As a recent Irvine resident (who moved here from Laguna Beach), I often feel as though I am driving through an imaginary village. I marvel at the flawlessness of the city with the trees and bushes trimmed to near perfection, and the uniformity of the tract homes. This suburban sameness is also recognized by Jesse Colin Jackson, an artist, designer and UC Irvine art professor, who photographed many of the modern and contemporary homes here for his innovative series, The Villages of Irvine.

This series, part of Jackson’s exhibition, Suburban Ecologies recently installed at Irvine’s Great Park Gallery, was curated by Adam Sabolick, Community Services Specialist for the city. (While the lockdown prevented visitors from viewing the show and it is now closed, personal tours are available, as well as a video tour. See below for more information.)

The Villages series was inspired by five Irvine areas — Northwood, Stonegate, Turtle Rock, University Park and Woodbridge — which Jackson visited many times over several months. His goal was to locate structures in each area that have similar design features, but are slightly different from each other. Or as he explains, “Less distinct are the individual buildings, which are subtly mirrored, shifted, and finished in ways that maintain predictability while making it difficult to pinpoint exact copies.”

Jesse Colin Jackson, University Park

He ultimately created seven composite photos — six of homes, one of large planters in Turtle Rock— with each photo comprised of eight digitally overlayed images. Each resulting 36 x 54-inch inkjet print brings to light the similarities of the structures; while their slight variations, enhanced by the digital manipulation, result in glistening artworks evoking the work of the French Impressionists, particularly their brushstrokes and depiction of light. They also suggest the paintings of Claude Monet, whose landscapes often illuminate the early morning mist.

Jackson explains, “These composite images collapse Irvine’s simulations into shimmering compositions that speak to a quality ascribed to both Irvine specifically and suburbia more generally: a sense of placelessness born of repetition, where the impression and its precedent are one and the same.”

As Villages further demonstrates, Jackson employs his skills in photoshop, photography and film. “I am part of the late Generation X, born in 1978. We were the first group who learned how to use computers as an integral part of everyday life, but we still had to build them from scratch and fix them from basic principles.” He adds, “I learned photography the old way, in the darkroom, but came of age artistically using digital technology.”

By merging his lifelong technical skills with artistry, Jackson transforms Irvine’s classic architecture into images of astonishing artistic splendor.

Jesse Colin Jackson, Newport Beach

Jackson’s The Orange Coast, an organically-inspired series in this exhibition, is composed of digitally overlayed panoramic shots of the shorelines and nearby environs in San Clemente, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach. The six resulting 30 x 90-inch inkjet prints, centered on the water’s horizon, illuminate the ocean, sand, surfers and birdwatchers, along with regional sights including the Huntington Beach and Seal Beach piers.

The ocean — when viewed through the lens of multiple layers— appears to be churning as it would during a fierce storm, while the series portrays a mystical sweep of the ocean meeting sky and sand, evoking the romance and passion of our shorelines.

Jackson expresses his architectural training and skill in the creation of Marching Cubes Watershed #2: Santa Ana (58 x 242 x 160 inches), composed of 5,000 3D-printed PLA plastic components, with magnets affixed to them. The installation depicts the topography of Orange County and regions beyond as it progresses inland from the Santa Ana Watershed.

Jesse Colin Jackson, Suburban Ecologies: Marching Cubes, installation view at Great Park Gallery

He explains, “Orange County’s historic orange groves, such as those found at the Irvine Ranch, were irrigated by the Santa Ana River, which brings water from Southern California’s highest points to its current artificial outlet at the border of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.” The art piece also includes Saddleback Mountain, Big Bear Lake, Mount Baldy, and the San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountains.

As a low-slung sculpture with light filtering through it, Marching Cubes evokes the Southern California Light and Space movement of the 1960s and 70s: an immersive style in which various materials were used to create sculptures and installations reflecting the magnificent southland light.

Another series in this show, Santa Ana Fall Line, consists of two pixelated films on opposing walls in the gallery’s main room. Available for online viewing, these videos record a hiking/biking journey that Jackson and a friend pursued from the mouth of the Santa Ana River to the top of San Gorgonio Mountain, a trip of about 100 miles each way.

To create the films, Jackson and his friend Nicholas Bradley first shot 20,000 still images each of the terrain, foliage and people during the journey — one photo each minute — wearing body-mounted cameras. Jackson culled these to 10,433 frames per channel by deleting breaks and most of the night shots.

The first resulting film, with dissolving figuration, is redolent of the play of sunlight on flowing water, or of the appearance of movement in impressionist paintings, while echoing The Orange Coast series installed on the room’s side wall. The second more abstract film, comprised of large moving multi-colored squares, complements the Marching Cubes sculpture on the floor nearby.

Suburban Ecologies exhibits aspects of postmodernism as it contains borrowed elements, repeated design motifs and complex juxtapositions, while combining high art with images from daily life. It is a transcendent installation, created by an artist who intuitively uses the latest digital tools and methods in his work.

Jackson has temporarily relocated his art-making studio from UC Irvine to his home, where he is pleased to receive visitors. Email him at to arrange a visit.

Jesse Colin Jackson, Turtle Rock (detail)

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