We had the good fortune of connecting with Darla Jackson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Darla, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
My work/life balance has changed dramatically over the course of the last 15 years… In 2005 I was working full time and spending every moment outside of work in the studio. 12 years ago I made the jump from working full time to part time so that I could focus more of my time on making art. 6 months later I found out that I was pregnant… Around the same time got asked to do a solo show at the Philadelphia Art Alliance here in Philadelphia, so I was working part time, making art full time and trying to get ready for my life to change dramatically. I took a few weeks off once Olivia was born, but got back to making work quite quickly. I began bringing her to the studio with me every day and just made it work. Being a full time artist/ full time mom was intense but doable because everything was on my schedule. Then in 2012 I started a business, the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, where I needed to be in a building outside of my home every day, that was filled with random people, sharp tools and things that made fire (welding torches and forges and whatnot). So naturally I brought her with me there too… and continued to do so until I closed the business when the building sold in 2016. That few years was insane. My life existed around work…and not even my own work. I was too busy to make art, despite having the best studio I’d ever had. So once that was over I realized I needed a shift in balance. I got myself a studio and started doing my own work again, along with a few commissions a year. Over the last few years, I’ve been slowly working to get everything under one roof. My partner and I bought a house large enough to have room for our studios in 2018 and are *slowly* getting everything together in the same place. And then in 2019 Paul had a near fatal health scare that brought everything I had to do to a dead stop. At that point I realized nothing else was more important than being there for the person I loved, so that balance was restored a bit..or at least more considered on a daily basis. 2020 has upended that, of course, with online teaching as an adjunct at 4 different schools and all the prep that comes with that. I am able to make time for my family, just barely and try to find time to make work also. So…I’d say it is still a struggle, but I’m working on it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I make animal sculpture that someone once referred to as emotional portraiture, which really described the work well for me. The work is realistic in nature, sculpted in clay, which I then make a mold of and cast in plaster or resin. However it isn’t about the animal for me, as I see them as stand ins for humans. Once the “human-ness” is stripped away, I can focus on the emotion, using body language and symbolism. I’d always felt that using animals made the emotions that I was focusing on seem more universal… I suppose what sets me apart is how I tell the story, using animal forms that are relatively true to nature, but treating them almost as shadows of humans. I would say that I got to this point in my career through lots of hard work…mistakes, trying new things, seeing what worked, taking risks. There have been so many challenges, but I think this is where there is the most growth can happen. I am someone who looks closely and picks apart what happened, asking things like “How can I do better next time? What did I do that didn’t work? Why?”. This looking back, even if it is hard or painful, is how the growth happens. One of the lessons I learned along the way are that you are never done learning. You can learn from those around you, whether they know more or less than you do. You might learn something in one part of life that could apply to your work in a way you didn’t expect. It is all connected, somehow.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Ah! what I wouldn’t give to take someone out and about in Philadelphia right now (#2020)!! I would take them first to the Mutter Museum, which is a medical museum here in Philadelphia. It has various collections of anatomical specimens and wax models. Next we would head over to the Academy of Natural Sciences to check out their collection of birds, which I believe you can see if you make an appointment. We would draw them and I would love it. After this I would head over to the Works on Paper collection at PAFA, which you can also see with an appointment during non-pandemic times. They have a huge collection of work that isn’t often on view in the PAFA Museum and seeing it up close is amazing. (You can see most of the work online at PAFA.org but in person is the best). We would then grab lunch at Reading Terminal market because they are amazing and so full of different places to eat. I would then hit both Paradigm Gallery and Arch Enemy Arts, two local galleries that showcase amazing artists from both near and far. Next would be to get a keystone ice cream bar from the Franklin Fountain Ice Cream Bar. A good friend/local artist, Doug Bucci, designed the bar and I made the keystone molds. Then we would head over to the Wagner, a Victorian era science museum. Its so beautiful and has the most amazing lecture hall in Philadelphia. Lastly I would grab dinner somewhere and head over to Laurel Hill Cemetery for one of their nighttime events…music, movies, etc
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are a few people who deserve a shout out… my parents, Debi and Andy, for alway encouraging my non-traditional, anti-establishment ways, even when it scared them a bit. My daughter, Olivia, for her flexible and the ability to embrace the chaos that comes with being the child of an artist. My partner in life and love and art, Paul Romano, for endless conversations, collaborations and inspirations. Paul makes a lot of things possible that wouldn’t be otherwise. And Leslie Kaufman, a long time friend and president of Philadelphia Sculptors, a local member based sculpture organization. Leslie is another person in my life that has made a lot of things possible and I am forever grateful.