Dale Jackson, The Carnegie / Visionaries + Voices, Cincinnati

A continuous writing practice can serve as a repository of memories. Making this diary accessible to a larger public allows others to relive those memories alongside their author, to build a self-portrait of the artist by weaving together the complexities of human existence through metaphor, imagery, ritual, rhythm, and language. Since 2003 Dale Jackson has created thousands of drawings documenting his presence. Once a week, Jackson comes to the Cincinnati art studio Visionaries + Voices for at most 3 hours, during which time he creates between 10-20 drawings, no notes, all memories.

His work possesses a striking visual appeal, blending the power of handmade signage with ink markers on radiant hues of poster board. With a fragmented style, Jackson’s words capture the immediacy of his thought process. His sentences swirl and dance, swept up in the motion or the urge to get them down on paper. There are abrupt thoughts and vivid memories: “BILL ROSS KEITH BANNER ELDER HIGH SCHOOL BIG BROTHER STEVIE WONDER,” and the long lines that can feel like they are coming out in one deep breath: “MY COUSIN TONY KNOWS ABOUT BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 HE DIDN’T WANT ME TO WATCH IT EDDEE MURPHY TALK DIRTY.” Jackson is an ardent archivist of his inner dialogue. Nothing is humdrum; every thought is charged with import. Depending on your entry point, they are devoid of a definitive beginning or end. Sometimes a piece spills beyond the boundaries of a single poster and becomes a sequential work (each subsequent sheet identified as ‘Page 1,’ ‘Page 2,’ and so on); each series concludes with the words ‘The End,’ implying that each “text” can be considered an independent statement.

I’ve seen several iterations of Jackson’s work installed over the years, but my favorite was in the 2022 exhibition, A Thought Is a River at The Carnegie (Covington, Kentucky). The curator, Matt Distel, installed a 24′ x 10.5′ grid of Jackson’s drawings going edge-to-edge, floor-to-ceiling on a sizeable wall. The effect was energetic and unruly, a limitless loop linking Jackon’s past and present. Assembled at this scale, his missives transformed into an endless, free verse poem, a clear account of his lived experiences.