The myths we build around ourselves, the stories that made us, can still teach us who we are and can still affect us in profound ways.
Such are the principles that guide the work of Roxanne Jackson, last month’s featured artist at the 2014 Ceramics Biennial, curated by professor Sasha Jonestein, Palomar’s director of ceramics. Jackson who helped transform the Boehm Gallery into a harrowing and sometimes frightening landscape where the actuality of the human animal self and mortality was ever present.
Jackson, a ceramicist and mixed media artist who considers herself a “nature artist,” spoke to an avid crowd of ceramics students and art enthusiasts at a gallery talk on Feb. 12 to discuss her work and imaginative process, as well as her viewpoints on art history and philosophy.
The gallery talk allowed Jackson to showcase how she uses the medium of ceramics to echo what T.S. Eliot called the manipulation of a “continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity.”
The circus of Medusa heads, opened up cat heads entitled “I’ve Been Known To Ride On Chrome” and wigged mannequins—one of which donned a red IZOD sweater–illustrated her myriad artistic sensibilities, and all fell within a domain that could be called mythical.
Jackson’s work is loaded with powerful juxtapositions of the old and the new, the real and the fabled, the kitsch and the grotesque. “I don’t want to just make a beautiful figure,” Jackson said, “those aren’t my goals…I want to distort it. I think the distortion will draw the viewer in and maybe make them think about some of the things I’m thinking about, or maybe they’ll think about something else.”
“Kizz,” one of her ceramic decapitations, has a Paul Stanley black star covering the left eye, with what looks like a snake’s tail resting on the Starchild’s red, bleeding lips.
“There’s so much literal time involved,” Jackson told the audience, alluding to her piece. “The pace of geology is so slow in comparison with a human life. I think that’s an abrupt contrast.”
Pop culture clashes with horror film imagery, fashion mingles with geology, all these juxtapositions help generate new commentary on the anxieties humanity has so vehemently suppressed. “This idea of macabre imagery is very much dealing with that and what it means to be human,” Jackson said, “a huge component of that is our mortality.”
The fear of death has motivated humanity to elevate itself above animals and beyond death. Jackson hopes to challenge that mindset by showing the connection humans share with the animal world.
“I think on a deep level it’s because in general in western culture…people are kind of uncomfortable with the thought that there’s an aspect of ourselves that are really violent animals,” Jackson said, reflecting the Freudian outlook that the customs and sanctions we build around ourselves are just a thin veneer separating us from barbarism.
Jackson’s work is inarguably dark and unpleasant, but almost every piece displays a humorous or playful aspect that causes nervous laughter or reveals cosmic irony. Some may even just demonstrate the sarcastic, Sigourney Weaver-like disposition of Jackson that lit up the gallery and the classroom that afternoon.
Jackson admitted that her own ambitions mattered much less when her work was on display. Good art gives you the means to find your own interpretation. The meaning of each piece can extend out in varying directions, depending on the viewer’s imagination. “Right now, it’s existing beyond me,” Jackson told her audience, “I don’t know everything about everything that I’m making.”
Jackson said, “I’m also learning from the images I create,” and so will her following, every step of the way.