Oil on canvas
152.4 x 142.2 cm
published in the Irish
Times by Brian Fallon, Wednesday 26 July 2000, to coincide
with an exhibition at the Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, Ireland
Andrzej Jackowski, an artist well known in London but previously
unseen in Ireland, has suddenly come into the orbit of Irish
art-lovers, with two simultaneous exhibitions in this country:
one at the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny and the other at the Rubicon
Gallery in Dublin, which has Just ended. He is not an easy painter
to describe or label; the pictures are spare and figurative,
with an odd, dreamlike or even faintly surreal quality, and
they appear to inhabit a very personal world of memory, fantasy
Jackowski was born in 1947 in Wales, the son of Polish emigrˇs
who had survived the Second World War, during which they met
each other while serving with the Red Cross at Monte Cassino
(captured, incidentally, by the Free Poles). His mother's first
husband, a radio correspondent, had died on the Russian Front,
his father had been a soldier, and it was his third marriage.
After the war, along with thousands of others, they chose to
go abroad and found that came down to a choice between New York
and Liverpool. They chose the latter, and their son was born
in a hospital in north Wales.
For the next 11 years, they lived in a refugee camp near Crewe,
formerly an American army base. There was a general expectation
that they would be repatriated before very long, and not only
was Polish the language of the camp, but they had a Polish chapel
and school: "The huts in the camp were made of wood covered
in tar. MY parents carried a card saying they were aliens."
Meanwhile, his father worked for a living in a factory, and
on the railways. When hopes of returning to Poland slowly receded,
and the Communist regime made it less desirable anyway, young
Andrzej was sent to learn English with his half-brother in Nottingham.
Later they moved to London, where his parents separated when
he was about 14 years old. "About the same time I painted a
self-portrait, and made a decision to become a painter." In
his late teens he attended Camberwell School of Art, where he
did his foundation year and got a grounding in drawing and other
basic skills. From there he went to the Falmouth School of Art,
where the type of painting taught and encouraged was either
a conservative, neo-romantic, Euston Road style or else big
American colour-field canvases. Liking neither, he tried his
hand instead at making films - which would be perfectly acceptable
in an art college today but was not so then, so he was more
or less asked to leave.
Three exciting years followed at St Ives, in Cornwall - or strictly
speaking, at Zennor, a few miles from the fishing town which
was still a respected art centre. By now he was married, to
a young poet, and he did some freelance writing and film-making
while mixing with such personalities as the painter Roger Hilton
and the Scottish poet Sydney Graham: 'For a young man in his
twenties, it was an amazing world.'
More relevantly, he began to paint again and exhibited some
of his works in local group shows. These were seen by one of
his former teachers at Falmouth, who told him that he should
now go back again and finish his course. He did, and his work
was seen there by the artist, teacher and writer Peter de Francia,
who was acting as an external assessor. De Francia advised him
to apply for admission to the prestigious Royal College of Art
in London, so he moved on to there.
'At that time, people like de Francia were teaching there and
though I didn't agree with all his views, there was a great
feeling of taking painting seriously as a language, and about
what you could say with it. Beckmann and Leger were very important
to them and were talked about a lot in the RCA then. Howard
Hodgin was one of the tutors - I was even influenced by him
for a time and Ron Kitaj came to give talks once in a while.
It was a very dynamic time.'
His earlier style, he says, was close to Art Brut and Dubuffet
- that is to say, painted in a kind of dense, neo-primitive
manner influenced by graffiti and the doodles of mentally disturbed
people. He outgrew it eventually, real I sing that after all
he had not been trained that way, and on the way back from attending
an exhibition of such works at Lausanne, he saw some paintings
by Balthus in Paris. 'I think, in the Pompidou, I found that
I suddenly wanted to paint again in a way that used space and
the human figure.' The 'Metaphysical' paintings of Carlo Carra,
which he knew chiefly from reproductions, also came as an illumination,
and this was reinforced by reading Gaston Bachelard - 'all about
reverie and the dream or, I suppose, about combining the inner
and outer worlds in a certain way, as images.'
