Vibrant, diaphanous, painted yet sculpted, constructed, scrunched and assembled, the paintings draped around the walls of the Modern Institute this week are the work of the American painter, Suzanne Jackson, here showing in her first solo exhibition at the gallery.

“In Nature’s Way” is a play on words, as well as texture and form, as she writes it in her introduction to the show, “On my mind all year, in this work for Glasgow. We should live our lives – in Nature’s way. Currently, we are – in Nature’s way.”

Suzanne Jackson was born in 1944 in St Louis, Missouri and brought up in San Francisco, then Fairbanks, Alaska, splitting her university studies in the early 1960s between art and dance, drawn back to San Francisco by the Beat Poets, she once said.

Dancing with the Pacific Ballet Company whilst a student, she graduated with a BA in Painting, studying life drawing with the influential African American artist Charles White, then toured South America as part of Music Theatre USA – answering a call for a classically-trained black ballet dancer – before moving to Los Angeles and opening Gallery 32 in 1968, funded by teaching at art college.

An innovative space, it aimed to bring together a community of artists, creating a place to exchange ideas, and providing a platform for black artists to be seen by communities that had not perhaps seen their work before. Showing political work, yet skilfully avoiding being taken over by any one political cause, Jackson created an important space for cultural conversation and exchange.

Her own artistic profile increased during the 1970s, exhibiting frequently at the Joan Ankrum Gallery which gave her her first solo show in 1972, and going on to take part in major group shows that defined the era. In 1990 she returned to University, taking an MFA in Theatre Design at Yale, after which she worked as a freelance set and costume designer before taking up the position of Professor of Painting at the Savannah College of Art and Design, the city in which she still lives. Whilst something of a Renaissance woman, to put it mildly – even her artist’s statements are often written as poetry – Jackson’s main thrust has always been painting, her early works watercolours, oils, then acrylics, applied in multiple if diaphanous layers. In the 1990s, she moved from canvas to net as the basis for her paintings, her old college habit of sifting through the city dump for objects to make her sculptures now finding its place in assemblages and paintings on net, as if hanging sculptures. In to her work, too, came the bogus paper used on theatre sets to protect the stage whilst the scenic artists worked, scrunched in to place, layered with paint, creating frameworks for further embellishment.

Jackson’s work, on its skeins of net, or with its skeins of watery paint, is frequently dense with imagery – often of figures or the natural world, not least birds – and texture, whether figurative or abstract or places inbetween. Jackson uses recycled material in her work, the seemingly useless detritus of living, the cast-off, whether it’s laundry lint, d rings, bag netting, or paint flaked from the palm of the artist’s hand whilst painting.

Jackson, now well in to her seventies, has created new works for this Modern Institute exhibition. Much of her work is related to nature and blackness in nature – her own ancestry of Indian, Egyptian, Scots-Irish, French creole and African, amongst others, a part of this factoring – which, in a 1992 interview held in the archives of UCLA, part of a series on African American Artists in Los Angeles, she relates to her formative upbringing in Alaska. Moving to a one bedroom house “in the woods” in Fairbanks, very rural at a time when Alaska was still not a state of the US, but a territory, everyone in the community was of value if they had a useful idea, she said, and it was a place where she escaped the more rampant racism that was the reality of those growing up in bulk of American states.

The pieces in this Modern Institute show hang like washing, in places, as if sodden and hung limply out to dry, some more strident, all immediately possessing. Her work is generous, encompassing, open, subtle. There are allusions to friends, to places and people. And it says it in her epigraph to the exhibition. “This show is dedicated to centuries of women who have washed clothes and bathed themselves in all sorts of vessels, creeks, streams, rivers, oceans, and in the laundry/bath house that is now The Modern Institute.”

Suzanne Jackson: In Nature's Way... The Modern Institute, 14-20 Osborne Street, Glasgow, 0141 248 3711 Glasgow, Until 5 Mar, Mon - Fri, 10am - 6pm; Sat, 12 noon - 5pm

Critic's Choice

With newly extended closing date, you have until the end of February to catch this excellent exhibition at Streetlevel Photoworks which opened in time for COP26 and features the distinctly northern world view of Nordic photographic artists. This is a world of disappearing glaciers, of sea ice that doesn't make it in to the inner reaches of the Baltic Sea coastlines where once it did, of vegetation where once was ice.

Norwegian photographer Christian Houge's photographs – part of his “Death of a Mountain” series - of the Rhone glacier in Switzerland, some part of which has been covered in UV protective fleece to attempt to slow the degree of melt, are disconcerting, as if a trompe l-oeuil, a fabricated sculptural glacier hiding the real thing, and underlining how very unsustainable this is as a solution to the melt of the Anthropocene. Katrin Elvarsdottir (Iceland) starkly photographs a polar bear in Berlin's zoo, concerned with the potential loss of future generations.

Swedish art photographer Helene Schmitz's “Thinking Like a Mountain” shows the blasting of quarries, the conflict of man and Nature. Our own Mike Day photograph's “The Islands and the Whales” were taken during the filming of his award-winning documentary on the Faroe islanders discovery that the whales which they were eating as part of their annual Grind were in fact toxic, as polluted with mercury from our rampant industrial processes as the seas around them.

Other artists in this thought-provoking exhibition include Klaus Thymann (Denmark), Hallgerour Hallgrimsdottir (Iceland), Bjarni Mohr (Faroe Islands) and Lasse Lecklin (Finland).

Forever Changes, Street Level Photoworks, Trongate 103, Glasgow, 0141 552 2151, Until 27 Feb, Tues – Sun, 12pm - 5pm

Don't Miss

“Every culture in the world has a blanket tradition,” says curator and weaver Laura Thomas, who put this exhibition of Welsh-inspired blankets in her native Wales, bringing together weavers and artists making their own very contemporary work in various parts of Wales and beyond. Hand woven and laborious, the stuff of tradition, or industrially woven and taken from the hands of crofters in to mass production, the blanket is a place where geometry, landscape, nature and human eclecticism collide on the warp and weft, a symbiotic relationship of pattern and colour. The exhibition first opened at Llantarnam Grange in Cwmbran to the east of Cardiff, and now makes the somewhat more long haul hop to Bonhoga in Shetland, where the tally of weavers is increased by three local Shetlandic makers, Deborah Briggs, Emma Geddes of Aamos Designs and the Shetland Tweed Company.

Blanket Coverage, Bonhoga, Weisdale Mill, Mainland, Shetland, 01595 745750 Until 13 Mar, Weds - Sun, 10.30am - 4pm