Dessie jackson, artist
Lindsey: How are you doing today girl?
Dessie: I just got a puppy the other week haha so you know, I’m a little tired because he’s only 9 weeks old. But I’m good!
You said it was a pug yeah?
Yeah his name is chicken haha.
Jumping right in, you’re from Pennsylvania — so if you could talk about growing up there, what the art scene is like there and how you got into doing what you do?
I’m from Lancaster, Pennsylvania--there’s horses in my family’s backyard, a farm in my front and a church at the end of the road. Where I’m from is very rural. There’s actually a pretty cool little art/music scene in downtown Lancaster.
In terms of making art when I was younger, I would always copy photographs from magazines. I was into manga and anime so I’d always be buying these “How to Draw Manga” books. I think stylistically, that’s still an influence of mine. I’d also make comics involving women, dressing them up in different costumes or I’d draw fairies or something, all very feminine imagery.
After high school, I went on to get my BFA in painting at Tyler School of Art, which is located in Philly. I love Philly. The scene there is exciting, the art scene, the music scene, the young people there have energy. Philly is great because it’s not New York and it’s not trying to be. Philly stands on its own, I could talk all day about Philadelphia...Anywho, after living in Philly for 5 years, I moved to New York. Now I’m in Los Angeles.
Wow that’s such a coast to coast shift, it’s very, very different. When you moved to Philly and you mentioned finding yourself in some ways, do you think that just had to do with moving to a city in general because it was more of just a cultural hub?
Yes, definitely. At the risk of sounding cliche, Philly expanded my horizons. Moving East to West coast has been a pretty big shift for me, I’m Philly proud and I’m pretty east-coast proud, maybe I’m a little snobby about it but I’m proud of the pace of the east coast and that really shaped my work ethic. LA is kind of funny. People say that LA isn’t California, LA is just LA, and I agree. I feel like the biggest difference is that In New York the top 1% are walking on the sidewalk with the rest of the city; this combined force, walking shoulder to shoulder with people from all classes, incomes, ethnicities, backgrounds; here, it’s very separated, and you really see it. People don’t walk on the sidewalks here…
They’re in their Mercedes
Yeah, they’re driving around. I remember the first time I visited LA with my one girlfriend. We visited when I was living in Philly and it was the first time I’d ever been, we got a shitty AirBnB in West Hollywood and we walked everywhere (which people don’t typically do). Looking back at it, probably wasn’t the safest situation. But, we didn’t know any better because that’s what you do in the city-- you walk. You really witness the dramatic difference within the distribution of wealth here. A huge separation. The weather is beautiful and the traffic is awful.
I feel you, I was in NY for a couple years but from what I know of LA the gentrification doesn’t try to hide itself, the wealth doesn’t either
In New York or Philly, in the different boroughs or neighborhoods, Bushwick compared to Queens to Park Slope, there’s different energies within each one, there’s a different culture within each borough you go to or neighborhood or whatever. It’s the same with Philly, there’s completely different vibes and worlds in each one, in a good way, and LA kind of lacks that. Obviously downtown is different to Beverly Hills but culture wise, I don’t think you see it because people don’t go outside, it’s a beautiful place but people will go hiking, to Santa Monica, to Venice or a beach or something to get your outside time. I feel like you don’t see people and maybe that again, is just coming from living in a city where you see everyone, all the time, and then coming to a halfway city. In LA, I live in the downtown area so I still am in the city of Los Angeles and that was a major part of it.
Yeah like you don’t interact with it as much. I took a look at your work on your site and I was wondering if you could explain what you’re trying to communicate through feminine imagery. It’s becoming more culturally relevant and also kind of trendy in a weird way, feminism almost just feels like a weird trend of sorts, especially as an artist, that must be weird.
Yeah it’s interesting, I’m a feminist and I try and do my homework. I’ve always associated femininity with power. In terms of feminism as a trend...we need to be suspicious and aware of commodity feminism. We want to be constantly questioning the narrative that’s being projected onto us and adjusting as we learn.
I’m fascinated with the illusion of how we see ourselves and how we represent ourselves and those influences that create that illusion; specifically focusing on social media and the Internet and the world we live in now. We consume images so fast, literally in seconds, so we see this projected trend or beauty of what’s popular and it moves so quickly. At the end of the day, I’m interested in the fashion world and that trickle down effect, but I’m also fascinated with what’s more personally ingrained in us. For example, my mom would wear lipstick everyday to work. I would see this behavior, this routine every morning with her getting ready. I’m interested in those routines that are really embedded within us, deeper than just looking at a fashion magazine. I want to probe at the stereotypes involved within the feminine.
Going back to talking about trendy feminism, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important and great that feminism is a buzz word and that it’s becoming more of a normal conversation topic and less of a collegiate word only accessible to a percentage of people. My feminism is intersectional, it needs to be. Feminism needs to not be just a conversation about gender. Its about race, sexuality, religion, ability, socioeconomic status. Feminism needs to be working for the oppressed.
