Next of kiln
Bibo Three Gallery945 Record St.
Reno, NV 89512
The ceramics featured in Reno artist Richard Jackson’s upcoming exhibition feature skulls wearing hats that look like inverted outlines of Nevada.
“I call them my Nevada dunce hats,” says Jackson. “Half the people who see them describe them as dunce caps, the other half, as pontiff hats, and I always laugh because, working in bars all my life, at a bar, you often find yourself sitting between a saint and a dunce.”
Each ceramic piece is roughly 14 inches in length, and Jackson has also experimented with skulls that, in addition to the cap, feature the Nevada shapes covering the lower half of the skull’s face, like a bandit’s bandana. These pieces, with the two Nevada shapes and the empty skeletal eye sockets between them, are about 21 inches long. The two forms are the templates for Jackson’s current crop of our artwork.
He says he likes working with a limited form as a way to fully explore an idea through repetition.
“When I pull a piece out of the kiln and look at it, the first thing I think about every time is the next piece,” he says. “For every piece I keep, I’ll have destroyed 20. That’s the beauty of ceramics. If you don’t like it, take a hammer to it.”
Like many artists, especially ones who want to continually evolve, Jackson is his own toughest critic.
“I’ve been fortunate to sell a lot of art,” he says. “But whenever I go to somebody’s house, and they have one of my pieces up on the walls, I always look at it and say, ‘Let me take this down and give you a better piece.’ They might love the piece, but I’m always looking towards the future. I always think I can do better—know I can do better.”
And a simple template can launch a thousand ideas.
“The shapes have become less important than the images on them,” he says. “It’s a canvas.”
The imagery on Jackson’s dozens of Nevada dunce cap skulls includes jack-o’-lanterns, bats, planets, Von Dutch-style flying eyeballs, and human organs, like the heart and, most commonly, the kidney.
“A few years ago [in 2003], I donated a kidney to my mom,” says Jackson. “It was a changing time in my life, and it made me look at things differently. … When she died two years later, from unrelated causes, I started drawing kidneys in my art.”
Many of Jackson’s pieces depict the kidney wrapped in thorns, similar to the Christian symbol the Sacred Heart. On his arm, Jackson has an archetypical “Mom” tattoo, but with a kidney instead of a heart.
“A lot of my work is very autobiographical,” says Jackson.
He also borrows from a variety of other sources, both pop cultural and art historical. He’s recently started using the image of the mythical Titan Saturn, as depicted by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya in the early 19th century painting Saturn Devouring His Son.
“It’s like that Kevin Bacon game,” says Jackson. “The six degrees of that would be UFOs to space to planets to Saturn to Saturn Devouring His Son. It’s one of my favorite paintings.”
More Books About UFOs, Jackson’s upcoming exhibition at Bibo 3, is a sequel to Books About UFOs, a show he had at the McNamara Gallery at the University of Nevada, Reno last October. Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree from UNR in 1991.
“Books About UFOs” is a song by the band Hüsker Dü. Jackson says music is a constant inspiration for him as an artist. Most of his titles come from songs. There’s only one exception: a piece named in tribute to UNR ceramics professor Fred Reid.
He says that lately he has been rediscovering a lot of the early classics of punk rock and this has been inspiring his recent artwork. He has been using, for example, the Misfits’ skull logo.
“I’m not afraid to use any image,” says Jackson, “whether it’s the Misfits or Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son.”