CHICAGO — Chromatic skins of paint — objects and paper floating within the adhered layers — are hanging flat on the wall, others suspended from the ceiling in Suzanne Jackson’s solo exhibition Listen’ N Home. Through the act of peeling paint and embedding personal ephemera, Jackson’s multidimensional paintings clamor for our undivided attention. These paintings seem to serve as reservoirs of memories, oscillating between two and three dimensions. 

Installation view of Listen’ N Home at the Arts Club of Chicago, September 4–December 23, 2022; “Saudades” (2019-2022), acrylic, layered acrylic detritus, acrylic media, bag and deer netting, textiles, plastic, bamboo, cardboard, bells, scenic Bogus paper, metal, stones, loquat seeds, chain, leather string, organic plant matter, and metal barrel tops, dimensions variable

Jackson embraces an experiential process in her work, using contemporary painting materials and collected detritus from her studio. Women have often played the role of archivists — pressing flowers into albums, saving journals, making quilts out of scraps. Jackson’s pieces allow for an entryway into her hints of memory, and she points us to these recollections, and adds a thoughtful textual dimension to each work, with titles such as “Saudades” (2019–22), “Swing Soft” (2022), and “Woodpecker’s Last Blues” (2013). She often references music — blues, swing, and Afro-Caribbean/Peruvian, “Classical African American Music” — as a way to mark time in her personal history.

The presented works are selections from the past 20 years of the artists’ practice along with the debut of the installation, “Saudades” (2019–22). In earlier works, she retains her use of the stretcher with layers of paint skins, aluminum screens, fabric, Bogus paper, and skeins of rope. Later on, Jackson liberates the paintings from the stretcher. These pieces hover on the wall and then enter the space of the gallery where the materials become the substrate, hanging loosely, implanted with or surrounded by fabric and fragments signifying family and encounters with nature.  

Installation view of Listen’ N Home at the Arts Club of Chicago, September 4 December 23, 2022; left: “Hers and His” (2018), acrylic, cotton, scenic Bogus paper, and wood, 86 x 67 inches; right: “Bilali’s Dream” (2004), acrylic, mixed media, wood, netting, and papers, 80 x 86 x 8 inches

Looking at these works, my mind wandered to reminders of intimacy. In “Hers and His” (2018) she uses pieces of her mother’s unfinished quilts; in “Woodpecker’s Last Blues,” collected feathers and leaves; “Saudades,” leftover bits of clothing from family members and bells that signify her son’s journey. I can imagine that using these precious items could be daunting. “Swing Soft” emanates fragility, an unspooled piece of mesh, supported with acrylic paint, floating on the wall of an isolated alcove, trailing like an extraction from a body of water. “Woodpecker’s Last Blues” is an acrylic web suspending feathers, leaves, and tar paper. Jackson uses the full spectrum of color across all of her works. Here the color is naturalistic, recalling being surrounded by nature; a forest canopy, an elegy for a woodpecker.

Installation view of Listen’ N Home at the Arts Club of Chicago, September 4–December 23, 2022; left: “Woodpecker’s Last Blues” (2013), acrylic on acrylic, deer netting, woodpecker feathers, redbud leaves, and tar paper, 76 x 60 x 3 inches; right: “Bogus Boogie” (2001), acrylic, bogus paper, flax paper, wood, and silk, 65 x 28 x 6 inches

As I observed Jackson’s use of almost exclusively recycled materials, I speculated upon the previous life of these salvaged objects. We are witnesses to Jackson’s search for a resolution to the piece itself, and likely, to an associated memory. As her titles suggest, Jackson reminds us to listen and observe.

Listen’ N Home continues at the Arts Club of Chicago (201 East Ontario Street, Chicago, Illinois) through December 23. The exhibition was curated by Janine Mileaf. 

Susannah Papish is a Chicago-based artist, curator, and writer. Papish is the Director of boundary, a visual arts project space. Papish’s artist book entitled Invisible Labors written with collaborator Melissa...