South African artist Kim Jade Jackson’s practise investigates the human experience - our basic need to connect, to attach and be loved, exploring shapes which connect and radiate universal energy and life’s forces. We met with Kim to tell us more about her inspirations, growing up in Cape Town, and her unexpected sources of inspiration.
Funny you ask this question, I was thinking of this today. To call myself an artist feels indulgent. I see myself as a creative, a teacher, someone who likes journeys and exploration. I have been like this since birth. It’s much easier when someone else calls me an artist. It reminds me of who I am.
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?
I am from Cape Town, South Africa. I was born into a family of artists (my mother, stepmother, and sister). My Mother, Barbara Jackson was a renowned South African ceramicist. From the age of four years old, I was carted around to studios and exhibitions.
When other children went to the beach on weekends, we did gallery visits and lunches and dinners with critical thinkers. Vacations were traveling around cities and museum hopping, visiting anything and everything on the fringe.
My mother was very active politically. She used to offer her skills for free to the community arts project during ‘Apartheid’. I witnessed a lot. I was surrounded by struggling artists who were fighting for equality and human rights. Our phone was often bugged by the ruling party. My mother was also intimidated by the police as she frequented parts of the city to teach on the other side of the racial divide.
Being around artists constantly, I was exposed to a different type of mindset, another way of thinking; that has definitely impacted my work. I believe the exposure I have had and also being fed art and design, has nourished and developed how I see and think. It’s made me not accept simply what I am told. It’s made me question and push back against belief systems. I think that gift alone has fundamentally impacted me and continues to do so with my personal explorations.
I also have dyslexia. I only realized this much later in life as I always struggled at school. I had a different learning style that was never correctly addressed. I always considered myself quite stupid until I realized I could remember images and visuals photographically by memory. It was a miracle I got into university. Experiencing constant insinuations that one is stupid is incredibly disabling. Having dyslexia has been a curse and a blessing. Learning to believe in myself has impacted my work.
Paint us a picture of your artistic journey.
I did a fine art honors degree. It seemed like a natural extension after school as I was not the strongest academically. Painting was easy for me. After I graduated, I was at the age where I rebelled being in the art scene, despite coming top of my year and selling all my end of year artworks at a little gallery in Cape Town.
I was not mature or determined enough to follow this path. I also did not want to follow the life of an artist and rebelled against my mother. I yearned for and needed my own identity. I decided to go into the commercial aspect of the design field as a product designer and creative director. I worked for the top names in this field and was very successful, but always felt something was missing.
Having the business background and commercial understanding has been a huge advantage. When my mother passed away from cancer, I became involved in the family design business. I never truly felt fulfilled or expressed as the direction was always about being commercially driven.
A year ago, my stepmom passed away quickly from cancer. That event was the turning point. You only live once and I wanted to use my time more wisely. I just got to a point where I realized I was swimming upstream if I did not follow my passion.
I have also been scared of failure. One has to have a lot of strength and conviction on this path. I felt like I was on the right track when people I admire and respect in the art world have started to make introductions and endorse my work. Having this momentum makes me feel like I am on the right track.
What’s the message of your work?
The message of my work is about the future of humanity, intimacy, nature and integration of spirituality. I am deeply intrigued with psychology, and understanding the human psyche. I am interested in the belief systems that we have been fed and how to challenge herd mentality. It’s very hard navigating a world with so much information. The purpose for me is to be able to explore myself authentically and truthfully. It’s a layer by layer process. My work is about layers, layers of paint, and layers of interpretation.
It’s certainly my purpose to strip the outer layers and get to the point where I am no longer concerned with the outside noise and mind chatter. The importance of being able to follow my inner voice is the goal.
My narrative that I am following is about understanding the inter-connectedness of life on our planet. I explore intimacy on all levels, the future of intimacy with ourselves and others.
Who and what are your greatest influences?
I believe my late mother has influenced me and still continues to do so. Traveling around Europe to museums as a teenager has had a significant impact too. Having lived in South Africa and being surrounded by African Art, a very soulful and creative nation is my core.
An unexpected source of inspiration?
Life is so unexpected. If you allow the unexpected into your life, and flow with the notion of possibility – inspiration will be endless. I am inspired to be fearless.
Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?
Most of my work is planned. I’m constantly thinking about composition, subject and colour. I imagine these canvases and can even just stare at them for hours contemplating possibilities.
The Absence and Presence series, there is randomness and thought. It’s important for me to have this balance. Emotion directs the randomness, and turning it into instinct. My brain conducts the process, yet I am hoping to get to the point where it’s pure instinct.
I like to allow something instinctual and primal to flow through me. I meditate most days – and the headspace that comes from this practice is immense. I’m moving to the point where I think a great deal about my work, it’s meaning is to teach beyond what seems obvious.
My joy is really how people experience my paintings with the hope that it triggers something inside of them. I find when I plan the least – those works have the most amount of authenticity. Often my biggest mistakes become part of the alphabet of my technique.
What event in your life have mobilized change in your practice/aesthetic?
I think the biggest event that mobilized change in my practise was being faced with my own mortality twice. Overcoming the fear of death has motivated me to no longer have to feat this ultimate transition. The real fear I experience in my daily life, was the fear of not succeeding. That can be immensely gripping to carry that around.
I have gotten to a point where the thought of not trying due to failure is no longer an option. I hope to succeed but I am no longer attached to it. Overcoming that is massive and allows myself to be fueled and motivated in a way I have not known before. I am content to express myself and my vulnerabilities in the way that is sincere. Everything after that and where the dust settles…is fate.
My aesthetic is always changing and growing. There are core stylistic signatures which will always be part of the skeleton of my work. This is the ink or the pattern – the beautiful randomness and intent.
What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?
I love to work at night. In that stillness I am always my most creative. My ideal condition now is to have the mental space to not care about what anyone thinks.
I’m not discounting humility, I am just saying I need to move forward with daring conviction. I am becoming braver and braver with this. I push myself to be brave. It’s a work in progress. Being brace is definitely a catalyst.
Tell us about the inspirations behind one of your pieces?
The absence and presence series is about relationships. The relationship with oneself and the relationship with others. The amoebas which are a theme are indicative of the parts that fit and the parts that don’t. This is often seen in relationships, how sometimes there is such a perfect fit between two people and other times such opposition and unbalance.
The amoebas represent the push and pull between atoms, the subconscious and our conditioning and internal patterning. When I paint these amoebas/shapes just flow. At times it’s a pattern and at times I look up to find where I am and what is needed to resurrect balance. It’s an incredible meditative experience to paint with enormous brushes as I pull the paint back and forth in deep strokes. The movement of the brush and paint is a dance. Energy, connection and chemistry is a dance too.
True intimacy is rare. People are losing their connectedness with each other. I started these paintings before Covid, however the relevancy of connection and intimacy with ourselves and others is at a pivotal point. I question the future of intimacy now more than ever. The exploration of this is extending deeper into other artworks that branch off this subject.