Robert Jacks | Towards Metropolis

04.02.15 to 28.02.15


It may seem flippant to put it in such straightforward terms, but sometimes things just work. In the context of an artist’s career, it might come as a result of simple creative happenstance – a falling-together of divergent threads, investigations or experiments to create a crystallised, cohesive, energised moment. In other instances, we can trace the strands, the developments, the hints and cues; we can map an artist’s practice from one phase to the next – from one key concern to another – until it reaches its fleeting moments of crux and, dare we use the term, transcendence.


It’s via this lens that we might approach the oeuvre of the late Robert Jacks and, in particular, the works that populate Towards Metropolis. Created from the early 1980s until the early 1990s, these painting offer a confluence of several of Jacks’ key motifs, modes and lines of painterly and conceptual enquiry. They represent one particularly invigorated moment in career that covered so much ground amid the throes of minimalism, seriality, geometric abstraction and, in the very early days, simultaneously elegant and raw ruptures of expressionistic gesture and motif.



Jacks’ body of Metropolis works from the mid 1980s – many of which feature in a towering, cathedral like installation as part of his major retrospective at the NGV, and followed his time in New York – are perhaps the most potent example.  While some of his most subtle in terms of palette and tone (awash with shades of grey, navy, black and white), their interlocking geometric shards are incredible powerful in their sense of depth, contour, shadow and space.  Where some of Jacks’ earlier works, such as his Transitions series from the mid 1970s, applied astute colour theory to a wholly abstract approach to painting, the Metropolis paintings mark a moment in which he struck upon the poignancy of place.  These works may still skirt pure abstraction, but they pulse with an architectural echo – drawing us toward the vastness and claustrophobia of the urban experience, but never quite allowing us a recognisable detail or vista.  Instead, they hone those more intangible notions of space, depth and structure.


His monumentally scaled Past Unfolded and Return of Parnell (circa 1989/1990), which also feature here, introduce vibrant colour to the mix, blazing with yellows, greens and blues.  Apparent in all these works is a quality perhaps not discussed often enough in regards to Jacks’ prolific output.  Where so much dialogue has centred on his mastery of form and colour via repetition, these works exhibit a rare sensitivity and acumen for texture and tonality.  With proximity, even a seemingly monochromatic panel belies a rippling sea of under-painted colour and textural undulations.  Both formally and texturally, these works are imbedded with detail and subtly and depth.


By 1994 – and among the more compact Untitled works that punctuate this exhibition – we can see Jacks deconstructing, dismantling and re-imagining and the very components that intermeshed to create the rare and inspired moment that was Metropolis.  We can see Jacks, as he did through his career, taking stock, gather his accumulated thoughts and knowledge, and moving on.


– Dan Rule, 2015