(Not Quite) Salvation! An interview with sculptor Cindy Jackson

Photo by Eric Minh Swenson
Photo by Eric Minh Swenson

Tell me about your background. Where did your life as an artist begin?

I’m a Pentecostal evangelist’s daughter- that’s how it started. I was forced to play the organ in church, because my sister, 10 years older than me, already had claimed the piano. (I always had issues with the name “organ” from very early on- Ha!) I was the child who would occupy herself making things and drawing. Naturally, because my parents disapproved, I ventured toward art… started as a young college student studying graphic design, then- just like drugs (the analogy of graphic design as a gateway)- moved on to the heavier stuff- painting, then on to sculpture from there. I’ve been sculpting for 20 years now and have enjoyed every minute of it!

Wow, so coming from your religious background, where did “(Not Quite) Salvation” come from? It is a strong and controversial subject to broach. Have you thought of how people will react to the installation?

Well, I feel that it’s a subject that we all address throughout our lives, on different levels of course, depending on one’s upbringing. For me, spirituality has always had lots of accompanying baggage dragging (with one broken wheel) along behind it. Naturally, our culture assimilates meaning, as a group act, with a weird logic to the topical and surface details of things without delving deeper into their true intent and meaning. This body of work, for me, was about examining ways in which we, as a society, seek “salvation”. I love the visuals of a bunch of big naked vulnerable men on their knees lost in rapture. Collectively they all talk to each other and, hopefully, to us as we step into their world.  I read somewhere once that “Art does not cause thought, it prepares us for thought”-meaning that what you are seeing in this installation is just the jumbled up thoughts in my head that may direct me and/or you  to think just a bit more about what “saves” us-and what all those implications even mean.   This is my first chance to make an immersive installation- and I’m really looking forward to how the space “feels”. In my last body of work- the Yo-Yo Men- I found that how and where I would hang them, they would take on new and different meanings just by participating with the space around them. And my derailed BabiYar project was the first time I ever began to think of making sculpture as an immersive experience. To me, that is something that I really want to explore more- and this show is its natural outgrowth from those last two bodies of work.

By creating an immersive experience, you want the viewer to walk through the installation and feel the weight of the figures both physically and psychically, but you also want them to touch the sculptures. Why is touch so important?

I feel that physical and tactile interaction is a very important way of “experiencing” art- sculpture in particular. It’s a beautiful way of connecting to the work and the world around us. When I was in Italy I absolutely loved how the saints lined up in St. Peters were missing their toes as a result of hundreds of years of people touching them for blessings and for prayer. It’s an act of psychically allowing that work into your space- and into your heart. I sculpt in oil-based clay and reuse the clay from one sculpture to the next- so the work of my previous piece is present in the next work and it just keeps going on that way- having its own life. Of course, we don’t need people tugging on art and putting themselves, and the art, in danger- but with proper respect, it’s an additional layer of participation to touch and feel the art- not even to mention the sensuality of it.

Photo by Eric Minh Swenson
Photo by Eric Minh Swenson


How would you describe your personal iconography, and is there something you can look back and see consistently in your work?

I have always been, and will always be, interested in the body. The body reveals for me all the emotion that I’m interested in pulling out. Plus, it’s just such a challenge to sculpt, and I love that s**t- it’s back to that pure sensual and tactile enjoyment. It has taken many, many years to really know the body and now I feel I am speaking my own personal language with it.  I do tend to exaggerate things- the hands, the feet, the gnarliness of form. I remember early on trying so hard to be accurate with anatomy and with the model. Now I rely on that knowledge I gained through the years and just roll with it. Instead of trying to be accurate, I now purposefully pull and push in order to bring out that emotional content. Now my “feeling” is driving and the “knowledge” is in the passenger seat!

What motivates you as an artist?

I guess there’s a drive to create that is very strong in me (as is in all artists).  I see things in my head and then I try to figure out how to make them exist. (I’m sure there are a myriad of psychological reasons that one could have a field day with, but I just feel I need to say things- and this is the way I say it.) On a more practical level, each time I make a work I see something – it might be one square inch of it- or the way the surface looks- or the way it balances-or the way it makes me feel-and that one thing leads me to the next work to investigate what it is that I like about that one square inch and try and take it further: that motivates me. Plus, I’m a hard-working, obsessive nut…

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

Never be afraid to ruin anything in an effort to make it better. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again. And if you have any doubts, don’t stop yourself from trying to fix it because you’re afraid.


Yo-Yo Man Tar Pits Photo by Cindy Jackson
Yo-Yo Man Tar Pits Photo by Cindy Jackson


Some of your work in the past has included guerilla style public art, how do you see and understand public space and the role of art in public space?

Art in public space has many faces and intentions. Some art is sanctioned by the “powers that be” to be representative of a cause, event, idea, etc. That art tends to be illustrative and architectural and really meant to add to the beauty of the space. But we all know that that’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen and usually that leads to a fairly benign public work. Then there’s art that no official committee has had anything to do with, but instead is brought forward by a singular artist or group of artists at their own will and expense. This art is art that has to be “under the radar” because it may have things to say that wouldn’t fit within the sterile “make everybody happy” and “please don’t sue us” kind of place that is the public sphere. Within the guerilla style public works/hangings/installations there are works that are angry, there are works that are intended for a particular point of view, and there are works that are just meant to somehow enliven the space in which it occupies. All of those approaches are completely valid in their own individual ways and it seems to me that all of them are important to maintain a healthy society. My world view, and the works I choose to hang in public, may simply be about the beauty of seeing art where one would normally not expect to see it. It may be about making people smile (hopefully in an intelligently referenced way) and about showing that art can and should exist outside of the sacrosanct gallery/museum world… and hopefully this kind of positive street art will enrich and allow people to accept the more critical and socially questioning art that exists within the same space.

What is your dream project?

Hmmm, my dream project would be to just let me have at it for about a year or two and put together a completely immersive exhibition on a grand scale… and, of course, to have it funded up front so that I can at least buy materials without mortgaging my entire life. Ha!

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

More. Bigger. Better. Lighter!

Haha love it!!! Thank you so much for the wonderful insight into your life as an artist. We are so looking forward to your show at the Los Angeles Art Association opening September 6th at 6pm!!

~Kristine Schomaker

LA Art Show 2014 Photo by Cindy Jackson
LA Art Show 2014 Photo by Cindy Jackson

Leave a Reply