School of Art and Design, 1969(from the Chicago Egyptian) Visual art has always been a part of Preston Jackson's life from the time he was seven. The 1969 SIU Carbondale graduate still has sketches from those early years. He is a self-taught musician who played guitar with Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows throughout his college years. Jackson is also versed in the martial arts, and teaches the craft to others.
"It's easy to transfer from one art form to another. I've discovered that creativity is a common thread in visual art," Jackson says. "I was introduced to martial arts in 1968 and it has always been a part of the art classes I teach. Tai Chi is mentally stimulating and the principles are easily applied to the visual arts."
An award-winning and renowned artist, it is hard to imagine that Jackson would ever face resistance in a quest to hve his art showcased in a gallery. However, this scenario has sometimes been the case.
An emeritus professor of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Jackson's sculptures and paintings are socially based. His pieces often reflect concerns about race and gender issues, injustice, war, violence, and ecology. He has found that some galleries aren't too receptive to such work.
"Many galleries are afraid of these subjects because they're controversial. They shy away from it, therefore, I'm not able to exhibit my pieces as much as I would like," he says. "It's an ongoing fight, but I understand. However, I will never sell out. I will keep focused on who I am and what I believe in."
This philosophy seems to have paid off for Jackson, in a career that commenced with teaching stints at Millikin University and then Western Illinois University, where he stayed for 15 years. Jackson's work began getting noticed in 1989, and he subsequently accepted a sculpture professorship at the School of the Art Institute. He recently retired, currently serving as an emeritus professor, splitting his time between the SAIC and Bradley University.
Jackson's commissions in Chicago include a sculpture of Irv Kupcinet, the late Chicago Sun-Times newspaper columnist and broadcast personality on Wacker Drive; a cast bronze relief in the Chicago Brainerd Library, honoring renowned poet Gwendolyn Brooks; a bust of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University; a scupture of Marie Wilikinson in Aurora; and a bust of Fred Hampton in Maywood.
His work can also be seen at McCormick Place West, the 69th Street CTA Station, and at the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center on S. King Drive. Numerous Jackson works are help in private collections throughout CHicago, as well as those at his gallery space and studio at 600 S. Dearborn Street, where he conducts private showings.
In 1998, Jackson was honored with the Order of Lincoln Medallion, the state's highest honor for personal achievement. In 2006, he was also presented with a Regional Emmy for a documentary based on his Julieanne's Garden exhibit at the Culture Center in Chicago.
"It is quite rewarding to have so many people recognize the importance of the issues I portray in my work," he says. "Although much of my subject is based on the experiences of African Americans, the issues raised affect all of us. We're all related."
The SIU alumnus has other commissions of note in the State of Illinois, including the bronze building facade at Cahokia Mounds Museum; the 1908 Springfield Race Riot Sculpture in Springfield; "From the Cottonfield to the Battlefield," Decatur; "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," Peoria; a Martin Luther King memorial bust in Danville; a memorial sculpture to Frederick Douglass at the Douglass Center Library in Champaign; and a memorial sculpture at the Fire Training Academy in Peoria.
He is currently creating a 35-foot stainless steel sperm whale which addresses pollution of our oceans.
"I'm very interested in making statements about ecology an the planet; in particular, saving our rivers and animal species," he says. "If you don't take care of your home, you're destroying yourself. You may as well not exist."
Jackson also shares his talent with Southern. He donated a bronze sculpture to the University as part of its Black History Month festivities in February. He was also commissioned to create a logo for SIU's Africana Studies Program.
"The best years of my life were at SIU. It was where I matured, became a man, and learned so much socially," says Jackson, who joined Alpha Phi Alpha at Southern. "It was a great experience. I had wonderful instructors and developed lasting friendships."
To see more of Preston Jackson's work, SIU alumni can either "friend" him on Facebook, or log onto his website (www.prestonjacksonart.com).