He obtained a fellowship to Guildford University, and while
there he read The Sleepwalker by Arthur Koestler, which worked
strongly on his imagination. He painted a large picture which
he called The Tower of Copernicus, triggered by a kind of vision
of a tower with a man lying in it, studying the stars. At first
the tower included a studio with a bed, but later he realised
that these were superfluous and painted them out. 'It gave the
childhood mood that I wanted to convey - about the feeling of
wonder and other things belonging to a child's world. Later
I read Seamus Heaney's bog poems and realised how the land contains
memories and associations, and other things like that.'
His pictures belong recognisably to a generation which has felt
the impact of Balthus and Francis Bacon, but though he says
he has been mentioned in various art bboks as belonging to this
or that trend, 'I don't feel close to Chia and people like that,
who are really much more out of conceptualism. I do feel something
in common with Christopher Le Brun or even Ken Kiff, though
he's more surreal than I am. I respect a man like Paladino,
but he's more mythic and - how can I put it - Jungian, dealing
in a kind of tribal images mostly, while I'm more personal.
I always try to find my own set of images. and to put them together
in my own style. Ken Kiff says that fantasy and imagination
are a way of talking about the real. It's a way of cooking the
world and putting it into images.'
He has been labelled as one of the 'School of London' and was
even included in the influential book of that name by Alistair
Hicks, which appeared in the 1980s. This generalised term, used
mainly for certain figurative artists who became so prominent
in that decade, soon passed into common currency. However, Jackowski
points out that Hicks included a lot of people representing
different trends: 'It wasn't just Auerbach and Kossoff and their
type of painting.
Does he feel Polish, or British, or not especially either? He
answers: 'It is odd, yes - when I go to Poland I am made to
feel quite English, and my Polish - learned from my parents
- has a rather 19th-century flavour. 'An English phlegmatic,'
people there call me. But once I am back in Britain, I don't
really feel English either - more middle European, perhaps.
It's interesting, too, that I am drawn more to the kind of Polish-Jewish
artist or writer like Bruno Schultz, rather than to the very
French-influenced, Impressionist side of Polish painting. Or
to a man like Thaddeus Kantor, who died a few years ago and
who did theatrical "happenings" based largely on family life,
but turning them into something much more dreamlike.'
In December 1996 he had an exhibition in Warsaw, at the Kordegarda
Gallery, which is a part, or a subsidiary, of the National Gallery
of Contemporary Art: 'I had a great time there, and members
of my family came from all over Poland to see and meet me. But
the funny thing is I got no feed-back at all, and no copies
of reviews or press cuttings were ever sent to me. Perhaps painting
was regarded there,as just a fringe thing, compared with videos
and installationist works and so on.
'There's still a lot of painting around, of course, though most
of it is pretty thin and is just going up its own backside.
Peter Doig, for instance, is an interesting artist who at least
says something about the world outside art circles. Marlene
Dumas I like too.' Winning the prize at the respected John Moores
Exhibition in Liverpool was a psychological and career boost,
after several attempts: 'The first one I sent in to it was in
1976 - Peter de Francia was one of the judges that year. After
that I used to show there regularly, and I finally won the first
prize in 1991. It was roughly the equivalent of winning the
The very prestigious Marlborough Gallery, spotting a rising
talent, took him on in the 1980s, making him a stable-mate of
Francis Bacon and other imposing names. 'I was there seven years
and I had three shows. It was not an easy relationship, compared
with the one I have now with the Purdy-Hicks Gallery. I felt
a little strange or shy, as one of their younger, lesser-known
artists - if you walked in without making an appointment, they
might even refuse to see you. But I was surprised, all the same,
when they released me from my contract. I think one of the directors
decided that I wasn't selling enough. I never actually talked
to Francis Bacon, though we used to see one another coming and
going. It was through Rebecea Hicks, who worked for a time with
the Marlborough, that I went to Purdy-Hicks - she knew my work
and had bought one of my pictures before that.'
Today Jackowski lives and works in Brighton, where he also teaches
for a day or two weekly at the local university. He has done
so for the past 15 years. Married twice, he has a 28-year-old
daughter from his first marriage and a 10-year-old son from
his second. The evening before his official opening in Kilkenny,
he had called on his old friend from the years in Cornwall,
Tony O'Malley, in nearby Callan. Of all the people he met in
and around St Ives in the 1970s, he says, 'Tony was the kindest
and the warmest.'