Dessie Jackson on being her own muse

Dessie Jackson is one of Philadelphia’s most promising young artists. She just wrapped up a solo exhibition in Philly last month titled Femme-Enfant, was asked to do the art for a New York City restaurant called Adoro Lei, and has a bunch of other cool projects/collaborations in store, including an all-female group show–Nothing to Wear. We talked to the 22 year old about transitioning from the country to the city, collaborating with other female artists, and being inspired by herself.

Where are you from and how did you end up in Philly? Do you think it’s different to be an artist in Philly as opposed to New York or LA?

I’m from good ol Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There are corn fields in front of my house, horses in the back, and a church at the end of the road. When I moved away from home I couldn’t imagine living in NYC and LA was completely foreign to me―I thought that LA was like ½ of California (sometimes I still think it is/ or seems so). I don’t want to say I ended up in Philadelphia because I was too afraid to go to New York City, but I kind of think so.

I can’t speak for artists who live in NY or LA or even Philly. I love Philly. Philly is raw. Philly’s got a special energy. And it’s full of creatives in every field. I think it’s a very exciting time to be in Philadelphia.

Do you think where you live has a lot to do with your levels of creativity? Do you have plans to live anywhere else?

I think it’s important to switch things up. I don’t have plans to stay anywhere permanently. I think environment obviously influences creativity. There is more than what’s outside your window―whether it be cows or grey cement.

I want to live in New York. I want to live somewhere on the west coast. I want to live overseas.
I’m 22, I’ve got time to run around.

Can you tell me more about Femme-Enfant and the concept? What message were you trying to get across?

“Femme-Enfant” is the term coined from the French surrealists and their fascination with the female muse. The show was a continuation of my interests in self-presentation in both a critique and celebratory nature―specifically through the female lens. It was my personal examination of the female muse.

It’s about identity, exploring my sense of self and identifying through the female lens as an artist who also represents the female through my work. It’s like, am I generating discourse? Am I strengthening the patriarchy? What is my position? What do these images have to do with it all? Why have I drawn Barbies since I was 8?

It’s also about interaction. I’m very aware of the audience and when I’m creating, it’s something I’m consistently thinking about. I don’t cater to it—but I do believe that the way someone interacts with a piece of mine is another element of the work.

What made you interested in art and how did you discover you were good at it?

For kindergarten on dress-what-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up day I wore a beret, a smock, and a paint palette pin. So I guess I’ve always been down. My first drawings were of these potato-headed people. Wonky circle with 4 lines and a hair bow and eyelashes to distinguish the female and male potato apart. Funny.

I would copy images from magazines, draw my Barbies, copy Lisa Frank books. I learned through ‘how-to-draw-manga’, shijou, anime, and chibis. I would draw anything ‘pretty’ and essentially feminine. My art teachers noticed. A woman who watched me before and after school, Junko Wright, provided me with tons of creative outlets.

Who are your muses?

Can I be my muse? I’m inspired by myself and what I see, and do, and feel.

Do you think social media platforms like instagram and tumblr have contributed to your growing success?

Ah into the wormhole! The World Wide Web! The internet is #great. Of course social media has contributed to the larger sphere of viewers. But, I mean, you’re looking at images through a screen and for a few seconds…at best. Darn millennials.

Are you working on any other projects at the moment or in the near future?

I am! I’m working on a collaboration project with NINObrand with some very talented human beings. The group show that I’m participating in is titled Nothing To Wear. The other artists are Grace Hwang, Justine Kelley, and Clare Gillen. Our bodies of work all have a few overlapping themes and/or interests which include identity, femininity, and the body/figure. We all work in different mediums and processes.

What’s your ultimate goal as an artist?

I don’t believe I have an ultimate nor do I have a limit. I’m at an exciting place and I’m eager.

NOTHING TO WEAR opens Friday, January 16 and runs until February 1 at North Bowl: 909 N 2nd St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19123

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