• Artist Interview
  • An Interview with Jackie Felix

    Jackie Felix Interview

    Some More Happiness

    An interview with artist Jackie Felix
    by Ellen Ryan
    February 11, 2009
    Video shot and edited by Tammy McGovern

    The main thing was, I really wanted to be an artist

    JF: People liked to brag about my drawings when I was young but then but later on they decided that – that was not a very good idea because then I would turn out to be a very bad woman which I would have preferred. But they really discouraged it to the point where – I think I might have been in high school maybe in junior high and my father took some of my drawings around the corner… we lived n the business district- around the corner there was an artist – his name was Abe, as I remember and he was an artist and he worked for his father and they made hangers in their garage – wire hangers.

    ER: And where were you living at the time?

    JF: This was in Pittsburgh. On the south side which was where the steel plants were. It’s now the “Allen Street” and it’s really cool now but it wasn’t then. It was an immigrant population and the parochial schools taught in Polish. This was a long time ago and I went to a public school.

    At any rate, he took my drawings around to have Abe look at them. Now he didn’t respect Abe. He didn’t think he was anything but nothing. But Abe looked at them and, of course, said, “No”. And, so he came home and showed the to me. It was a really bad thing to have happen to you. Most girls were not encouraged to deal with art and I mean a lot of kids still are not encouraged.

    ER: How old were you approximately then?

    JF: Well, this would be in high school. And I would have really liked to have done that. But of course, I was aimed in to teaching or …and I wasn’t independent particularly at that time. So anyway, I always wanted to do it and did some drawing and things like that and always thought I wanted to do but I didn’t. I ended up being able to teach elementary ed, got married, had children, my husband was drafted and we did the usual thing that people my age did then. There were no wars at the time so we actually did some traveling. Lived on army bases for awhile. He stayed in for an extra term because we thought we would save money which we didn’t. But I did have babies in an army hospital which was actually kind of fun and fine too. And after that, I came out and I stayed home as a house wife. My husband was an optometrist and we eventually moved to Buffalo because there were jobs here. And, two years later, my husband was killed in an automobile accident. By that time I had four children and we were living in one of the suburbs. And although I had planned to go back to art school – I also had a teaching degree so that I could work. I really didn’t want to teach – I actually never wanted to teach in particular. I just wanted to be an artist. So I substitute taught for awhile and went broke slowly. Though I managed to hold onto the house. And i had the little kids – and they were nice – and then I remarried.

    And when i remarried, the main thing was I really wanted to be an artist. Although when I remarried I was going to teach because he had three children – he was a widower – and I had four – and there were alot of kids. They were all at home – and they were teenagers – and coming-up teenagers – so I said, “Surely, I will teach.” But, (laughing) I decided I didn’t want to do that, after all. I said I would Sub. But then I just went back to school which was OK because my husband’s very supportive and the kids, of course, were fine.

    All my kids have been artists and it turned out that my husband had three children, two of whom – one especially – loved art. And so they joined in on that. And that one is an artist and my other kids can all be artists but nobody is because it’s impossible to eat. But they’ve done some and they’re actually pretty good. So, I went back to school and I picked up a BFA because I needed a little bit more for that because i had a degree. And then picked up an MFA, and it was a long time. I mean I was really late…and picked up my MFA in the seventies. In fact a little before that. It was around the late sixties when everyone was striking and those things were going on. And ever since then, I have just been a working artist. I’ve had studios in various places.

    We’re Really Happy, Letterbox, Curtains

    ER: You want you to talk about the series that you’re sitting in front of right now.

    JF: Over the years I’ve noticed, particularly I rode the streetcar a lot in Pittsburgh when I was a kid – and I always noticed couples there – that they would often not look at each other. Sometimes they would, sometimes they wouldn’t. And you could kind of gauge, in a way, how independent the women were and where the situation was going in by the ‘not looking”. And then sometimes they would suddenly look and that everything was OK. So, I decided to do a series about couples – and do more than one. And kind of picked a format that I wanted to work on which was a table that didn’t really have anything on it. It wasn’t to be about eating it was about the relationship between two people and in these – I set my parameters – so they would not be looking at each other. There wouldn’t be any overt violence or demonstration of alot of drama in it. But they would be people that you would wonder about and think about because you see this. This is just part of life. And so what i did was set it up so that they were tables – not really touching – but reaching for each other at times. Their clothing would be simple, nothing distracting, nothing to place them in any place – or maybe even any era. And, in order to limit it, I wanted to have them in an ambiguous space. And I wanted the limits to be so that they would be almost “trapped” in an ambiguous space – but not necessarily trapped but what life does. Where how you live your life is often determined by where you are; what culture you’re in; and also just physically – the physical space in which you live. And so I did these, by placing them across from each other – I wasn’t thinking in terms of left or right – but I did think in terms about how you read them. And I had put something to cut their access off from being wider, to keep them in, to trap them, or hold them. However you wanted to read it, so it’s either walls or involves trees. But the trees would be sparse, they weren’t meant to be nature, but they were just meant to be maybe barriers or maybe more than that. On the top and bottom, I decided that I would do something that would enclose them vertically too – excuse me, I mean across the the top and bottom. So, not only are they enclosed in the center, they’re also pressed together. But the other thing about this, is that I chose this. And, I used the paint flat but that didn’t work. So, it isn’t flat so it makes it hard to photograph.

