Artist in action

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June 22, 2010

Though Preston Jackson is known nationwide for his art and has pieces displayed in galleries throughout the Midwest, he could not have found a better home than Bradley University.

“I thought Bradley was a perfect fit and the students that I’ve worked with so far have been wonderful,” says Jackson, an artist-in-residence through the Inland Visual Studies Center. “Bradley is a very relaxed campus, but it has a great atmosphere for learning.”

Jackson began working as an artist-in-residence in January at the Inland Visual Studies Center, a program dedicated to studying the Midwestern influences on visual art, culture and music. He continues to serve as a sculpture professor emeritus at the Art Institute in Chicago, where he’s taught for more than two decades.

He mentors students, allows them to watch as he creates his pieces and critiques their work. Students learn about working with different materials, conveying different artistic concepts and exploring diverse subject matter as they watch Jackson create his art.

“Bradley is a place to recapture the intimacy and closeness of working with students that come from multiple interests,” Jackson says.

Jackson works primarily with sculptures, castings and painting. He currently is creating miniature bronze sculptures and large-scale paintings themed around humans’ search for freedom and truth. His contemporary creations draw upon his Midwestern roots, though not intentionally.

“I sort of let it flow,” Jackson says. “I let it come out through my history and who I am personally. I guess you paint who you are.”

Both Bradley students and faculty members have benefited from Jackson’s residency, says Dr. Paul Krainak, chairman of the art department. Students don’t often see an artist physically working on pieces because faculty members dedicate their time to teaching and often have off-campus studios.

“He doesn’t explicitly teach students but works in the presence of students, collaborates with students and students take him on as a mentor,” Krainak says. “It’s a way for the students to benefit to see what kind of decisions artists make because they rarely see the faculty work in their studios.”

Senior sculpture major Rich Welsh said students appreciate learning from a real-life artist who is personable yet frank about the difficulties with breaking into the industry.

“It’s so great to be able to interact with someone who knows what they’re doing,” Welsh said. “He pushes us to really process what we are trying to get out of our art.”

Of course, praise and validation from a renowned artist don’t hurt either.

“It’s so awesome to hear he likes what we’re doing,” Welsh said. “And he never really tells you you’re wrong, either. He’ll suggest things that really help.”

Jackson received his undergraduate degree from Southern Illinois University and his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Illinois. He owns the Raven Gallery, home to the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria, on the city’s riverfront, and also has a studio in Chicago.

Jackson has created sculptures for the city of Chicago, the city of Peoria, the Peoria Civic Center, Chicago’s ESPN Zone, Northwestern University, the Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina and the Champaign Public Library, among others. He has also been awarded the Rhodell Owens Award, given to a Peoria resident for outstanding achievements in community beautification and enhancement.

Several of his collections are held at Purdue University, the University of Illinois, Lakeview Museum, the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, the African American Museum of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and the Harold Washington Public Library in Chicago.