Name: Darla Jackson
Current Location: Philadelphia, PA
Education: BFA, Moore College of Art (‘03)
Preferred Medium(s): Sculpture!
Children (ages and genders): Olivia, 8 ¾ (girl)
Website address(es): www.darlajacksonsculpture.com
What is your background (where are you from, education, important details, where are you now, etc.)?
Despite being born just outside of Philadelphia, I grew up between the beaches and the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. I found my way back to Philadelphia to attend Moore College of Art. After graduating in 2003, I stayed in Philadelphia, working various art related jobs. In 2008, I got a large commission from Moore and made the decision to become a full time artist. In 2009, I had Olivia. In 2011 I received a Knight Arts Challenge grant and from 2012 – 2016 I ran the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, a membership based workshop for sculptors. After that closed I continued with my own work in a new studio in the StaackMoore Woodworking building in Port Richmond, where my studio is a few doors down from painter/my love, Paul Romano. Olivia and Paul and I just bought a house in Frankford and are looking forward to getting settled there this month.
Was there any part of your formal or non-formal training that prepared you for being a creative maker and mother simultaneously?
I have always been stubborn when it comes to art making. I can and will make art in less than ideal situations and have suffered various things such as extreme temperatures in my studios, sharing studios with a car garage, or casting rabbits in my bathtub. I have had people tell me that I can’t do this and I’ll never be able to do that. When I was pregnant more than one person said “There goes your art career”. I have very much enjoyed proving them wrong. I think being ready for anything made being an artist and a mother mesh well. Olivia just adapted to whatever we were doing that day. There is always a spot for her in my studio and so she’s grown up feeling very comfortable there. The least normal things in the world seem very normal to her and I love that.
Are there any women that you find to be an inspiration for you as an artist/mother?
My own Mom (of course) because I think she just took my brother and I wherever she needed us to be, but managed to make it fun. She wasn’t going to a studio but the idea stuck I think and I was able to carry it forward. Margaux Kent is a friend who I remember carrying around both her infant son Søren AND a giant journal that was about as big as he was. After having Olivia, thoughts of Margaux and Søren made me think of how a child is a new part of your already in place life. Obviously things change but I was more excited to include her in my daily activities, rather than be at home tied to a schedule of naps, food and poops. Because of it, Olivia was (and still can be) the kid who stays up until 12 or 1am, but will also SLEEP IN until 12 or 1pm.
Can you talk about how you balance your role of artist and the role of mother? Did you take time off after the birth of your children? How did that work? What about childcare? How did you navigate making artwork?
I had decided to make work full time just before I became pregnant so I was only teaching a few days a week. After I had Olivia in October of 2009, I took a short break from teaching but had a solo show scheduled for February 2010 at the Philadelphia Art Alliance (!) She went to the studio with me. I made work at home. Her dad and I both have parents that live close by so she would spend a few hours with each grandmom two days a week. But mostly she did what I did. I remember bringing furniture into and out of the Art Alliance with a baby strapped to me. She had a “baby jail” (playpen) in the studio and lots of toys there. I am lucky because even when I started my business, The Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, she could be there. She has grown up in a shop and studio and knows more about tools than most 8 years olds.
Your work explores human emotions and often morphs them into objects and/or symbols. Your work conveys these ideas through the anthropomorphism of animals. Why do you feel animals make emotions more accessible for your viewer? What do you hope they gain from your work and exploration of human emotion?
I think the initial connect with animals is empathy. People often feel more sorry for them than they do human figures. I think that humans also relate more easily to animals and are more comfortable projecting their emotions onto them, whereas with figures it’s more about comparison (I am or am not like this figure). I hope people can more easily recognize their own emotions…what’s causing them, how they are reacting, etc…without the use of external reflection. Being more aware of your own emotions makes them easier to manage (most times).
Your online presence suggests a resurrection of your former blog. I like how you describe this as a “public sketchbook”. We are often so focused on product over process. What do you enjoy about sharing process information with the public? How does it feed into your studio practice?
I am a teacher so naturally I want to share. I am and always have been an open book. I love sharing small things that may save someone years worth of trial and error and research. And it feeds back into my studio practice both through being motivated to do well and share a successful project, but also when someone offers me their own tips and tricks to try. I love the internet for that reason. Its made sharing process so easy.
You are part of an exhibition at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia titled Weighty Concerns: Both Artist and Mother. What concerns did you focus on for this exhibit? What are some of the ups and downs of artist/mothers that you find compelling?
My concern for this exhibition is how at times being a mother and artist can feel overwhelming, but that one day, as Olivia grows up, that I will be left alone and miss those feelings of being overwhelmed and of being needed.
Are there any projects, hobbies, or activities (ex. Running, knitting, tea connoisseur, arts organizations, volunteering, etc.) outside of your artistic practice that you feel passionately about? What are they? Do you find that they feed your practice? If so how?
I practice Ninpo, although I’ve been out this summer due to working on a large commision! I love being out in nature and going out to see art. It all is inspiring to me, whether it is something that recharges my batteries creatively or physically or if it’s something that is inspiring. I think inspiration can be found everywhere, so just being out in the world feeds my artmaking.
Anything else we should know or be on the lookout for in the near future?
I’m working on a collaborative show with Paul Romano set to open sometime in the Spring of 2019.
Finally just for fun. If you were to make a playlist today what would be your top 5 favorite songs?
Ha! I am so bad at making mixes as I overthink it to death but here are songs that I listen to nearly daily (which are mostly off of various playlists that Paul has given me …except one which I’ve listened to with Olivia since she was a baby)
The Ship Song, Nick Cave
Blind, TV on the Radio
Bei mir bist du Schön (Means That You’re Grand), The Andrews Sisters
In this shirt, The Irrepressibles
The Lion Sleeps Tonight, The Tokens