- Also known as
primary name: Jacks, Robert
- individual; painter/draughtsman; printmaker; Australian; Male
- Life dates
- Australian painter, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor; born 8 March 1943 in Melbourne; studied sculpture at Prahran Technical College, Melbourne 1958-60 and painting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology 1960-62; first solo exhibition at Gallery A, Melbourne directed by James Mollison; moved to Toronto in 1967 where he had his first show there of minimalist works at the Pollock Gallery in 1969 and then to New York where he began making his rubber-stamped books; returned to Australia in 1978 as artist in residence at the University of Melbourne; lectured at Prahran College, Melbourne 1984-88; his works on paper retrospective was held at the Ian Potter Gallery, University of Melbourne; awarded Order of Australia (AO) in 2006; after a long-term illness, Jacks died on 14 August 2014.
Text from Stephen Coppel, 'Out of Australia: Prints and Drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas', with a contribution by Wally Caruana on Aboriginal prints, BMP, 2011:
Jacks was born 8 March 1943 in Melbourne, where his father was a horticulturist. After a brief stint as a teenage boxer, he studied sculpture, initially at Prahran Technical College from 1958-60 and then at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology from 1960-62, where his contemporaries included the sculptor George Baldessin. Tate Adams, head of printmaking at RMIT, encouraged Jacks to focus on printmaking and painting. In 1966 his first solo exhibition of biomorphic abstract paintings at Gallery A in Melbourne proved a critical success; the National Gallery of Victoria purchased his large canvas 'Timbrel and harpsoothe' (1965), the title of which derived from James Joyce's 'Ulysses', an abiding inspiration for Jacks. Two solo shows of simplified geometric forms followed at the South Yarra Gallery in Melbourne. His 'Red painting' (1967) was included in 'The Field' exhibition, the groundbreaking showcase of Australian minimalist art which inaugurated the opening of the National Gallery of Victoria at its new site in 1968.
By this date Jacks was already living in North America where he had gone in 1967 to broaden his experience and where he would remain for the next ten years. While waiting for his green card for the United States, Jacks lived in Toronto for eighteen months, participating in group shows of Canadian artists at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In 1969 he moved to New York where he became involved with the minimalist and conceptual avant-garde artists in SoHo, notably Sol LeWitt and Brice Marden and the critic Lucy Lippard. As well as his grid paintings, drawings and screenprints, Jacks also produced conceptual pieces from cut paper and felt and hand-stamped artist's books, which had the advantage of being made from cheap materials and easy to install and transport. Jacks later described the transition from being a 'successful artist' in Melbourne to 'nobody' in New York as central to his mature development. In 1971 he was picked by LeWitt as the first artist to inaugurate the series of artist-selected shows in the lobby of the New York Cultural Center, which gave exposure for conceptual art too difficult for the New York galleries. In 1975, after an absence of eight years, he returned briefly to Australia to show some of his recent New York work at the South Yarra Gallery in Melbourne, where it divided critical opinion. Finding New York too expensive and disillusioned with the minimalist grid as being too formulaic, he moved to Texas where the open spaces and jagged landforms prompted a return to nature.
In 1978, the offer of an artist's residency at the University of Melbourne brought him back to Australia. His abstract graphite drawings, watercolours and etchings made during this period were exhibited under the Joycean title, 'Works in Progress'; it revealed a new vocabulary of triangular wedges and shapes that his Texan experience had awakened. In 1980 Jacks moved to Sydney where he lived at Lavender Bay close to the painter Brett Whiteley while teaching at the Sydney College of the Arts. He returned to Melbourne in 1983 as artist in residence at his former college of Prahran where he taught until 1988. Jacks took his family to Cornwall for six months in 1988 where he taught at the Falmouth School of Art.
In 1989, he purchased an old property in Harcourt, some 70 miles outside Melbourne, in rural Victoria, which after a wandering life finally became his permanent home and studio. A keen horticulturist, Jacks and his wife have created an artist's garden here, with several hundred species of roses and other rare plants, among which is placed his sculpture.
- Peter Anderson, 'The Artist's Books of Robert Jacks', exh. cat., Bendigo: Bendigo Art Gallery, 2009 (catalogue of the books and boxed print portfolios)
Simeon Kronenberg, 'Robert Jacks: On Paper 1958-1990', exh.cat., Melbourne: Ian Potter Gallery, The University of Melbourne, 1990 (works on paper retrospective)
Ken McGregor, 'Robert Jacks: Past Unfolded', Sydney: Craftsman House, 2001 (monograph)
Irena Zdanowicz and Patrick McCaughey, 'Colour and Transparency: The Watercolours of Lesley Dumbrell, Robert Jacks, Victor Majzner', exh.cat., Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1986