BY Rodney McMillian in Profiles | 14 DEC 20
Featured in
Issue 215

Artists’ Artists: Race, Radicalism and Class in the Painting of Ravi Jackson

Rodney McMillian on how work of his former students work is ‘a way to digest how ideas about race, radicalism and class are negotiated'

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BY Rodney McMillian in Profiles | 14 DEC 20

‘Race, Radicalism and Class in the Painting of Ravi Jackson’ is part of a series of articles in which we asked nine artists to chose a colleague whose work has been on their mind. 

I met Ravi Jackson while I was teaching at UCLA and he was a student in the MFA painting programme. Incorporating popular culture, art history, texts and images of political leaders, his works are also deeply invested in material processes. Sawn-off furniture legs, hinges and small chains hang from his large-scale canvases and wood panels. While the works themselves take up physical space, the histories they depict invite viewers to think about the space and time within and between those histories.

Ravi Jackson, Untitled, 2017, acrylic, ceramic tile, paper on panel, 1.6 × 1.2 m. Courtesy: the artist
Ravi Jackson, Untitled, 2017, acrylic, ceramic tile, paper on panel, 1.6 × 1.2 m. Courtesy: the artist

Jackson has no fidelity to any of the histories he explores: he’s more interested in how they are interpreted. His subjects are wide-ranging. Untitled (2017), for instance, is a wood panel painted with splotches of pink acrylic paint and collaged with images from a 1975 fashion spread of Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver wearing self-designed trousers with a black fabric dick that hangs between the legs. These are interspersed with pictures of Kurt Russell’s character, Snake Plissken, from the film Escape from New York (1981). Offering a compelling conversation around outmoded yet prevalent notions of masculinity, the work suggests that the film’s anti-hero narrative is no match for the narrative of Cleaver’s activism – and of that which swings between his legs. Those narratives still account for the near-daily, state-sponsored murder and targeting of Black men in the US.  

Jackson takes up many of these strategies and questions in his latest works. Queen (2020) includes a print-out of the lyrics of Lil’ Kim’s Queen Bitch (1996) and a peephole. He tells me he is interested in ‘the sexual radicalness’ of Kim and that his current paintings are ‘a way to digest how ideas about race, radicalism and class are negotiated in other media’. 

This article first appeared in frieze issue 215 with the headline ‘Artists’ Artists’.

Main image: Ravi Jackson, Untitled (detail), 2017. Courtesy: Matthew Marks Gallery

Rodney McMillian is an artist. In 2020, he had solo exhibitions at Petzel Gallery, New York, USA, and Vielmetter Los Angeles, USA. He lives in Los Angeles. 

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