In more than forty years of practice, Linda Jackson has played a significant part in the development of a distinctly Australian approach to fashion design. Working as an artist outside the conventional fashion marketplace, she devised unique forms of clothing that evolved beyond the sphere of seasonal trends. Jackson’s work consistently defied the limits of Western fashion by drawing together an eclectic mix of influences from India, Africa, China, Japan and Australia.
This outstanding collection of twenty outfits is drawn from the artist’s own archive and includes a number of rare and unique early works. Many were worn by Jackson herself and some, such as Titania, 1975, and Harlequin, 1977, featured in the iconic Flamingo Park fashion parades produced by Jackson and her creative partner, Jenny Kee. Most were produced during the mid to late 1970s; they embody a particularly dynamic period in Jackson’s career during which she was defining her visual and design language.
The garments incorporate key elements of Jackson’s innovative decorative and construction techniques. Featuring appliqué and patchwork, and showcasing her inventive fabric treatments using screenprinting, hand-painting and cut-work, this outstanding collection reveals much about Jackson’s oeuvre and influences.
Titania is a lyrical, sinuous work and a perfect example of how Jackson privileged the integrity of the fabric in her design process. Rather than utilising multiple pattern pieces and chopping into the fabric lengths, she simply wrapped, draped and plaited the silk chiffon across the body to form a fluid and diaphanous dress. Harlequin is a striking example of her interest in the art of costuming for dance, opera and theatre. A playful, layered outfit comprising five parts, it displays Jackson’s adept handling of intense colour and seamlessly pieced geometric forms.
Utilising the novelty of Australian motifs to suggest a unique fashion style, much of Jackson’s work was characterised by evocative imagery and iconic symbols reflective of local flora, fauna and landscape. Wildflowers, 1976, is an example of how this inspiration translated into wearable forms. The vibrant tunic top and full skirt in intense blue cotton is decorated in appliqué with a series of multicoloured Australian wildflower motifs. In 1977 Kee and Jackson took the Flower series range to Europe, showing in Paris, Milan and New York.
In 1982 Jackson parted ways with Kee and Flamingo Park, establishing her own design studio, Bush Couture. Maasai Africa, 1984–88, is from this key period, when Jackson continued to develop and adapt some of her already unorthodox methods, incorporating freehand stencilling, fluorescent pigments and bold designs without repeats. With its simple layered silhouette and vibrant rainbow and zebra prints inspired by the traditional textiles and beaded jewellery of Africa, this outfit is a consummate example of Jackson’s adventurous approach to styling and design.
The strong cross-cultural influences in her work continue to this day, underscored by her celebration of the Australian environment and ongoing collaborations with Indigenous artists and communities.
Katie Somerville, Curator, Australian Fashion and Textiles, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2011).