    But the other thing is it also relates to “letterbox”. i did that purposely. It was not really to do that …not to save myself trouble by just blacking it out – it was to connect it to media because that for me is a really important thing. So much of our lives now come to us – it’s constant. I mean – we’re no longer in our houses – something’s coming in all the time. Or, going out and videos – everything that we do. That was the reason to enclose them – that’s part of it. And the same for the walls and things like that. And clothing too. I done alot of women’s clothing. All those things for me are things that can be concealing. So that it also conceals. It conceals and it provides an aperture to – curtains open – to move into another space to and it conceals space. But it gives you a layering. I like layering. I like the idea of appropriation or you can think of anything as appropriation because it always gives you a layering. Because if I paint you there, sitting there, that’s one thing. But if I have a photograph of you, that’s an interpretation of you. Then that’s two layers. If I have you and a photograph of you then that’s another layer or dimension to it. And, I can take it many layers. And the curtains provide that. And also visually, it’s a soft…curtains can be soft. And so it is a metaphor, that has a great deal of dimension to it. So I do use them. Obviously, for me, they’re also connected to the stage and the artifice of that. And clothing too. I mean one of the things i’ve used in so many things – it removes a protection from people when you unclothe them to a certain extent. There are other protections that you have but it removes that so I just like that idea. I like the idea of being flexible and free to just move in ideas and in imagery. I also thought when I did these, ” Why the hell did you have to do six – one would have said everything”. That’s true. It would have been. But I found that I had to do more. That I needed to repeat it to somehow make it clear that it wasn’t one time. It was more than that. But one day it was like, “Yeah, that’s enough.”

    Stages, Split Decision, …Um lust, sure, fine.

    JF: In this piece over here, those were chairs behind it. Although it just looks like decoration on it. But I wanted the chairs in there – but I found them – much as I liked them as far as the design goes – I had to knock them down. And I wanted to conceal them. And this is almost – it’s sort of a a surfacy thing but it also has a lot of sexual connotations with the woman split and – I think I called this “Split Decision” – I’m not sure I don’t remember but I think I did… And so I – with her hair hanging down and probably her breasts hanging upside down…and so the curtains then concealed all the extraneous material there. And it’s…I always have sexual content. I mean for me – that’s in me. I mean….the first thing when my husband started courting me, it was a blind date. I mean I had been told about him and everything…I remember when he came to the front door and I was like…what was I forty-something years-old or something like that – I opened the door and the first thing I thought of was “I could sleep with this guy”. I was like, OK. And here we are. I mean that’s just automatic and I know that it’s pretty much automatic with men. I suspect it’s really automatic with everybody. But I do like to use it and like that, I want that there. So, the sex is always intentional for any reason you want to think of, that’s OK with me. Um, lust, sure, fine.

    Comic Strips, Dick Tracey bullets, Hands have to do it

    ER: Let’s talk about these pieces right now.

    J: I’ve used cartoons figures – I love comic strips – and I think it’s a great form of art and I’ve used in earlier work I used Dagwood and Blondie and the relationship between them – that great couple, earlier couple – and I’ve tried to do them often in a way that relates to cartoons, more drawing. Whether this will end up that way or not I’m not sure yet where I’m going but I also use images- with the Dick Tracey thing was a reference to the fact that Dick Tracey – in Dick Tracey comics Dick Tracey or someone would shoot and the bullets always going through – and then they would go through something and leave holes and would punch through and come out on the other side with a little bit of blood on them. And I always really liked that it had such weird characters that for me it was fun and really interesting. And probably wouldn’t see that much of that anymore. At any rate, what I am trying to do is paint really flat and also trying to do this so that it incorporates drawing. I do like to incorporate drawing in my paintings. I draw with a brush more than anything although this time I am using some crayons and I’m just.. this is just in the early stages. The paintings will not look like this but I like this part – this is actually going to be a gun, this is a gun with Dick Tracey bullets in here because I like the referencing with that.

    JF: Comic strips are a great part of art and they have a lot of social impact . The whole idea of Dick Tracey – was more than about just the silly people – there was good/evil in it – good won and there was sex and love, although it as very carefully done with Tess Trueheart. And the name, Tess Trueheart, and Dick Tracey with that chiseled face – the chiseled face was almost Native American kind of a look and it was…and I was just very fond of those and it’s hard to not think about them. There were other comic strips too, although I must say I did love Tarzan.

    E: What’s the significance of the guns? Why would you use that kind of imagery?

    J: Well because the guns are..it’s violence but also I use them because I like the idea of a connection. A basic connection. In this part I’m not using two figures but this relates to a human thing that’s happening here although it’s in a TV or some kind of a monitor – probably more a TV monitor- it is a reference to what we do. It actually has a human reference and that is the use of violence that our whole culture is involved in certainly the politically…things that have gone on over the centuries. And a gun is a good metaphor for violence and also violence- I mean they talk about guns and about them being dangerous. There’s this whole thing about who’s responsible for guns but hands have to do it. So I am making a human connection here by putting a hand in here. So that the hand is actually directing the technical thing so that it moves it into a much more human relationship.

    Letting it go and letting it form

    JF: I usually have a central idea that is as flexible as I can make it but I’ve been sick – I don’t want to go into that because – well things come up. But so I’ve just needed to work but I haven’t been sure what I’ve been working about. It’s just that I have been letting it go and letting it form. And I didn’t ant to find a format and I didn’t want to repeat and i didn’t want to do the things I know i can make work. So I’ve just been working and this especially I haven’t worked like this for a long time. This is a big mess at the moment which will be fine. But I’d like to keep some of that in it – alot of it. I don’t want it to be as controlled. I need to not have that kind of control.

    JF: I mean of all the things I do in my life, this painting is great. I find it hard and I find it really work but it’s the most satisfying thing I do. And this is nice to have a sampling.

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    1 Comment »

    1. [...] Some More Happiness: An Interview with Jackie Felix [...]

      Pingback by artdogspot.com » Jackie Felix — June 26, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

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