changed dramatically: She broke away from conventionally stretched canvas and began embracing untraditional and dynamic hanging methods that reflect her interest in set design and its impact on the body and space.
Jackson’s paintings during this time are widely collected and reproduced, and Five Decades will feature a consequential selection of these seminal works, presented collectively for the first time. Also on view in one dedicated gallery is a suspended installation-like display of these bold acrylic, and often double-sided, paintings made post-2000, including three site-responsive works created over the past year.
Making her way south to Savannah in 1996, Jackson taught painting at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) for over 13 years and retired in 2009. Today, she continues to paint in her home studio in the city’s Starland neighborhood.
“It’s been humbling and energizing to work with Suzanne on organizing her major retrospective over the past two years,” said Rachel Reese, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Telfair Museums. “Suzanne is a pioneer and worthy of a deep presentation like this—her decades-long commitment to pursuing, supporting, making, and thinking about art is truly evident in the ways her life and art mirror one another organically over time, and, her newest work is more prescient than ever. Retrospectives like Suzanne’s are so important to underscore why museums exist: we invest in artists and their livelihoods, the work they create, and the stories told through their artwork. We hope that the public will take the opportunity to visit Five Decades to gain understanding and an appreciation of what a creative life can look like and how it evolves over time, and the value that an individual artist’s vision and voice contributes to the fabric of contemporary culture.”
A forthcoming monograph, featuring a foreword by Jackson’s longtime friend, artist Betye Saar, along with new scholarship by five additional contributors, archival images, and newly commissioned photography, will accompany the exhibition and connect Jackson’s oeuvre to a lineage of art historical and social movements.
“This exhibition and catalog are urgent because [Suzanne] Jackson’s kind of interdisciplinarity is a critical aspect of Black women’s creative practices,” said catalog contributor Dr. Melanee Harvey, Assistant Professor, Department of Art, Howard University. “To date, art museums have not sufficiently explored the depths of black culture, particularly African American women’s culture, to gain a deeper understanding of works produced by and for black women. Thus, I’m really happy to see an exhibition that performs this work while celebrating an important artist like Suzanne Jackson.”
Suzanne Jackson: Five Decades is organized by Telfair Museums and curated by Rachel Reese, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.