HJ Jackson: Hand Pressed, 1953-2003

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Grapevine Gallery, Unthank Road, Norwich


In strong but mellow colours and with an eye for the shapes that make our local environment so attractive, HJ Jackson — John to his many friends and followers — celebrates 50 years of print making with an exhibition full of energy and insight.

Born in King's Lynn and spending his boyhood in Briston, Jackson grew up in a world where the natural scene was always cheek by jowl with all the shapes and patterns of transport. A picture of a galleon in full sail helped him gain entry to the Norwich School of Art. After four years there he spent most of his life in graphic design at Boulton & Paul.

That was an experience that helped sharpen his eye for detail, and before long he was finding inspiration in the complexities and patterns of brightly painted gear on the fish quays and on the beach at Cromer. To some degree, he was capturing a world that was disappearing, thanks to Beeching and conservation quotas, and nostalgia adds its own particular perspective to his work.

His medium is the lino cut, and an attractive little display reveals his techniques. Essentially they are simple, but it is fascinating to see how a rich design can be created out of what at first seems to be meaningless blobs and forms. The final stage is printing from the prepared blocks. Since there was no press available, Jackson developed a technique of rubbing over the paper with an old tobacco tin. That is why his prints can be described, quite literally, as “hand pressed”.

One of two of the lino cuts show fairly conventional scenes, for instance, of a couple of boats seen from a distance on smooth water. More often - more characteristically too - Jackson likes to get in close, to show the detail and give a sense of how the boat or tractor is constructed. He relishes the ribs and the rivets, the cables and the worn down tyres as much as the brilliant clash of colours between the white hull and the reddish-orange stripe around its top.

Most Read

Not many people appear. When they do, standing out against the yellow sand in beach scenes for instance they form a pattern, a dozen vertical figures echoing the lines of the boat they are bringing shore.

One city-scape is of particular interest to EDP readers. “Paradise Place” is a reminder of what used to occupy the site where Prospect House now stands. How different it was a few decades back, with breweries and gaunt chimneys in the background.