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Worth The Effort 

Herb Jackson's paintings are difficult but defining

Of all the artists living in the Charlotte area, painter Herb Jackson is arguably the most famous, and he's enjoyed a major reputation for the longest time.

Jackson, who was born in Raleigh in 1945, graduated from Davidson College and is now the chair of the university's Visual Arts Department. He has had five one-man shows at New York's Phyllis Weil Gallery, shows in Chicago, Boston, Lisbon, Portugal, and at Princeton University; in addition, he had a major Mint Museum show when he was still in his 20s.

An exhibit of his small oil paintings on birch panels is helping initiate a new gallery, The Art Preserve Gallery, in cooperation with the Christa Faut Gallery, Jackson's primary art dealer. The Art Preserve has been in business for several years as a framer and now owner Jan Kinslowe has opened a handsome, adjoining gallery space.

Jackson's abstract oil paintings are challenging. They're not about pleasing us, nor are they decorative. One of his most beautiful pictures here is "Behind the Smoke," an abstract garden of purple, yellow, blue, red and orange. This painting makes me think of the work of painter Richard Diebenkorn, though Jackson's bold, wide, and flowing lines on the left of the composition don't exactly make this an agreeable picture.

At his opening, I didn't see many people actually looking at the work. Most of the gallery patrons were turned away from the walls talking to each other. This may have been because looking at Jackson's work requires a lot of effort from the viewer, which is not easy in a crowded gallery space.

Working to get Jackson's images is worth the effort, and the viewer is free to make his or her own subjective interpretations. The viewer does not sense Jackson's ego in his paintings.

Several of Jackson's works look like dissections of a living organism. For example, "Candles in the Moss" makes the viewer search for the beauty of the giraffe-shaped orange brush stroke and the harmony of the yellow, white and orange strokes bordering the large map shape of moss. "Silent Rider to the Sea" looks like a street map of Manhattan topped with a band of orange oil paint. With paintings such as these, Jackson lets us see things we haven't seen before.

I always remember Jackson's art having a cool tone but I never remembered it feeling as passionate as many of these paintings. "Erotic Ceremonies" looks like the artist is putting into paint what rock & roll music sounds like. Red dots of paint vibrate up the canvas, joining yellow paint and an explosion of blue dots that looks like lava.

Jackson Pollack was called an action painter, and action is definitely a part of some of Herb Jackson's images. "Drum of the Earth" features a mass of orange paint that appears to be in flight!

So where is Herb Jackson headed with his new passion, bold images and titles? The answer may be in one of the works in the show, "Reaching Out." This painting features the peace that can follow hard work. In this painting, we see a rugged purple-hued stone with cut-out holes that let us see the serenity of the blue sky beyond. Jackson has learned many artistic lessons, and if we take the time to connect with his show, we will be richer visually and mentally.

The exhibit Herb Jackson -- Small Paintings will be on view at The Art Preserve Gallery, 3200 North Davidson Street, through Saturday, June 19. Hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday-Friday and 11am-5pm Saturdays. For additional information, call The Art Preserve Gallery at 704-358-8882.

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