The story of Icarus, the boy who ignored his father’s advice and flew too close to the sun, so melting the wax on his wings and causing his literal downfall, is the allegory at the centre of London-born artist Davina Jackson’s new solo exhibition, Close to the Sun.
She depicts several versions of this Greek myth along with scenes from other Greek and Biblical stories for which Jackson has held a fascination since childhood and which has exercised her artistically for the past 18 months.
The story of Icarus, of man doomed by his illusion of invincibility, is as relevant today as it was when it was written a thousand years ago. “His omnipotence, his vanity, his belief that he’s immortal so nothing will affect him, being beyond the law that everyone else adheres to and that he should adhere to, ultimately creates his downfall,” says Jackson. “A lot of leaders today share similar traits. We watch their demise.”
Davina Jackson trained at Central St Martins and Byam Shaw art schools before gaining a Post Graduate Diploma in Fine Art from The Royal Academy School of Art in 1997. She fits firmly in that modernist style of painting, with figures that are simplified into near abstraction yet pregnant with energy and emotion.
In the topshot, Icarus Falling in Red, Jackson plays with spatial planes creating a work that is flat yet gives off a sense of depth. There’s a tremendous tension and energy in the movement as he plunges to earth, the darkness of his wings and torso the symbol of doom.
In another version, Icarus Falling (after Rodin), Jackson shows her versatility by adopting a style that’s freer and relaxed. The figure is falling more gently into the blue. “There isn’t the anguish that he may feel in some of the other works. Also, I wanted the heat of the climate and the atmosphere but at the same time he’s supposed to fall into the sea.”
There’s a richness in both colour and texture to Jackson’s work. She revels in harmonious colour combinations often with gestural strokes to emphasise emotional expression. At other times, the tonal range is earthy and organic.
The influence of Rodin in the picture above is significant for one of Jackson’s aims is to give her subjects a sculptural presence, as if you are looking at a figure that is made out of bronze or stone. In this regard, she has been compared to Henry Moore.
Nowhere is this more so than with Narcissus, above. The crouching figure that fell in love with his own reflection in the pool and drowned himself in it, appears to have met his end here by being turned to stone. “I want you to look at it as if you’re looking at a sculpture…he’s part of the landscape, part of the earth. He’s been there forever, the story’s been there forever.” The effect is enhanced by the earthiness of both the figure and the background.
The crouching figure of Narcissus appears in other works too, with simple lines conveying a sense of despair.
There’s always plenty happening in Jackson’s paintings. Even with such simplicity, she can create both energy and emotion. You can feel the dead weight of Achilles above and the strength needed to hold him. Nostalgia is evoked in the idea that the figure continues to hold on emotionally to something that’s gone. The same can be said of a similar work, The Death of Hector. There’s something very ballet-like to the way the main subject is held. I can see the influence of Picasso in these works. Jackson herself credits her debt to 20th century Italian artists Marini, Sironi, Martini and Carra.
Greek myths are not only great stories but they make for pure theatre and there’s something very theatrical about the way Davina Jackson uses light in her pieces. She will highlight certain significant parts of the scene just as a spotlight might on the stage. There’s theatre too in the scale.
“I try to create something that feels quite vast so you’re aware of this other world or the real world but there’s actually something quite intimate going on at the same time which you get in a theatre. The audience gets sucked into something that might actually be unbelievable but want to believe in it like a child playing with a doll’s house. It’s always been an area I’ve been interested in.”
Jackson has also included a number of pencil and charcoal drawings in the exhibition. Once again, they are simple yet evocative and draw on mythology such as with the minotaur above. “I felt he was an extra on the stage – that’s what I wanted you to feel when you’re looking at it. You have this aggressive, brutal character but actually you feel he’s very sensitive and vulnerable.”
Playing with emotions, playing with perspective, vast yet intimate. These are the hallmarks of Close to the Sun. It’s showing at the Pontone Galley, 43 Cadogan Gardens, London SW3 2TB until 7 April 2019
All images are ©Davina Jackson and courtesy of the gallery.