Saturday, September 13, 2008

the music as the diagram to the man

Last night I attended the opening of the Oliver Jackson exhibit that kicked off "BAG and Beyond: Old and New Friends," which continues today and tomorrow (Sept. 13-14) at Nu-Art (2936 Locust St.) with 3-7 p.m. matinees featuring a who's who of black musicians and poets associated with St. Louis (Oliver Lake, Hamiett Bluiett, Quincy Troupe, K. Curtis Lyle, Eugene B. Redmond, Shirley Leflore ...).

I would have to think back to my first encounters of Marc Chagall to remember an artst whose work spoke to me as directly as Jackson's drawings, paintings and assemblages did last night. I circled the gallery, writing down what the imagery and technique said to me, as if automatically. I never had to pause or think - I just transcribed. These lines are straight from Jackson to the page - or, alternatively, maybe whatever It is passed through both of us, at different times, using different tools.

21. efforts at resuscitation that are oddly patriotic

18. for men had been murdered, boys had seen it, groin been nosed, gone hungry before

23. a yardbird in a country where we were all, oddly, together, in a colorful and complicated embrace

17. owls, or aliens; evolution, with stalker and see-er

26. a typography of emotional journeys tied to specific, lacerating events

25. rest, or death

24. and not to omit the occasional, gaily patterned departure, aflutter with flapping ribbons and demolished jewels

23. the problem of family: of consciousness as concussion

22. and then you saw a face: and now I'm a perceiver: nests, and eggs

15. I felt calm to know there also had been tobacco and jazz afternoons for him, also had been hieroglyphs and deserving acolytes who understood them

19. an act of grace and compassionate understanding, here, the achievement one is tempted to laud as "ultimate," like you are in the visionary artist catalogue, from now on, brother, until they quit publishing the visionary artist catalogue

16. he tried not to think about Sharpeville, but he failed; he failed to forget about the blood

14. his emotions had been to Mexico, permissions to dream had been gently granted, mentality had inhabited villages where death had been factored in and colorized, like a psychedelic South American ghost story, Marquez shit, skulls, tophats, crouching shamefaced angels, skulls of bulls

13. the man had grown, he had lost much, he had not forgotten much, he had tried to forget more, he had read a story and really suffered for the people in the story, a conflagration in a mosque remembered in an amber village where he had made much more than love, he had made commitments, achieved honor, succumbed to dusk more thrillingly than the rest of us, more of him had been sucked out of him when the last of the sunlight left the sky, he always took more of home with him when he went away, and he always brought more of his travels home with him when he came back

11. he had not neglected what they used to teach as "the music of the spheres," the action of the planets as handed down from the sky in stories that called sleep to children and carefully encoded the rituals of priestly succession

12. he had inhabited the intelligence of children; he had savored their toys, savored their surprises

10. he knew enough about the murder to draw the cops a picture

9. he had mastered knacks of deserts, high winds and cold nights, the infernal interrogations, the tarantulas

8. he had adjusted himself by perpetually readjusting perspective and rhythm to the judgments of his friends, sharp and difficult tongued men: a choir he could call upon

7. yet he had not missed out on the years, the good years, the smudgy golden orange years, the structured adventures, the long time passages when no one near to us was hurt or even very dearly worried

6. jazz, and not just music; jazz, and not just sound; the music as the diagram to the man, the sound as the conductor for how to conduct the self; tension, and affirmation; the good old faith of Lester Bowie, who told us, remember that? "You can raise a family and be an outlaw, man; you can be an outlaw and do anything you want"


I have kept, before each line, the number of the piece it refers to (or riffs on), as provided on the gallery sheet. I'm not sure the pieces were numbered sequentially as they are hanging on the walls; I do know I tend to look at art shows backwards and sideways. I like the off-kilter numbers in there, anyway. If you want to go see the show and see what these pieces say to you, write it all down by number of the piece so we can compare notes!

The show is up until Oct 10. In addition to the 3-7 p.m. matinees today and tomorrow, the space (2936 Locust St.) is open Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday by appointment. Call 314-535-6500 or email


The image (untitled, like most of Jackson's work) is from the wonderul painting slideshow on his Artist Forum site.

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