Keith Jackson didn’t go to art school. Born in 1966 in rural Missouri, he began painting as a teenager, but until now he has never had formal exposure. Jackson’s sunny and heartfelt exhibition, “The Back Roads”, is at the Steven Zevitas Gallery.
Zevitas represents the artist’s son, Alex jackson, also a painter. Alex introduced his father to the art dealer at an art fair in Miami in 2019, Zevitas said in an interview with the gallery. When Jackson showed the dealer pictures of his work, Zevitas offered him a solo exhibition there.
It’s a great start. Jackson, who now lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin, paints scenes from his childhood without the conceptual freight common to contemporary painting, yet tender and immediate, with powerful colors and asymmetrical spaces. His touch is by turns commanding and caressing. His paintings are emblems of youth – the little stories seem epic.
In “Saturday Morning”, three young people watch a cartoon “Transformers” on a television console. The decor is almost swarming with them: the stained upholstery of the sofa in olives, yellows and browns, the mishmash of orange and yellow tiles on the floor. A praying mantis is perched on a lamppost. The corner of the room is not quite square and the space tilts and rises gently.
The quivering tones, wild patterns, and floating space are slightly baffling, but the artist renders children gently, with velvety skin and clothes, anchoring us in their ease.
Jackson excels in the clever little details of storytelling. In “Eddie James,” the artist as a boy, holding a Superman doll, stands tense behind a boy twice his size as a muscular German Shepherd bares his teeth. The space is cropped and claustrophobic. Eddie, the big boy in a saturated yellow T-shirt and shimmering blue overalls, prepares to save the day. The puny doll looks annoyed, more neurotic Clark Kent than Superman.
In a second painting, “Eddie James Vs German Shepherd”, Eddie has the beast by the neck, and the smallest boy – Jackson – is missing, leaving his doll in the red dirt. The point of view lowers and the sky opens behind our hero, 100% blue infused with sunshine.
“The Back Roads” is the first exhibition on Jackson’s resume, but he is an accomplished and discerning painter. His career can turn out to be as brilliant as his palette.
KEITH JACKSON: THE BACK ROADS
At the Steven Zevitas Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., until October 30. 617-778-5265, www.stevenzevitasgallery.com