Richard Jackson, Bad Dog, 2013, fiber, reinforced composite skin, steel, 28 x 32’. Orange County Museum of Art.


Richard Jackson is an artist based in Sierra Madre, California, whose first retrospective, “Richard Jackson: Ain’t Painting a Pain” is on view at the Orange County Museum of Art until May 5, 2013. The exhibition will travel to the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich from July 25–October 13, 2013, and then to S.M.A.K. in Ghent from February 28–June 29, 2014. Here Jackson discusses the show, his long career, and his new “accidents.”

I DISLIKE ART BUT ENJOY THE PROCESS OF PRODUCTION. The outcome of a project or the value judgments about aesthetics should not be so important. Give up and paint on an easel if you cannot learn from your process! A good deal of today’s art is totally devoid of any meaningful content but created with the use of extremely expensive materials. Opulence is everywhere yet the result is a bunch of polished turds stinking up museums. The job of an artist is to create pieces that are unlike anything else. My tools are predominantly chance and experimentation; all I do is lay down the groundwork and then watch what happens.

Currently I am working to set off a new round of accidents within painting. Across the history of abstract painting, pretty much every fluke has happened or been hashed out a thousand times over. Now I want to orchestrate a big mess, one serious accident. I thought about crashing a Bentley—there are plenty of those around. Then I decided on wrecking six sedans that will each be painted a different color and loaded with paint akin to its exterior. I plan on colliding complementary-colored cars and inserting wreckage into a gallery.

Over time my work has become larger and my ideas more ambitious. I end up fabricating most pieces for myself and by myself because galleries voice disinterest due to constraints on time or on the budget. I tend to avoid self-promotion and elude validation as a notable figure in the art community. That whole scene boils down to drinking cheap beer in different locations night after night. Making art by relying on your own resources cuts you out from a crowd that is begging for cash to do anything. Fostering independence in yourself, wherever you are, can be more isolating than working up in the mountains. The capabilities of an individual are what most intrigue me. Corporate activity or work that originates from a collective is not so compelling. This attitude has probably caused me to be sidelined or excluded from key exhibitions. People also tend to think that I am cranky, which is not true. I circumvent dependence on others’ interests and do not screw around waiting for answers. For this reason, very few people have seen most of my work. But—as is typical of the art world—there is so much bullshit swirling around that people get on the phone and describe my work pretending to have seen it or to possess knowledge about how I have made it. Their hyperboles make my projects much larger than I ever could. I purposefully play off of this collective imagination as my output is molded by bigger and bigger fibs.

One benefit arising from the small level of government subsidy for American artists is that there is plenty for us to push against. Lack of societal support probably explains why the US breeds so many talented artists. The public, however, has created an atmosphere in which our ideas are condemned beforehand. We are largely to blame for encouraging that environment. I sympathize with those who attend exhibitions of Minimalist art that walk away feeling insulted. Understanding such work mandates knowledge of a whole other language and our entire industry has become just as exclusive as a country club.

My involvement with art stems from my background in engineering. Mechanical renderings were all done manually so I had to learn drawing in one-, two-, and three-point perspective. I worked for years as a contractor in order to pay for much of my artwork and in that setting I was always perceived by others as self-sufficient, as someone who could be trusted with the task of fixing or building a house. A critic’s job may be to hardwire connections between artists, but this often occurs by carving out groupings or movements according to the shallowest parameters. Historians hope that they will switch on lightbulbs by stringing together the work of unknown artists with that of more renowned ones. I cannot think like that. My reputation has almost always hinged on my friendships: I was this or that person’s friend and so forth. No one seemed to realize that these artists were my friends too, or that there might have been something interesting about me. For my retrospective, I principally hoped to evidence that I am still working.

— As told to James Eischen