It has been said that the most powerful object in the world is the human body. Few artists embrace this notion as fiercely as Roxanne Jackson. Her ceramic work toys with notions of vulnerability, beauty, and decay, using varying blends of kitsch and the uncanny to investigate the extremes of fantasy—an attempt, as she puts it, to “invent a new mythology.” Her sculptures are brilliantly inventive: sinister, disturbing, and hilarious in the same moment. By asking how we can reclaim monstrosity, Jackson’s work becomes an explosive combination of Grand Guignol, Jungian philosophy, and the poetry of Carmen Giménez Smith, extracting and exploiting the tissues that bind the sexual and the grotesque.
Jackson disrupts any connection to usual notions of beauty; the experience of her work is unexpected and seductive. The forms are extreme in their distortions and reformulations of human and animal; the silky glazes, often pearlescent, seem to pulse and glow on the surfaces. There is always a perverse mash-up of animal and mineral—a collision, as Jackson says, of nature and fantasy. Her work seems to reflect these lines from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
“Nature is a Whore: A Comedy & A Tragedy,” the title of Jackson’s current show (on view through October 30, 2022), quotes Nirvana’s “In Bloom” and sets up the transgressive and rebellious inflections of her punk sensibility. Her wide-ranging influences include John Carpenter’s classic horror film The Thing, a remix of myths and legends derived from Eastern and Western sources, her years of experience as a river guide, and her undergraduate degree in botany. This last factor may explain her frequent use of fruit, seashells, chicken feet, and fungus.
Rather than installing her work inside a conventional white box, Jackson has chosen to reconfigure the gallery so that it resembles a sunken living room. Her sculptures are displayed on pedestals at different heights in a space that invites visitors to sit on carpeted steps and contemplate the work. This arrangement heightens the uncanniness of the objects by situating them in a somewhat domestic environment and places the viewer in an unconventional, oddly cozy relationship with works that repel and invite in equal measure.
These recent sculptures can be divided into two categories: variations on the theme of the amphora and figurative works. While the amphora works pay tribute to ceramic history, Jackson takes the classic form and adorns it with animal and vegetal motifs. The figurative pieces include a severed head of Medusa, the prone and rotting body of a tiger in the midst of becoming a cornucopia, a snake’s body with the smiling head of Jackson’s mother, a female centaur, and a decapitated unicorn head reminiscent of the horsehead-under-the-covers episode in The Godfather. Because Jackson’s works are resonant with the archetypes of Jung and Joseph Campbell, they bear multiple meanings and associations. The heads in particular have their origins in tropes that have circulated throughout the history of sculpture and literature. Jackson updates this imagery, bringing the archaic into the apocalyptic consciousness of the 21st century.