Kenneth Baker Review: Henry Jackson "Descendants"
SF Chronicle: 5/10/2008

Henry Jackson's "Descendants": San Francisco abstract painter Henry Jackson practices what might be called picturesque expressionism, a manner far out of vogue, yet perennially involving when practiced well.

Jackson backs up his new paintings at MM with small mixed media works on panel in black-and-white.

Jackson's big pictures look almost like relics of the late '50s moment when a number of Bay Area artists - Nathan Oliveira, with notable success - raided the aesthetics of the New York School for means to evoke the alienation to which a global Cold War and a conformist society at home subjected the individual.

Jackson resuscitates that idiom in his paintings, less as existentialist allegory than to respect the fact that we treat a painting that matters to us like an individual: our paradigm of an individual is a person.

This approach has Jackson walking the edge of sentimentality and anachronism all the time. He seldom goes over the line, partly because of his way with color and partly because his best pieces hang together pictorially no matter their level of abstraction.

Consider "Untitled No. 92" (2008), where a central figure-in-landscape appears fairly explicitly. Turn it any way you please, the composition holds well enough to make you wonder whether he does the same when he works.

The mood of Jackson's work in color remains difficult to read, but the black-and-white triptychs treat figures and their settings with a vehemence that yields visually arresting results but leaves you asking whether some measure of misanthropy or despair lies behind Jackson's art after all.

Image: Henry Jackson, "Untitled No. 92" (2008), oil, wax and dry pigment on canvas, 40 by 38 inches, at MM Galleries. Image courtesy of Henry Jackson

Henry Jackson: Descendants: Paintings and mixed-media works on panel. Through June 28. MM Galleries, 101 Townsend St., San Francisco. (415) 543- 1500, www.mmgalleries.com