Michael Zakian

by Michael Zakian, Director, Frederick Weissman Museum of Art

Linda Jacobson's paintings represent a pure form of nature mysticism. They arise from her conviction that the world is a beneficent place. Even when the earth seems neutral or indifferent, it nevertheless contains a positive force for healing and growth. This viewpoint harks back to the early nineteenth century Romantics and found full flowering in America in the writings of Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his 1836 essay "Nature," Emerson asserted that "Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact." He understood that consciousness was so bound up with its surroundings that one was only a reflection of the other. Jacobson shares this belief in a fundamental link between nature and mind. Her paintings picture the paradox that thought can conceive of nature, yet is itself a part of the natural world.

Jacobson's paintings are landscapes yet they are abstract. This is her way of revealing that nature's true character is abstract. It is to be found in the force that permeates all things, imbuing life with an elemental vitality. As a painter she rejects descriptive precision, favoring large movements and patterns to literal description. Her visual vocabulary alludes to Art Nouveau. As in this late nineteenth century art movement, Jacobson sees the world as animated by an organic force. Matter is never inert, but swells and sways with an animating spirit. Her curving, enfolded compositions resemble the lines of psychic energy that permeate fin-de-siecle Symbolism. These curves point to nature's elasticity. Never a brittle façade, nature is endlessly elastic, able to renew itself.

Each landscape's winding path offers surprise and revelation. To a receptive soul, nature still possesses the capacity to engage, to fascinate, and ultimately, to elicit an awe-struck wonder that is known as the sublime. The sublime first arose as an aesthetic category in the late eighteenth century to describe a reaction far more profound than that of simple beauty. She believes that nature offers wonders that can still foster true sublime feelings. Jacobson sees the earth as feminine. As her landscapes recede into space, we see nature recline, powerful yet passive, offering itself to those who enter her domain. Positive and negative spaces fuse and interact, united by a rhythmic spirit that permeates both matter and void. These spaces seem timeless-primal and untainted. Free from the scars mankind has inflicted on earth, they represent a point in time when this damage has been healed, transformed by nature's feminine powers of renewal. These landscapes have a visionary, almost hallucinatory quality, and may be considered dreamscapes. Each object functions as an archetype representing a universal idea, rather than a specific thing. For example, a rock or mountain represents the general state of solid firmament. A river stands for all mutable, changeable substance. Light, whether from sun, moon or fire, is energy. Air is open space, a place of becoming. In some paintings explicit archetypes such as a spiral (a symbol of creative energy) or shield (a symbol of protection) illuminate the life energy of a place.

Jacobson has focused on spiritual landscapes since 1978, when she spent time in Arles in Southern France and experienced the mistral, a powerful wind that blows through the region turning fields into seas of swirling motion. Since then she has continued to depict the earth as a dwelling place, as vital matter capable of embracing the soul. The ancient Chinese believed that a successful landscape invited the viewer to take an imaginary journey into the painting. In a similar way, Jacobson's landscapes offer access for the sympathetic soul willing to enter a realm of beauty and fulfillment.