"Preston Jackson: Fresh from Julieanne’s Garden
Indianapolis Art Center
Through Nov. 26
In his newest body of work, Fresh from Julieanne’s Garden, now on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, Chicago artist Preston Jackson re-casts slave narratives in bronze, telling the stories of legendary slaves and their legendary escapes, near escapes and other adventures and misadventures in the struggle to survive and, in some cases, move on to a better life.
We meet Lizzie Tolliver and her pet alligator, a slave named Big Lou who had the reputation of “whipping the hell out of a succession of slave owners,” a sharecropper’s wife who poles herself and her baby to safety during a flood, a mother giving up her pubescent boy “to that awful rich man’s game known as war,” a former slave with a three-legged dog whose “walks are brief, for dangers exist in the form of slave catchers still practicing their hunting skills these many years after freedom …” and many more.
While some of Jackson’s bronzes are more singular, most are meticulously detailed and multi-layered, as if to pack in the narrative as a sort of collage: a story told in a conglomerate of images that somehow make sense. Even the more singular works contain a multiplicity of images or an exaggerated effect of some kind, rendering the narratives more real somehow: The front of Lizzie Tolliver’s dress fans out like a leaf, embracing her body like a cocoon, evocative of her disappearance into the swamp.
Jackson, a professor of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, sees this work as a departure, inspired by his travels South and historical research, “with a view toward how our history informs our future.” In the effort he manages both to alarm and soothe: These are dark images in many cases, but they’re also evocative of hope and a curious sort of triumph against terrible odds.
Fresh from Julieanne’s Garden, bronze sculptures by Preston Jackson, is on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St., through Nov. 26. Call 317-255-2464 or visit www.indplsartcenter.org for hours and information. The exhibition connects with the Spirit & Place Festival, including the panel discussion “Oral Histories, Fact vs. Fiction” on Nov. 9. The event will encompass discussions of Jackson’s work as well as the exhibition Freedom’s Struggle: Underground Railroad Photos by Willie Johnson, also on view in the Art Center library. Visit www.spiritandplace.org for more information.