Speculating Femininity With Artist Dessie Jackson

It's easy to see the feminine whimsy that's at the heart of Dessie Jackson's work. While often making recognizable female faces as well as makeup and fashion the focal point of her pieces, she somehow finds a way to make the familiar unfamiliar. Whether it's through playing with perspective or blurring the lines, Dessie's work always ends up being more than just a pretty face.

We chatted with the Philidelphia native about where she draws inspiration from, and how her experiences have shaped her into the artist that she is today, read on to learn more.

Your last major project was a solo exhibition titled “Flavored Water” shown in Seattle, can you tell us about the concept behind that gallery? What was that experience like and how did you prep for it?
Yea! My body of work for ‘Flavored Water’ was inspired by the idea of adding something artificial to a form that represents something natural. I used portraiture with elements of abstraction to blur what we recognize... My choices in how much is revealed of each portrait and how they are painted are in direct correlation with the application of makeup and the decisions we make while looking in the mirror and what we decide to put on for the day, specifically focusing on the feminine.

When and how did you realize that art was something you wanted to make a career out of?
I've always drawn since I can remember. In kindergarten, there was the "what do you want to be when you grow up" day and I wore a smock and a beret. So I feel like I lucked out and always sort of knew. Once in high school, I was also really interested in theater and acting... which still circles back to my video and 2-d work with the idea of performance.

Describe your artistic style and medium of choice to us.
Through my work, I explore and try and probe at the performance of femininity and what that really means to me. How we digest images, specifically in the realm of beauty and fashion...
My favorite medium is charcoal. Drawing is what I enjoy most, it comes the most naturally to me. That's what I learned how to do first, I actually didn't use oil paint until I went to art school.
But recently I've been painting and using collage materials.

In what ways has your style changed over the years?
When I was young I made up characters, in a Lisa Frank sort of style--large eyes, very glam. Then I started drawing manga/anime, haha, which I adored. I've always portrayed women. I would copy images from magazines-- which is still a huge influence on my work. As I grew as an artist I became curious as to why I wanted to re-create these images and how they formed my identity.

“As long as I stay curious in what I'm passionate about I don't think I'm in danger of falling victim to a specific trend...Trends are important to pay attention to. But, I try and stay true to myself and my work."

How are you able to stay true to yourself and your own style in an age where constant media exposure tends to make everything feel the same?
it's tough. Ya know, living in 2017 we consume images and information so quickly! So sometimes, as an artist, I think there is more pressure to produce at a faster pace--to get things in front of eyeballs and out in the world. I'm exploring different mediums, techniques, etc. to stay interested. As long as I stay curious in what I'm passionate about I don't think I'm in danger of falling victim to a specific trend. Some trends, I love! I mean that the aggressive cycle of art history. Trends are important to pay attention to. But, I try and stay true to myself and my work. Trends change, and they change rapidly. I try and trust the viewer and the audience to distinguish what is genuine.

You’ve collaborated with other artists as well as fashion brands, what has been your favorite collaboration to work on thus far?
I loved working with Nick Knight's SHOWstudio. I covered Milan S/S 17 fashion week. I really had a great time. My work is heavily influenced by fashion photography and the fashion industry and the trickle down effect it has, so you can imagine my excitement.

What would be a dream collaboration for you?
Last year, Marilyn Minter, Cindy Sherman, and Laurie Simmons worked with Planned Parenthood and put on a benefit auction with some really incredible artists. Marilyn created a work of Miley Cyrus with proceeds going directly to Planned Parenthood and also got Marc Jacobs involved. That was really beautiful to me. Working with such inspiring artists and advocating/donating to women's rights, ESPECIALLY planned parenthood. If I could have dreamt up a collaboration that would have been it, ha. I would also love to collaborate with a major fashion designer.

Where do you draw the most inspiration for your art from?
Make-up, fashion, beauty advertisements, photography etc.

What’s the process like for you to start a new piece? Any specific music you listen to, regimens you follow, etc.
I try and change it up music wise! I have a few different Spotify playlists in rotation...I always need coffee though. That's definitely part of the routine. I also like treating my studio practice with specific clock-in-hours. I actually really enjoy working during the day, when I can.

What’s next for you? Any exciting projects coming up that you can tell us about?
Currently, I'm exploring some different mediums. I've been working with Resin, and I'm pretty excited about some of the results I've been getting. I always have a few other projects in the works.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
Owning who you are, what you like, trying your best and being proud of that.

Who’s your MISSBISH? Tell us who she is and why she’s an inspiration to you.
My mom and my dad, they've taught me the importance of working hard, and have always encouraged me.

Also Jun Wright, a woman who watched me before and after school for all of my pre-highschool life; she runs a day care and is from Japan. Because of her, I really started practicing drawing--going back to drawing manga. I really look up to her and her family. A few years ago she invited me to come with her family to Japan, it was one of the best experiences of my life. It was truly extraordinary.

Photos by: Christina Choi

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