Matthew Day Jackson's American mythistory

US artist Matthew Day Jackson was first introduced to the mass public through participation in the 2005 Greater New York show.

Move forward five years, and his work is suddenly commanding premium auction prices. Day Jackson, it seems, has definitely arrived.

Matthew Day Jackson

The first indication of this newly superstar status occurred in February 2010, when Bucky (2007, left), his portrait of inventor Buckminster Fuller, sold at Christie's, London, for an astounding 601,250 ($937,950).

Carrying an estimate of just 30-40,000, the hammer price not only trounced expectation, but obliterated the artist's previous best sale - a relatively paltry $18,750 achieved in September 2009.

Since then, the highs have continued unabated (albeit at more realistic levels). In May's round of New York auctions, two significant works consigned by market-player Charles Saatchi again exceeded newly elevated estimates.

Harriet (Last Portrait) (2006) fetched $550,000 against an estimate of $300,000 - $400,000. Apollo Space Suit (After Beuys) (2008, below) sold for $430,000 (estimate $200,000 - $300,000).

So what has spurred the sudden interest?

While talk of private acquisitions by mega-collector Francois Pinault can only have added to Day Jackson's lustre, the artist is one of the most consistently thought-provoking of current US practitioners, his innovative output highly representative of the thematically complex, associative art that is beginning to assert itself as a dominant contemporary force.

Matthew Day Jackson, Apollo

Focusing primarily on American history and culture, the intricately artisanal nature of much of Day Jackson's work echoes a dizzying range of referents from drag-racing to the My Lai massacre, with figures such as Neil Armstrong, Eleanor Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln rubbing shoulders with Evel Knievel, Big Daddy Don Garlits and Black Panther activists.

In particular, the life and work of Buckminster Fuller not only provides Day Jackson with a stable of recurring visual tropes (tetrahedrons, various portraits of Fuller himself - below), but also informs his entire approach to art-making:

"... 'Dynamic Maximum Tension' ... is the full version of the word 'Dymaxion' which Buckminster Fuller used to describe a principle of using the full potential of material, thinking, and form together. That idea of mashing history, form, art history, and personal concerns together - not simplifying it, but rather letting it be multifaceted and even confused and pulling itself apart - I love that. That's what I'm after".

Matthew Day Jackson

Such thinking prompts fresh, even radical perspectives on the multiple realities of the American Dream.

The utopian idealism of early settlers, for example, is uncomfortably juxtaposed with the history of cult leader Jim Jones and his followers, whose quest to establish an alternative community culminated in mass suicide in 1978.

The Lunar Mission, while "technologically, scientifically, and spiritually speaking... radical" can also be construed as essentially "a military maneuver", a bombastic assertion of US dominance in the fraught arena of the '60s space race.

How, then, to read the past? Day Jackson positions himself as

"... part of a generation of artists that is producing a shift in terms of ideas, art, and cultural production - how stories are told, how mythology and history coexist.... I'm interested in motivations because the power for beauty and terror is in all of us."

Matthew Day Jackson
Images © Matthew Day Jackson
 
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