ART AND OPERA AS A FAMILY AFFAIR
The Artistic Collaboration of Nancy Jackson and Adam Rudolph
One afternoon in 1986, while exploring Nietzsche to discover the roots of the original surrealist vision, artist Nancy Jackson happened on a vision of her own: She saw -- in a flash -- the enormous creative possibilities for translating Nietzsche's poetic prose into painted images.
Jackson copied out her favorite phrases from Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy and then Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea -- along with the pictures they produced in her mind. But then she went about her life -- as artist, mother, wife, and businesswoman -- setting aside her notes about philosophy as art.
The vision, however, had a life of its own. Thus, months later, when Jackson rediscovered her notes, she was moved to undertake what she knew would be a time consuming and engrossing project: interpreting passages from two towering thinkers into a series of narrative paintings.
Drawn by such pivotal themes as our evolutionary impulse toward enlightenment, Jackson freely adapted the philosophers' words to elucidate her own perspective. The text and images of The Dreamer thus portray our archetypal journey from enmeshment in a web of illusion to awakening in a sea of suffering; from realization of the inherent unity of all life to acceptance of the Self as both The Dreamer and The Dream.
Accomplished over a two year period, Jackson's meticulously rendered imagery illuminates these ideas with dreamlike surreality. All 12 of the original works are painted in gouache on 6"x9" paper. They were later reproduced in book form, in limited edition, by Jackson and her husband -- the renowned world music composer/performer, Adam Rudolph.
Jackson has been making art since the age of four. While still in high school, she studied at both the University of Chicago and Chicago's famous Art Institute. Her advanced studies were undertaken at the Carnegie-Mellon School of Fine Arts in Pittsburgh and at Oberlin College in Ohio.
Despite this rigorous academic background, Jackson's style is uniquely her own -due, no doubt, to her steadfast refusal to narrow her focus exclusively to the world of art. Because she pursues such a wide range of interests, it is not unusual for her to draw inspiration from many sources, including works of philosophy and literature.
For a number of years, Jackson reluctantly followed the required steps for publicizing and marketing her paintings. Though she achieved some degree of recognition -- exhibiting in galleries and several museums -- she disliked the influence of competitive marketing on her artistic expression. It was on a trip to Bali in 1991 that Jackson first experienced a culture in which art pervades every aspect of life. Since that time, she has ceased to look to her paintings as a means to achieve either money or status in the world. She now creates income through her private design business, "Once Upon a Wall." This leaves her free to explore and expand her creative expression unhindered by outside influences or concerns. She explains:
"It has been a kind of spiritual path, trying to clear a 'free' area, an attitude and life where the process of creation is contained only by imagination and physical reality -- where I can be playful, pursue tangents, be unreasonable and wrong; and can follow my intuition."
Rudolph is also guided by intuition in the creation of his compositions. A great admirer of Jackson's distinctive style, he was inspired to compose a unique blend of the musics of the world to amplify the universal philosophy at the heart of her painted images.
As the couple's first collaborative project as artists, The Dreamer deepened their understanding and respect for the differences in their approach to the creative process. For Jackson, the words of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer immediately evoked visual images which she then recreated in her paintings. But Rudolph did not instantly hear the music for the works of art.
In fact, because he had never before written music for words -- or created a work with distinct yet thematically unified movements -- Rudolph had to "feel" his way, by "trial and error," into the emotionalism of each painting and the messages they illustrate:
"As I started each movement, I would contemplate the pictures and words and think: Can they be sung, can they be spoken? These aren't phrases like 'The rain in Spain stays on the plain.' This is Nietzsche. So how can they be sung in a way that is beautiful and also reflects the feeling that you get from the painting and the text? I had to follow an intuitive process to be responsive to all of those things at the same time."
Another important contrast between them that the couple observed in creating The Dreamer relates to the appropriate timing for offering suggestions: Accustomed to working in solitude, Jackson waited until she was nearly complete with each painting before asking her husband for comments. But as a musician who is used to working collaboratively, Rudolph solicited Jackson's opinion in the early stages of his work. Only after he was well underway did he step back from interaction to bring what had taken form in his mind into full expression as a completed composition.
By respecting and protecting the differences in their approach to their art -- and in how their minds married the images to sound -- the couple became more artful at the yin and yang "dance" of venturing forth and backing off with their suggestions.
It is by these means that Jackson and Rudolph brought a unique and holistic genre into being -- in which philosophy is communicated in a transforming way through a unified composition of art, text, music (and dance, when The Dreamer is performed live). At the same time they have helped to further the collaborative art of loving relationships and the vital beauty that this brings into the world.
Jackson and Rudolph were high school sweethearts. Their most outstanding joint project is their daughter Hannah -- who can be heard performing the child's vocals during the ninth movement of The Dreamer. In live performance, Hannah contributes percussion parts as well. In a recent interview, her father explained:
"This isn't the first recording that I've done where Hannah has participated. She's part of our family. As with everybody else, I asked 'Can you sing this part?' It's a part that's in a 15\4 time cycle moving through groups of 3, which is something that musicians -- if they tried to analyze and do it -- might find difficult. But for Hannah, I just said 'Sing along' and she did it on the first take."
Creating and performing poetry, art, and music together fulfills this unusual family's primary intention to "create new rituals and contexts that everybody can participate in while still having the sense of real evolved musicality going on."