Davina Jackson has an outstanding curriculum as an artist. During the 1990s she studied successively at Central St Martins, The Byam Shaw School of Art and the Royal Academy School (where she did a Post Graduate Diploma). Her work has featured in a very large number of mixed exhibitions, among them eight appearances in the Royal Academy’s annual Summer Exhibition, eight in Art London and five in the Discerning Eye. That is to say, she has never stopped thinking about art, or actually making it.
The reason for this paucity of solo showings is simple – she had children to bring up. But now, as she says on her personal website: “Whilst the past early stages of motherhood had dissipated my energy and clarity of vision through sleepless nights, it has also brought to my work a new light, mood and dynamism.”
Anyone who looks at her extraordinarily inventive paintings will see that they have a place in a very, specifically British, Modernist tradition. Artists whom she mentions as early influences include Paula Rego, Ken Kiff, Norman Ackroyd, Albert Irvine, Jennifer Durrant and Peter Doig. On her personal website she also names certain classicizing Italians, such as Marino Marini, Sironi and Carlo Carrà. For me, however, there is one name that she rather conspicuously leaves out – that of the greatest of all British Modern Movement sculptors, Henry Moore. One cannot miss the likeness. The kinship is not so much one between Moore’s graphic work, such as his etchings and lithographs, as one between Moore’s actual sculptures and her paintings. The subject matter – yes – is often similar: reclining female figures, monumental in appearance though often modest in scale. More striking still is the way in which Jackson seems actually to carve her figures out of paint.
Sometimes, too, there is a hint of the more mischievous side of Picasso – for example, a little figure tootling a pipe. In one case he is standing on the back of an extremely simplified horse. Picasso once said that it was necessary to go back to the vision of childhood – to set aside all sophistication – in order to be a really creative artist.
At a time when the mainstream Modernist tradition is increasingly under attack – when, in fact, a lot of leading figures in the contemporary art world seem to be willing to do anything it takes to wriggle free of it – it is interesting to encounter an artist who has the self-confidence to make it work for her.
The influences and relationships I have cited have by no means impeded the creation of an original, immediately recognizable personal language. These paintings are, above all, concise presentations of personal truths. In particular, at a time when women artists are being increasingly recognized, what one sees here is everyday female experience – having children, creating a family – expressed through a sensibility that is nevertheless defiantly Modernist. Davina Jackson is not willing to renounce, either because of her gender or for any other reason, the creative universe that the great early and mid 20th century Modernists created.