I think that’s the cool thing about being artist, you’re working in a realm of your own almost but are still able to explore all these spaces and all engage in the conversations going on without being “at fault” for your expression. Art has become relevant more so with social media, if you can just talk about moving into that realm or space as an artist. Obviously it’s not the same as going into a gallery and being able to walk right up to a piece of art and really engage with it, with social media it’s more so a fleeting interaction.
It goes both ways for me, obviously social media is a tool in terms of getting artwork out there. It also bridges the gap for seeing artwork in general, kids in the middle of nowhere can look at anything, you don’t have to live in New York City, you don’t have to go to the Met, ect. A library at your fingertips. I started posting my work on tumblr (pre instagram) and I remember the first time I saw and felt the instant gratification from seeing the numbers go up. But you don’t want that to affect the work you’re making. It will start to become a formula…
Yeah like, if I make more of this than this while happen kind of a thing…
Yes. It’s important to stay true to your work and to also not get too comfortable. I think sometimes that’s why social media can become problematic in terms of art, if it’s dictating the work you make solely through that instant gratification. If something that I post gets more likes than another piece of artwork, it does not validate one piece over the other. Those are some pitfalls of social media but at the same time, because of social media I’ve gotten eyes on my art work that would never have found it without the Internet. I think the gallery-artist dynamic is changing because of these online platforms. Now, ‘Sally’ from Utah has a platform and voice for herself, that’s the beauty of it. But there’s also this new yearning for fame. Because now it seems more accessible, the bridge to fame is in your backyard so that’s also an interesting dynamic that has come from the world of social media. Back to what you were saying about viewing artwork in person, it’s very important. You can’t really see a painting until you see the ridges of it, ya know, see how it’s stretched (or not stretched). That's the beauty of seeing artwork in person, you get to see how the artist or curator decided to hang the work, how they installed the show, what color they decided to paint the walls, how does the piece fit into the space. It’s a sensation you can’t feel over a screen. Some work obviously is meant to live in the digital sphere-- and if that's how the artist intends for you to view the work well that's a different conversation..
I feel like what it comes down to is how genuine you’re being. People can see through those lines.
I agree. Personally, I have to thank social media because I’ve gotten a lot of work and press from it. It also has a lot to do with curating an image of yourself, which my work deals with.
Art’s tricky, it’s seen as a necessity for the artist and for the community but when you yourself are creating personally would you say your art is for the people or for yourself?
I think the narrative begins with me but it has a lot to do with me exploring those influences projected onto self identifying women.
Yeah it has to, it’s a tricky thing to be an artist and an individual, people try to separate or label those things as if they’re not intertwined, ultimately if you’re an artist, you’re an individual and vice versa.
It’s always a compelling conversation when you’re asking, “who made it?” If I draw a nude woman versus if a straight male draws the same nude woman, does the conversation change? You bet it does.
Yeah the whole intention can change, half the time we say that something is “beautiful” but is that it? What are you really trying to communicate?
Yes, this kind of circles back to my recent show that I did in Seattle called Flavored Water, was inspired by being here in LA and also the idea of adding something artificial to a form that represents something natural. Each piece is titled after an artificial flavor or an odor compound, like a strawberry kiwi water, it’s fascinating because it’s these scientific compounds and these sugary flavors and smells are unnaturally produced to create natural flavors and sensations. Flavored Water for me was thinking of the YouTube make-up videos that are like the no-makeup, makeup tutorials. It’s these ideals right now that are not natural but we’re trying to enhance ourselves to look more natural; it’s the upkeep of looking natural. I’m asking myself how do we distinguish between natural and unnatural and how it’s a blurry question. And does it matter? These images were meant to consume, these images we are seeing on the daily that we’re liking, that we’re sharing, that we’re lusting to look a certain way or to buy a certain product and it feeds into this commercialism of constantly needing to refill our glass even if we aren’t thirsty.
A lot of the time, until art or something else forces you to look at something in a different way you don’t realize that are other perspectives, opinions etc. to be had on the same topic or subject.
I try to be in that space of celebratory and critiquing because femininity is constantly in that limbo for me. It’s wanting to feel validated in terms of appearance but also knowing that fashion and makeup can be a means of self-expression. At the end of the day, it’s a performance and if we know where these influences come from and make the decision that I’m going to put x on because of this, that’s the goal, to know what’s influencing those decisions and to be at peace with those.
To wrap things up, I feel like it seems like such a basic question to ask to ask why we need art but for you, as someone who is actively making art, why do you see art as a necessary part of life?
It’s a necessary means of language. Art is communication. How artwork plays into our history as a people is so monumentally important and it teaches us how to look at the past. To feel empathy and anger, and it raises questions. Art can change the way you look at the world. The artists are recording what they’re seeing and feeling through their different mediums. Sometimes we forget about the big picture living in such an isolated place or through our phones or laptops, at the end of the day artwork lives longer than that.