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Robert JACKS

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1943 – 2014

  • Canada, USA 1968-78
  • UK 1987-88

Metropolis no.14 1985 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: not signed not dated Inscribed reverse support u.l. charcoal "Metropolis#14/R.Jacks/1985"
Dimensions: 183.0 h x 152.5 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1986
Accession No: NGA 86.1
Image rights: © Robert Jacks

In the mid-1980s, Robert Jacks undertook a series of paintings that took their cue from the hectic dynamism of the modern city. Metropolis 14, one of his later and more austere works from the series, draws on the artist’s personal experiences of downtown New York and Sydney’s central business district. The title is also a reference to Fritz Lang’s 1926 classic black-and-white film, Metropolis.

The dominant geometric shapes in Metropolis 14 suggest the severity of mid-century modernist architecture, with narrow colonnades formed by high-rise office towers. The piercing wedge that cuts through the dark central field recalls the perspective of the reflective markings on the highway as they are chased into night. Yet, as the viewer is deceived by this allusion to pictorial or illusionistic depth within the picture, the surface of the work is forcibly restated by the artist’s painterly technique. Jacks’s use of the palette knife almost mimics the texture of concrete levelled with a trowel. As a critique of the history of art, Jacks has set up a deliberate tension between the western tradition of painting as illusion of three-dimensionality and the 20th-century preoccupation with the act of painting and the flatness of the picture surface.

Steven Tonkin

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002