Bill Jacklin RA on New York, his home for two decades

Published 24 May 2016

No one captures New York quite like Bill Jacklin RA, who moved to the Big Apple in the 1980s and never looked back. Nancy Campbell caught up with him ahead of his show of prints and drawings at the RA.

  • From the Summer 2016 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    The paintings and prints of Bill Jacklin RA celebrate places, but he does not see himself as a topographical artist. “I use location as an emotive vehicle to describe my feelings and my relationship to the world,” he explains from his Connecticut home.

    The London-born artist is best known for his dramatic depictions of New York, where he lived for two decades. He records “people involved in their passions” – on parade, at the beach, in the park. These scenes are revisited and renewed in many moods and media; the swirling skaters on the ice rink in Central Park, for example, feature in a number of works, from his first hand- coloured carborundum prints (Rink I and Rink II, both 1995; pictured) to a vast mural at Washington National Airport (The Rink, 1996). The figure skater tracing elegant arcs on the ice could be a metaphor for the artist himself, his lightness of touch matched with formidable skill.

  • Bill Jacklin RA

    Bill Jacklin RA

    Photo: © Chris Craymer

  • Jacklin came to prominence in the 1960s as a ‘Systems artist’, composing complex works of grids and dots. But he realised that “the avant-garde was too rigid”, and he embraced instead a free style of figuration, examining “the flow of forms and the play of light”. Commissions from the Bank of England and the London restaurant the Ivy followed, and he became a Royal Academician in 1991.

    Jacklin has never lost his early enthusiasm for printmaking, as a show of his graphic art at the Royal Academy reveals this summer. After he relocated to New York in 1985, he adopted print techniques that suited his gestural approach, such as monotype, where an image is painted directly onto a plate – in Jacklin’s case, zinc plates that he inherited from the great American artist Robert Motherwell. He spritzes a mixture of turpentine and oil on the plate to create dazzling light effects.

  • Jacklin often works on a painting and a print simultaneously in his own studio, “moving between canvas and press, adjusting both compositions.” But he also enjoys the discipline of working separately in the studio of a master printer. Recently Jacklin produced 20 monotypes during one intense week at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, Connecticut, some of which will be on show at the RA this summer. “They set up a system and I came in and hit off against it. How much can the system tolerate with me battering it?” He laughs. “Everyone was exhausted by the end of the week, myself included.” The new monotypes are impressive in scale; the most ambitious is a tribute to the Manhattan skyline. “I always thought of the city as an arena,” Jacklin concludes. “The light shining down is my spotlight, in which I can create my own drama.”

    Bill Jacklin RA: The Graphic Work 1961–2016 is in the John Madejski Fine Rooms at the RA from 3 June until 28 August.
    A monograph, Bill Jacklin: Graphics accompanies the exhibition and is available from the RA Shop.
    Bill Jacklin: Paintings and Monotypes is at Marlborough Fine Arts, London, until 7 June.

    Nancy Campbell is an artist and writer who works across disciplines, from poetry and artist’s books to essays and art criticism.

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    • Bill Jacklin RA Christmas cards (boxed)

      Bill Jacklin RA Christmas cards

      Walking arm in arm and wrapped up warmly, this enamoured couple perfectly capture the romance of Christmas in Bill Jacklin’s Cherrytrees in the Snow card.

      The cards come in a pack of 10 with envelopes and the greeting reads ‘With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year’.