When Jack was little, we started collecting his drawings in books labelled the Collected Works of Jack Tea Gregory. Before he was in middle school, we’d filled a shelf with big fat volumes. I don’t know that we always thought he’d be an artist— we didn’t give much thought to what he’d be like as a grownup. But he liked to draw and he had a great imagination and he made a lot of stuff all the time and that was just the way Jack was.
After four years at the Rhode Island School of Design, Jack and five other painters had their final Senior show last night. People held glasses of ginger ale and milled around walls covered with paintings and videos and projections. Jack had three pieces in the show, a sculpture, a painting and teeny, tiny drawing and layer he lead us up to his studio to see the rest of the work he’s been doing since he came from Rome last Christmas. It was voluminous.
Jack has been working on a series of related works for the last few months, all inspired by an encyclopedia of dogs he had as a kid. There’re a half dozen large, monochromatic and semi-abstract paintings based loosely on dog photos. There is a series of drawings and sculptures about Pluto and Goofy. A fabric sculpture of Pluto wearing dog mask that was embroidered with images of Goofy. A paper sculpture of an articulated dog that ran when you turn a crank. There was a huge painting of an attacking German shepherd. An abstracted figure with a speech balloon and a blurred action stroke. A book with a soft embroidered fabric cover that was filled with stretched digital abstraction and debossed imprints of dogs.
He has been working on a long series on Instagram. Each day he’d make a crude, bulbous, clay sculpture of Mickey Mouse. The next day he’d destroy the sculpture and reform it into another Mickey and upload a new picture. It went on for months.
Jack’s work never offers easy answers. It’s not ironic even when it’s using pop iconography. It’s always filled with emotion and a certain lack of control. It evokes loss and a commemoration of the underdog. His subjects always feel abandoned and overlooked.
When he was 19, he made a series of little sculptures he set up in the lost corners of alleyways around town. They were made by a fictional homeless artist who worked with found materials and then abandoned the sculptures to be ignored by passers by. The final pieces themselves were photos of the sculptures and their environs. One was in the ATM vestibule of a bank, photographed by a surveillance camera. In Rome, he made an installation of grubby, scratched and bent photos in glass frames. One had fallen to the ground and lay smashed underfoot.
Jack is an upbeat, funny guy. He has lots of friends, is warm and open. But his work reveals a dark part inside of him, forged perhaps by Patti’s disability and death, by his concern for the underprivileged and exploited.
Jack has always been a defender of the downtrodden. In middle school he was preoccupied with slavery and wrote plays and made drawings about old slaves who had lost their power to work. He has always worried about racism and sexism and how animals are treated.
I am so proud of him.
His willingness to reveal his feelings in his art, to have such high and selfless values, to be committed to his own creativity — they all make me bewildered at my part in making him who he is.
I don’t know where his art is going. Or where his life is going. It is beyond my control, even my influence. I think it will be challenging at times, the life of an artist always is. But I know it will be rich with experience, discovery, emotion, beauty and truth.
It’s hard for a parent to let go. To admit that your child is doing things you can’t do, sometimes can’t understand. But I have enormous faith in Jack and his abilities and talent and mind. I can’t wait to see what happens next.