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Courtesy of Paul Jackson
Although he grew up in Starkville, Mississippi, Paul Jackson has called Missouri home since he earned his master’s from MU in 1992.
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Courtesy of Paul Jackson
Detour, watercolor 22 x 36 in., won the Margery Soroka Memorial Award from the American Watercolor Society in 2009. It’s also on the cover of his book—The Wandering Watercolorist.
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Manhattan Tapestry, watercolor 27 x 56 in., won first place in The Artist’s Magazine Annual Art Competition in 2000.
By Jack Wax
If you’re looking for Paul Jackson, you might find him in his studio that occupies the fifth level of his Columbia home, aptly named the Avalanche Ranch. If he’s not there, he could be almost anywhere.
Since he first traded a painting to an airline attendant for standby passes thirty years ago, Paul has traveled to forty-five different countries to paint, exhibit, and teach. His imagination has transformed many of the places and people he’s seen along the way into vibrant watercolors—about four thousand to date. And his journey is nowhere near its end.
“I’m just beginning to see what’s out there,” he says.
His reputation has lifted him into the stratosphere of the art world, where he regularly wins honors and commissions across the world. During the 2008 Olympics, he was the featured speaker at the International Watercolor Masters Invitational in Lushan, China. He was the only American artist invited to the International Art Meet in Kolkata, India, in 2011. He’s taught workshops in Istanbul and scores of other cities. And this year, he used his quadcopter drone to photograph and take video of the Chain Bridge in Budapest from every angle for a painting he just completed for a client in Moberly. The painting, which measures five feet by ten feet, is immense for a watercolor. In fact, Paul says it’s among the largest watercolors in the world.
Paint. Teach. See the world. It’s a formula that works for Paul and his wife, Marla, who coordinates his workshops. In between traveling to places such as Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia, Bora Bora, and Japan, he’s found time to publish a collection of three hundred of his paintings in a book, The Wandering Watercolorist.
Paul started painting professionally when he was nineteen years old. Now, an artist in his prime, he explains his style as a combination of craftsmanship and an eye for dramatic subjects.
“I look for subjects that seem more interesting when you light them up,” Paul says. “I paint with a full range of color values, and while not actually using white or black, I use really dark blues, pushing it all the way to the darkest dark.”
With the exception of Antarctica, his art hangs on walls on every continent. At any time, about fifteen paintings are in museums. Several have become part of Missouri’s cultural and political history. In Jefferson City, his portraits of former Governor Roger B. Wilson and First Lady Pat Wilson hang in the State Capitol Building and the Governor’s Mansion, while just across the street, his portrait of former Chief Justice Edward D. “Chip” Robertson Jr. hangs in the Supreme Court of Missouri.
Paul’s paintings have a wow factor. He transforms the world into a playground for light and shadow. Light seems to emanate from some paintings. In others, light travels through objects and bounces off shining surfaces. His friend, Stephen Archer of Columbia, is awed by Paul’s illusions.
“I still say you can’t do what Paul does with watercolors, but he doesn’t seem to understand,” Stephen says.
Always up for a challenge, Paul is a self-described boundary-pusher.
“One of the worst things I hate to hear is the word ‘no’,” Paul says.
When he thinks he’s right, Paul doesn’t back down, regardless of the odds. He stood his ground when the US Mint manipulated his design of the Missouri state quarter and refused to credit him for the design. In the end, the Mint never credited Paul for the design. However, Paul did shine a light on the Mint’s practices, and the Mint changed the way it worked with artists going forward. He also garnered some national attention in the process.
His high energy and curiosity are as much a part of his artwork as the paint. Paul creates a world that is vivid, beautiful, and inviting. His paintings serve as a reminder that the world is a mysterious and majestic place where something as commonplace as light can entertain and awe us. The subjects of his paintings are as varied as his travels. Among his thousands of paintings are sunsets, ocean scenes, colored glass vases, musical instruments, churches, cities, animals, and people he has met throughout his journeys. At first glance, some look like photographs, but the intensity of their colors give them away.
Paul believes more in hard work and persistence than talent.
“I don’t think you are born with a talent; you are born with a passion,” he says. “Nobody actually taught me how to paint. I had to sit down and figure it out, and now I can show what I figured out in about a three-day workshop. I can give you all the skills, and then you have to sit down and practice them for about thirty years to get really, really good.”
Paul is one of those rare individuals that lives on his own terms. He has a boisterous intelligence and a friendly disposition. He is as likely to become lifelong friends with a cab driver in Cambodia, which he has, as he is to become friends with artists all over the world, which he also has.
Lately, his focus has been on taking aerial footage with his quadcopter drone. He even tried, and almost succeeded, to film all the US national parks before unmanned aerial vehicles were banned in May 2014.
Although he has thousands of paintings in his portfolio, Paul is currently working on a new five-by-ten-foot painting. At this stage in his career, there’s no need to go through the challenges of making such a colossal watercolor. But Paul Jackson isn’t about getting by; he’s about moving forward.