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“I create clay sculptures of animals that are emotional portraiture. It becomes just about the emotion.”

Artistic Roots and Journey

Darla Jackson, a Philadelphia-based sculptor, found her artistic roots in the realm of drawing. From an early age, she nurtured a persistent belief in her inevitable future as an artist. Her formal education commenced at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, initially geared towards graphic design. However, the rigidity and computer-bound nature of this discipline soon proved unsatisfactory for her creative aspirations.

The serendipitous discovery of sculpture marked a turning point in Jackson’s artistic journey. She developed a profound affinity for clay sculpture and moldmaking, despite the ceramics department’s potential for kiln-related accidents. The allure of clay’s tactile and transformative properties swayed her decision, steering her away from ceramics and towards a different path.

Jackson’s initial focus was on figurative sculpture until an amusing incident involving a welded bird sculpture spurred a revelation. She realized that animals could serve as effective human proxies in her work, thereby articulating emotive narratives instead of merely replicating form.

Upon graduating, Jackson secured her first job at a scenic shop. This experience broadened her understanding of sculpture, moldmaking, and casting across diverse materials. This newfound knowledge facilitated her transition into large-scale lightweight work, significantly expanding the scope of her artistic endeavors despite the physical and financial demands of such projects.

Throughout her career, Jackson has upheld a deep-seated love for large-scale work, and clay continues to resonate as her preferred medium. She perceives clay as a unique platform for engaging with her ideas, surpassing all other mediums in its communicative capabilities.

In order to bolster her burgeoning career, Jackson began applying to exhibitions while still in academia. This strategy was aimed at enhancing her professional credentials and providing exposure for her work. Over time, she was fortunate to secure multiple opportunities to host larger solo shows, allowing her to present each exhibition as a comprehensive narrative rather than an isolated concept. This progression underscores Jackson’s ongoing commitment to her craft, as she continues to create and showcase her work with unwavering dedication.

Darla Jackson: Sculpting Emotion through Animals

Darla Jackson specializes in crafting clay sculptures that transcend the boundaries of literal animal representation. Instead, she imbues them with a profound emotional depth, capturing sentiment through the nuanced body language and expressions of her creations. Jackson’s choice to sculpt animals stemmed from a keen observation in her early career; human forms, she discerned, often inadvertently invite labels based on age, gender, and other factors, potentially alienating viewers who cannot relate. By choosing animals as her subjects, she ensures a universal connection, allowing viewers to engage with the sculpture purely on the level of emotion.

In 2012, Jackson embarked on a bold entrepreneurial journey, founding the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym. Encompassing a sprawling 7,500 square feet, this workshop space was an artist’s haven. It boasted a woodshop, a moldmaking and casting area, a metal shop, and a small foundry. The facility also included a studio space, a classroom, and a gallery, thereby encapsulating the full spectrum of the artistic process. The Philadelphia Sculpture Gym was designed to facilitate limitless creativity, providing artists with all the resources they required to realize their visions.

However, in 2016, the building housing the gym was sold, leading to the regretful closure of the beloved creative hub. Since then, Jackson has persistently strived to recreate a similar artistic utopia, chasing the dream she once actualized in the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym. Her work continues to be driven by the desire to create spaces – both physical and emotional – that foster inclusivity and connection.

Diverse Sources of Inspiration

In the realm of creative expression, Darla Jackson perpetually seeks diverse sources of inspiration. Her influences are manifold, ranging from photographs and the natural world to song lyrics and cinematic narratives. To capture and organize these fleeting stimuli, she systematically collects photos, screenshots, and notes, storing them in her sketchbook. Periodic revisitation of this wellspring of ideas precipitates a creative chaos from which unique concepts emerge. A swift sketch on paper often serves as the initial manifestation of these budding ideas.

Jackson’s artistic focus on animal sculptures necessitates a unique approach to sourcing references. It’s not quite feasible to summon a lion to her studio; instead, she engages in a resourceful process of piecing together disparate elements from diverse sources. A photograph might provide the perfect reference for a leg, an Instagram image might capture the ideal pose, while a day at the zoo may yield an expression that perfectly conveys her intended sentiment. Even the texture of a taxidermy piece observed at a local museum may find its way into her work. This method of integrating fragments into a cohesive whole is akin to the creation of Frankenstein’s creature. Once Jackson feels the assemblage is harmonious, she infuses other elements into the piece – the animal’s body language, additional components, or even the title – to amplify its conceptual depth.

The transformation of these ideas into tangible art is a process Jackson revels in. Sculpting in clay, she finalizes the form before deciding whether to fire it directly or create a rubber mold for casting in plaster or resin. This process brings her ideas into existence, manifesting them physically in the viewer’s space.

Jackson’s 2005 piece, “What are you afraid of?” is a poignant example of her thought-provoking work. This self-portrait presents a rabbit donning a crow mask, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty about who should fear whom. This piece allowed her to delve into the concept of duality, inviting interpretations that can shift over time or differ among viewers. This exploration of ambiguity and mutable perception became a defining feature of her oeuvre, a theme she continues to contemplate and incorporate into her work on a daily basis.

Darla Jackson: Empowering Art and Mentorship

Darla Jackson recommends emerging artists to prioritize the quality of their work and effectively document their creative journey. Social media platforms, such as Instagram, are invaluable tools in this respect, providing artists with the opportunity to engage audiences while broadening their reach. Jackson strongly advocates for maintaining meticulous records and ensuring foundational documents – such as a resume, biography, and artist statement – are readily available. Within her pedagogical practice, she instructs her students to compose these essential documents in their initial year of art school, viewing them as growing and evolving resources that will parallel the artist’s career progression.

Presently, Jackson finds herself engrossed in a captivating new project that she initiated in 2021: a unique set of bird brass knuckles, conceived as a hypothetical self-defense tool for Snow White. Her intention is to expand this concept into a comprehensive series, featuring diverse “weapons” tailored for various Disney Princesses. Raised on these iconic films, children are often influenced to believe in the necessity of being saved by others. As the mother of a young girl, Jackson strives to reconcile this deeply ingrained fantasy with the stark realities of the world. Her innovative series serves as a testament to this endeavor, challenging traditional narratives and empowering young minds.

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