Living life to a ‘tee’

By Keith Strange

July 8, 2013

For Bernard Jackson, the impetus for a move to Mount Airy was all about following a dream.

“I’ve been playing golf for several years and got bit hard by the golf bug,” Jackson, the owner of B. Austin Clarke Gallery on Main Street in Mount Airy, said. “One day, I got this wild idea that I was going to train and see whether I could make the PGA Tour.”

Living in New Jersey at the time, Jackson’s trainer, Bobby Scales, decided to retire and move to Mount Airy.

“The first time I heard about it, I asked where Mount Airy was,” Jackson said with an easy laugh. “He said if I wanted him to help me train for the tour, I’d have to move to Mount Airy.”

So he did.

Jackson is an internationally-known, award-winning painter and Hollywood scenic artist and art director who has worked on films including “Die Hard III,” “The Devil’s Advocate” and “A Bronx Tale,” to name just a few.

Collectors of his work include range from corporate executives to celebrities, including such names as Bill Cosby, Magic Johnson, Coretta Scott King, Cicely Tyson and Steve Harvey.

After living in large cities for most of his life, the new Mount Airy resident said he’s experiencing culture shock in the best way possible.

“Before I moved here, (Scales) told me about this brown golf course called Cross Creek,” he said. “Then I came down here and fell in love with Mount Airy and now I’m stuck. I can’t leave. The grass is even more beautiful here, the people are wonderful and I just love it.”

Standing in his spacious gallery surrounded by original paintings, Jackson said he feels like he’s stepped back to a simpler time.

“It’s like Mount Airy is protected by the mountains from all the bad things going on in the world,” he said looking out over a rainy Main Street. “It hasn’t been infected by the things going on in places like New York and New Jersey.

“Coming here has been a bit of a struggle because this is such a different world for me,” he added. “I’m a professional artist and sell artwork, and how do you make it work in this environment?”

But after the move, he saw the Main Street property.

“I didn’t want to open another gallery, but my New Jersey studio manager, Karen Johnson, said she’d come down to help me and I couldn’t say no,” he said, smiling.

A few months later, he’s standing in another gallery — this time in Mount Airy.

Jackson said he paints “whatever hits me and whatever I fall in love with.”

“When I get a good idea, I stretch it as far as I can,” he said, pointing out a series called “Icons,” which features paintings of Bob Marley, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix. “Most artists can’t come up with an idea for a good painting every day, but we can come up with something and turn it upside down and reinvent it again. You look at the elements and make it work. Once you get the elements working, you can create a masterpiece. I’m not trying to tell a story, just make people look at something from a different viewpoint.

And reinvention is a recurring theme, not only for the art, but for the artist.

“I’ve gotten to the point in my life where all I feel like I need is food, shelter and someone to love me,” he said. “I want to spend time with my children. To me that’s important. That’s why I exist.”

Finally, Jackson said he has found a place to call home.

“I don’t want to go back. I want Mount Airy to be my home,” he said with a smile as he waved to passers-by. “Here, you have nature. You have culture. Life is beautiful.”

To give back, Jackson has begun working with local artists, allowing them to exhibit and sell their works in his gallery.

“We don’t charge them rent and don’t ask for a commission,” he said. “If they sell something, they can donate a little bit to the gallery if they choose, but we don’t ask.”

He became uncharacteristically quiet.

“It’s scary, picking up and coming here,” he said. “This is like a fantastically-different planet than New Jersey or Hollywood. But the people have been wonderful and have been putting their arms around me.”

But that doesn’t mean he has given up on his own vision quest.

“My dream is still to be on the PGA Tour,” Jackson, who boasts a 2.7 handicap, said with a smile. “I just want to tee off on the tour one time.”

Once again, he became quiet as he looked at a wall of golf-inspired paintings depicting his new home-away-from-home, Cross Creek.

“Man, that would be something,” he said.

Reach Keith Strange at or 719-1929.