by David Elliott

Museum of Modern Art, Oxford retrospective catalogue, 1993

In the mid-1980s Bill Jacklin moved from London to work in New York. The paintings made since that time, exhibited together now, present an outsider's view of the inside of a great metropolis. Like many outsider's views they benefit from the clarity of distance but, unexpectedly, they do not rely on any single perspective.

The focus of Jacklin's paintings are ambiguous - sometimes sharp, sometimes blurred. On occasion the peripheries of vision are central, at others the sliding movement of vast crowds are viewed from high vantage points or the level of the street. Two different extremes of the city are shown: close-ups of its low-life, meat market, construction sites, strip joints and fun fairs, and the canyon perspectives of the tall, narrow streets and the window views from which the human element is reduced to a blur.

In constructing a contemporary image of urban life Jacklin moves between the dynamism of the modern city and the stasis of traditional reference. From its Baudelairean heyday in the 1850s, the city and its suburbs have been seen as a projection of both the progress and pathos of modernity. Aware of this, Jacklin has steered a course between the emotional charges of the subjects he depicts and the historical conventions of Western art, using the one, in a sense, to neutralise the other.

Often conceived on a large scale, his urban subjects become monumental. Arising out of this process they appear as emblems rather than depictions of reality in a heraldic definition of modern experience. In making this series of views of the modern city, Jacklin has been guided neither by ideology nor by a false notion of objectivity. Both art and the artist act as a filter and Jacklin's painstaking and (some would argue) anachronistic way of building up a painting out of observation, drawing and sketches becomes the mesh on which the different elements of the picture are caught.

The final organisation of these elements could be described as both painterly and pictorial, mediated through such pseudo-traditional genres as urban pastoral, urban-genre, urban-view and even urban-history painting.

Within this conflation and reorientation of styles Jacklin may be, within the same painting, both urban-classical and urban-romantic, using quotations and associations as both checks and balances within a carefully conceived formal structure. In this way of working, distinctions between abstraction and realism have become meaningless; if the painting is successful and achieves a balance between the elements which Jacklin describes as 'order, disorder and chaos', any number of impressions or associations may emerge from its surface.

This possibility of openness is echoed in the artistic collaboration with Nik Cohn published in this catalogue. Cohn's short texts may be seen as correspondences to Jacklin's paintings but do not in any sense illustrate them. Feeding off the same ground - Manhattan, Coney Island, Little Odessa and off the same people who individually and together populate these places they move towards a portrait of the city which is both poetic and real.

-David Elliott (1993)