Lucy Innes Williams, Bridgeman Artists' Manager, speaks to artist Bill Jacklin (b. 1943), the 'painter of light'.
1. What is your earliest memory of an artwork and who was it by?
As a small child I was taken to Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath and saw the Rembrandt self portrait there. I have a strong memory of him looking directly out at me. Later I became more aware of his interests as an artist but that first impression stuck with me. Not long after that when I was about ten my mother gave me a paint box. I went up to Hampstead Heath and from early morning to late night I painted a complete scene there. I remember the painting well. It was my first serious attempt to capture something from life. When I got back my mother was beside herself as I had been out for twelve hours, it was dark and they had been frantically looking for me.
2. What is your favourite time of day to be in your studio?
I try to work every day. I sometimes find it difficult to get started. When I get going and am in the flow that is my favorite time. I have a family and life has a way of consuming your time but I am quite disciplined so I make the effort to be there in the studio.
3. Talk us through a day in the life of Bill Jacklin - what does a typical day look like?
Some days might be spent painting all day and others I might make monotypes in the studio as I have a print press there. If I am out on location I will be drawing in sketch books and will eventually use these to begin work on a larger pieces in the studio. Starting a painting is always hopeful and often exhilarating until faced with the reality of how difficult it is to make a convincing statement.
4. I’ve recently visited your exhibition at the Royal Academy. Tell us a little about this and how long this was in its planning. It was fascinating to see such a range of your graphic work together in one place and understand more about the contexts which underpin this work.
Twenty years ago I gave the RA a group of prints from different stages of my artistic life. I forgot about this but Nick Savage the Curator of Library’s asked me in 2015 if I would like to show my graphic work in the Fine rooms in 2016. Naturally I liked that idea and we curated a range of works from early figurative pieces in the 60’s through non representational systems work from the seventies to the flow of the later series of prints influenced by my time in New York City. It was there that I started the main body of monotypes depicting different subjects. From the skater in the Wolman Rink in Central Park to the figures braving the rain on Fifth Avenue.
5. You have completed a number of significant commissions. Which of these has been a particularly rewarding commission and do you approach these commissions differently from your own practice?
I really enjoyed making the mural commission for the architect Cesar Pelli who designed the new Washington National Airport addition (Reagan Airport). We had to work on connected panels that were part of the fabric of the interior. As a result of working on this skating commission I made many drawings and prints that were visual experiments that would lead to new paintings.
6. How do you find your printmaking practice runs alongside your painting practice? Do you find that one inspires the other?
As I mentioned I have a press in my studio and I often work making monotypes in oil paint as visual experiments that inform my painting which helps me take more risks. Sometimes with the monotypes I start with covering the plate with black paint and then proceed to wipe away bringing in the light. I am always looking for the magic.
7. If you could pick 5 artists, dead or alive, to have dinner with who would they be and why?
I am a bit of a loner and as an Englishman abroad always moving on. However I miss some of my English artist friends and eagerly look forward to seeing them when I return to London. Many of then are Royal Academicians that I have known for forty years or more be it Allen Jones who I always enjoy having dinner with or Christopher Lebrun the President of the RA. Having said that I would like to have dinner with Norman Foster RA and ask him about his building, the Hearst Tower in New York City. It is one of the first green buildings in that city.
I wrote my thesis on Rauschenberg when I was a student at the Royal College of art and would have liked to have discussed how he started making his first combines structured paintings in the 50’s. I saw a show of his in the 60’s at the Whitechapel Gallery at the time. Or then maybe I would like to go back in time to 1432 to dine with Paolo Uccello in front of his “Battle of San Romano” and ask him about his preoccupation with one point linear perspective.
I would finally return to the first artist that caught my eye, Rembrandt and imagine sitting over dinner and pressing him on how he created that inner light that comes off his self portraits that have such an emotional appeal.