Keith Jackson didn’t go to art school. Born in 1966 in rural Missouri, he started painting as a teenager, but until now he has never had a formal exhibition. Jackson’s sunny, heartfelt show, “The Back Roads,” is at Steven Zevitas Gallery.
Zevitas represents the artist’s son, Alex Jackson, also a painter. Alex introduced his father to the art dealer at an art fair in Miami in 2019, Zevitas said in an interview in the gallery. When Jackson showed the dealer images of his work, Zevitas offered him a solo show on the spot.
It’s a terrific debut. Jackson, who now lives in Kenosha, Wis., paints scenes from his childhood free of the conceptual freight common in contemporary painting, but tender and immediate, with potent colors and skewed spaces. His touch is alternately commanding and caressing. His paintings are emblems of youth — small stories feel epic.
In “Saturday Morning,” three young people watch a “Transformers” cartoon on a console TV. The décor nearly swarms them: the sofa’s blotchy upholstery in olives, yellows, and browns, the mishmash of orange and yellow tiles on the floor. A praying mantis perches on a floor lamp. The room’s corner isn’t quite square, and the space gently pitches and rises.
The simmering tones, wild patterns, and bobbing space are mildly disconcerting, but the artist renders the children softly, with velvety skin and clothing, anchoring us in their ease.
Jackson excels at small, astute details of storytelling. In “Eddie James,” the artist as a boy, clutching a Superman doll, stands tensed behind a boy twice his size as a muscular German Shepherd bares its teeth. Space is cropped and claustrophobic. Eddie, the big kid in a saturated yellow T-shirt and shimmering blue overalls, prepares to save the day. The puny doll looks vexed, more neurotic Clark Kent than Superman.
In a second painting, “Eddie James Vs German Shepherd,” Eddie has the beast by the neck, and the smaller boy — Jackson — has vanished, leaving his doll in the red dirt. The point of view drops and the sky opens behind our hero, 100-proof, sun-infused blue.
“The Back Roads” is the first exhibition on Jackson’s resume, but he’s an accomplished and canny painter. His career may turn out as lustrous as his palette.
KEITH JACKSON: THE BACK ROADS
At Steven Zevitas Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Oct. 30. 617-778-5265, www.stevenzevitasgallery.com