Artist of the month: June 2016

Bill Jacklin RA

Published 1 June 2016

This month sees the opening of the first retrospective of Bill Jacklin RA’s graphic work, tracing his career from his student days at Walthamstow School of Art in the early 1960s to his latest monotypes, created at the beginning of this year.

  • Bill Jacklin RA studied at the Royal College of Art from 1964–67 where he was influenced by the American painters Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. In the 1970s, he developed his style into a series of more formal abstract pen-and-ink drawings, etchings and mezzotints. His Anemones suite of etchings was a seminal work from this period. Depicting the gradual withering and falling of petals from a bunch of anemones, they fluctuate between figurative forms and geometrical abstraction of petals aligned precisely across the paper; it is this tension that is always present in Jacklin’s work and world.

    In 1985 Jacklin left London for New York, which featured as a key subject in his work. In particular, the atmosphere and energy of New York’s people, streets, and parks to Jacklin appeared to have “a flowing, pulsating energy”. During the summer of 1991, he spent four months commuting to Coney Island, drawing the people and activity witnessed on the beaches and the piers. His Coney Island Suite depicts groups of people engaged in walking and swimming, or individual figures sunbathing. Silhouetted against the light of the sun, the figures form rhythmic patterns and criss-cross shapes.

  • Jacklin was appointed official artist-in-residence for the British Council in Hong Kong in 1993 and his Hong Kong suite depicts street scenes, the people and daily rituals of the city. In this series, Jacklin combined etching with aquatint and gave texture to his plates in experimental ways, such as pressing fabric onto the etching plate forming a surface pattern on the dress of the figure in the doorway.

    The RA Collection also includes Jacklin’s Diploma Work The Rink, 3pm, which presents a large crowd from a distanced perspective, observed in the midst of movement. The ice skaters are shown as swirl of dark forms against the bright ice and light, giving the impression of a repeating pattern. Yet they retain their identification as figures in the depiction of clothes and suggestion of gestures and poses. This depiction of crowds identifiable as both abstract marks of a pattern and individual figurative forms simultaneously is a characteristic feature of Jacklin’s aerial scenes.

    Jacklin was elected a Royal Academician in 1991 and now lives and works in the USA, with studios in New York and Connecticut.

    Graphic art in all its forms lies at the heart of Bill Jacklin’s work. Rapid sketches in the streets of New York, meticulously composed geometric drawings, intensely focused etchings and fluid, light-dappled monoprints – all demonstrate Jacklin’s mastery of a whole range of graphic techniques to express his subject-matter. As he has said, drawing “is the conduit through which I see the world.”

    Bill Jacklin RA: The Graphic Work 1961 – 2016, the first ever retrospective of Bill Jacklin RA’s graphic work, is on display in The John Madejski Fine Rooms from 3 June until 28 August.

    The object of the month for May 2016 is Leonard Manasseh RA’s Design for Radipole Lake pumping station. Read more from the RA Collection.