Ceramic artist and mixed media sculptor
Roxanne Jackson's macabre works are black-humored, investigating the link between human transformation, myth and kitsch. Jackson’s work has been exhibited at SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Lu Magnus, Denny Gallery, Hunter College, Socrates Sculpture Park, Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, 99 Cent Plus Gallery, Brooklyn Academy of Music, BRIC, and Airplane Gallery, among others, in New York, as well as at the Mutter Museum, Philadelphia, Hunterdon Art Museum, New Jersey, Museum of Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Grassi Museum, Leipzig, Germany. She has shown in China, Portugal, Romania, Canada and other cities including London, Berlin and Leipzig. Her work has been reviewed in several publications including Hyperallergic, Sculpture Center’s Notebook, ARTslant, Brooklyn Magazine, Ceramics Ireland and New Ceramics. Roxanne has been an Artist in Residence at the Bemis Center, the Wassaic Project, Socrates Sculpture Park, Ceramic Center of Berlin, the Pottery Workshop in China, Chashama’s: ChaNorth, Oregon College of Art and Craft, Hunter College, Watershed and others. Jackson is the cofounder of NASTY WOMEN, a national/international art exhibition and fundraising project. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Have you always worked in ceramic sculpture? What drew you to this medium?
I grew up drawing and at a young age thought I would be a “cartoonist.” Now I never draw because, with sculpture, I create a real object that exists in space—so I can see the image develop and I don’t have to allude to it with a two-dimensional drawing. The malleable quality of clay is conducive to my intuitive process of sculpting; I see the form evolve. These dynamic properties of clay mimic geology: over time the soft, pliant clay hardens into a solid form; furthermore, the firing process parallels rock formation as glaze crystallizes and melts onto the sculpture -- so that 100 years from now, even 1000, some civilization may find chards of my ceramic sculptures. And this may provide some insight into who we are (and this I find amusing).
Tell me a little about your process. How do these hybrid creatures take form?
In my “Alienware” series, I start by building a head from solid clay (that eventually is hollowed out). This head is some type of “beast,” such as a domestic cat with fang teeth revealed, an exotic bat, a mandrill or a snake, for example. The head is then flayed by splicing it down the center and opening it. Then, I sculpt something to emerge from that opening: often this is a mouth inspired by the alien in the 1980’s film, “Predator.” I used to stop at this point but with recent work, I also split this mouth and continue to sculpt more forms that emerge, such as flora, shells, crystals, intestines — to create an accordion-like sculpture that is truly three-dimensional — so that when the viewer walks around the piece, it is continually revealing something new.
Your work is very interested in the female body. For you, why is this form so regenerative and how do you continue to find new inspiration in it?
I’m fascinated with the idea of myth and, I’m most interested in monstrous beasts depicted in mythology that are female. Contemporary western culture too often polarizes all things and because of this, often communicates a very narrow idea of the feminine. I aim to depict the female as so much more — as terrifying, for instance. And this goal keeps me motivated. One chant from the historic Women’s March still resonates: “We have birthed a nation and we can unbirth a nation.”
You're currently doing a residency in Berlin. What advice would you give to artists applying for residencies?
I’ve done a lot of residencies on both an international and domestic level. I find them valuable for many reasons. I’m not trying to speak for the masses but, I do believe it is crucial for artists to get out their comfort zone with their work and with their artistic process. I find that relocating to a new environment helps to reset and/or reactivate one’s practice where new ideas can develop.
Did the 2016 election affect your practice? If yes, how so?
Right after the election I was so overcome with grief, it was hard for me to motivate to do anything, including, and maybe even especially working in the studio. However, in general I think dealing with abjection is one of the most powerful and effective roles of contemporary artists. And after I got a grip on things, and specifically after the idea of NASTY WOMEN was ignited, I was more than ever driven to make art and to do anything contrary to the status quo. Moreover, I have been inspired to get more 'scary' and absurd with my sculpture because the reality in the white house is simply terrifying and ludicrous.
Also, you can read more about what I wrote for this topic in HUFFINGTON POST, for the article, "What It Means To Be An Artist In The Time Of Trump."
You started Nasty Women following the 2016 election. What is the relationship between the arts and activism? Can art play a role in enacting political change?
Absolutely. Art can play a role in enacting political change because art is made by humans. One of the most important things I learned from the NASTY WOMEN campaign, is that we can do anything once we work together and get organized. This may sound cliché but we should not underestimate the power of ourselves--especially when we unite for a common cause. The NASTY WOMEN movement has brought together hundreds, thousands of female-identifying artists from across the globe so that their artwork could be seen and their voices heard through this work. And, the sale of these donated works support charitable organizations including, but not limited to, Planned Parenthood. This work is real and it counts.
And none of this would have been possible without the rousing momentum from all those involved including the original New York organizers for the inaugural exhibition at the Knockdown Center in Queens*, the near 200 volunteers that helped with that installation, the near 700 artists who donated work for the show, the hundreds of patrons who purchased the works for a sold out show and the people still organizing NASTY WOMEN exhibitions at a domestic and international level, from Mexico City and Chiang Mai, Thailand to Lubbock, Texas and Knoxville, Tennessee. This is a collective act; an ongoing collaboration.
* I would like to take the time to mention the original NASTY WOMEN organizers here:
With Nasty Women, you've created a global community of artists. Can you describe your experience undertaking this project?
Like so many others, after the election I was distraught. Totally crushed. It wasn't until I marched in protest to Trump Tower, with cohorts including Jessamyn Fiore and Angel Bellaran that emotions of defeat were able to transcend into rage. The cathartic act of marching and shouting in protest, alongside thousands of others with fists high in the air, mobilized me. Only a few days later I posted on Facebook: an idea that was nascent at the time -- a call out to Nasty Women everywhere!
This post went viral and I quickly pulled in Jessamyn to get her involved as curator. As the excitement for this idea was building, we brought on Angel and then others, until we assembled our impressive crew. Moreover, we knew this exhibition was beyond a typical show--in that so many women wanted to be involved and quickly we agreed that we would find a way to accommodate all the works for an egalitarian and momentous display. On a personal level, the NASTY WOMEN project initially helped me get through the dark time of our recent, unfortunate and disastrous election; as we were motivating others to get involved, their energy and generosity was deeply inspiring to me. This was a powerful demonstration to me of the potential of humanity and the potential of art.
Recently, there's been a lot of debate about women-only galleries, organizations, and shows and whether or not they "ghettoize" women artists. What are your thoughts on this issue?
One reason we decided to only show female-identifying artists in the inaugural exhibition of NASTY WOMEN is because we knew this would be more of a dramatic statement and a visual art protest, especially with the impending threat against women's rights. And this format proved to be very effective and provocative. However, many men volunteered their time to help us with all tasks including letter building, inventorying work, organizing volunteers, and more. We are thankful to the men and women who helped us and who continue to help us.
My response to the idea of galleries only showing female artists is that for many years, as we all know, galleries and exhibitions only featured the work of men. So I'm happy to see shows celebrating strong works made by women.
What does community mean to you?
Community to me includes working together, instead of pitting ourselves against each other. United, we will be more effective in taking the real
Interviewed by Madeleine Le Cesne