I can’t remember the exact moment I discovered Dessie Jackson’s work, but I certainly remember the image. It was a work-in-progress piece she posted to her tumblr. And as I type this, I can’t remember exactly what was finished, what was still ashy from Jackson’s charcoal shavings and what was left to the imagination. What I do remember was the lips she had drawn on this portrait of a young woman. Thick. Plump. Ethereal, in a sense. I remember staring at this woman she had created and wondering what words would drop from her lips. Petal red, like a rose, and distinctly similar to Dessie’s own lips.
I suppose this piece stood out to me with such significant weight because I saw the pieces of the artist reflected in her work. Her work is feminine, marked with the distinct fervor of a woman who lives well and lives fast – much similar to Jackson herself. However, she is relatable, squashing the illusion of a woman who elusively creates and replacing it with the reality of discovering your latest art crush.
Ready to fall head over heels? Meet Dessie Jackson.
LF: Hi Dessie! Welcome to Live FAST. Introduce yourself for our readers.
DJ: Hi! I’m originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania – from there to Philadelphia, to New York, and now I’m in Los Angeles.
LF: When did your passion for art develop?
DJ: Ever since I was little- I’ve always drawn. I would copy photographs and advertisements in Girls Life, Teen Vogue, etc. I used it as a vehicle to escape. I would draw different girl characters – it was like my playtime.
LF: Your work is inherently feminine and often reads like as celebration of the woman’s body. What is femininity to you?
DJ: I think femininity is powerful.
But I don’t think femininity can be defined by a state of mind or an exterior factor – I mean, its a construct, first defined by the male narrative, through sexual imagery and what-have-you. Redefining your own relationship with femininity -especially those who identify as woman, is liberating.
I think femininity is fluid, anyone can be feminine or enjoy the practice or self presentation of femininity. I can want to look “feminine” one day and the next have the choice and ability to decorate myself as masculine. This is what I really try to explore throughout my work. Those choices we make in how we wish to be portrayed.
LF: What (or rather, who) are your top influences?
LF: What is your definition of love?
DJ: Love is sleeping in on a Sunday morning. Love is drinking coffee with the perfect amount of sugar and the perfect amount of cream. Love is drinking that coffee, on that Sunday morning, across from the one who makes you sweat and tingle, laugh and soar. And to want absolutely nothing else. To want nothing more.
LF: What was the last lie you told?
DJ: Oh man. Probably to my self, like “This salad will for sure make up for that bag of peanut butter cups.”
LF: Describe your creative process.
DJ: I try to make a note of any idea I have that(in that moment) I feel that is a smart one. If a specific image comes to mind I’ll try to be as detailed as possible in describing it to myself. When it’s time to create sometimes I’ll look at my notes and see some really awful ideas, but a few that deserve a gold star. Once I have a concept down, I’ll start to figure out what I need technically and I’ll get going on it. I work in layers, so sometimes it requires a bit of planning. A lot of coffee. Often, it’s hard to be patient with myself and my work– again back to the layers– waiting for it to really come together in the final stages makes it worth it all.
So simply: coffee, idea, plan, coffee, start, frustration, frustration, coffee, pat on the back.
LF: How did you feel that your creative process differs between illustrating men and illustrating women?
DJ: I like the relationship of creating something through the female lens. Recreating an image, it helps me navigate through my own relationship with femininity, sexuality, and identity.
Illustrating men, I don’t have the same relationship with.
LF: How FAST do you live?
DJ: I like to feel the wind in my hair– you can’t be stagnant to feel that.