Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Jackson.
Jessica, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up living between Washington D.C. and Chicago. My parents were both prominent politicians. My dad was a Congressman and my mom a City Council member and with my grandfather as a well-known and highly regarded Civil Rights Leader there wasn’t a lot of room for the arts in my household. I moved to D.C. permanently in 2012 at the height of my parent’s legal battle and right before their convictions. It was uncomfortable to say the least. The transition from being a part of a historically respected family to navigating the stereotypes that my classmates had grown accustomed to when they encountered the Black family dynamic in media was life-altering. Nevertheless, I began to make light of what was already a dark situation. While raising my younger brother, I began to teach myself how to draw. One of the teachers that I was closest to would encourage this behavior, insisting that it was a coping mechanism that would help me to process my current situation. I realized I had a natural talent for it and by my senior year of high school my IB art exhibit was a series of 12 oil portraits entitled Blue in the Summer. In that series, I explored the traumas of gun violence in the summer in Chicago and what coming of age looks like for young Black women. I spent a lot of time in the art galleries of D.C. and after studying the work of Kehinde Wiley, Carrie Mae Weems, and Mickalene Thomas (who greatly influenced my own work) I began to realize that up until recently there hadn’t been a space for African Americans in traditional portraiture. From then on, I made it my mission to be one of the people to change that narrative.
Has it been a smooth road?
The biggest obstacle that I faced was when both of my parents were sent to prison. Naturally, under these circumstances, I had to grow up a lot quicker than I had intended. In the time that they were gone, I learned how to pay bills by the age of 15. I was scheduling play dates and afternoon activities for my younger brother, I was piecing together the first Black Student Union at my High School, attending dance practice, attending both parent meetings for me and my little brother and attempting to lead a normal life. When my dad finally came home the obstacles only grew. The challenges that I faced in his absence exacerbated themselves. My dad suffers from Bi-Polar disorder which made my living environment that much more demanding but ultimately is what pushed my desire for independence.
Please tell us more about your art.
What I do is create custom portraits using client photos. My style is unique and easily recognizable, I’m known for the cross stitching pattern I use when creating portraits out of fountain pens and sharpies. I’ve recently taught myself how to use oil paint as of last summer and hope to include those pieces in my client portfolio by this coming spring. What I’m most proud of is that my artwork is accessible and affordable. My goal has always been to serve underrepresented black and brown communities and elevate our voices through art. It’s not often that we get to see our beauty and our voices and our stories elevated through portraiture in the same way that we see white historical figures. It’s important to me that I fill the gap that was left for me when I was younger and searching for a face like mine in art galleries and couldn’t find one. The thing that sets me apart from other creatives is the style and the color choices as well as the story behind it. I’ve had to fight really hard to make this much progress in my work and the battle is not yet won but I’m more than proud of how far I’ve come.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
LA has so much opportunity for young creatives. I love how hungry everyone in this city is for success and how eager people are to support the up and coming which I think is what makes this a great place for my work. If someone was just starting out I don’t know if I’d recommend them starting out here. Simply because if you don’t have the connections or the means to do so the journey is much more onerous. I’m fortunate enough to go to school here and have established a secure foundation of people who not only support my work but actively vouch for it and promote it. The best thing the city can do to improve is make it more affordable for incoming business owners to survive here.
- Small Oil Portraits – $90
- Medium Oil Portraits — $180
- Large Oil Portraits — $270
- Medium Cross Stitch — $50
- Large Cross Stitch — $80
- Website: https://jdonatella.com/
- Instagram: j.donatella
- Twitter: j_donatella
Personal Photo was taken by @bydetavio on ig