A rabbit sits, head bowed into paws, in the depths of grief. Eyes covered, nose buried, shoulders hunched, followed by the fine detail of fur etched onto the animal, increasing the realism. All of these features culminate in a sadness you can’t help but empathize with. Darla Jackson’s sculptures depict animals in poses that reflect human emotions. This theme is strongly represented throughout her work, inspiring a curator and friend to call it ’emotional portraiture’.
“It’s funny that despite all the animal based work I do, I don’t see the animals as portraits of animals, but rather portraits of humans,” Darla Jackson says. “Creating these stand-ins for humans allows viewers to feel empathy for these creatures. It also lets them project their own emotions onto them.”
Inspired by life
A mouse sits in a tank, a snake makes a home within a human skull, a wolf grimaces ferociously but has flowers growing within; all Darla’s sculptures are either humanistic in their posture and perches, or in their expressions through the use of a mask. Darla pulls inspiration for each of these from multiple locations.
“I am inspired by so much: music—many of the titles of my pieces are snips of song lyrics and I want my work to make people feel the way that certain songs make me feel; whatever I’m reading, both fiction and non-fiction, like artist biographies; life in general, from interactions with others, emotions, things I read or hear; animals—Instagram has inspired many of the positions of animals, sometimes I see an animal in a certain pose and all of a sudden I’ve got an idea for a piece; dead birds on the internet are hugely inspiring because I find them so incredibly beautiful. I am always looking for duality in things: beauty in sadness, humor in heartbreak.”
Forged in experience
While inspired by music, reading and images, Darla’s technical skills were built in college and honed through experience. After graduating from Moore College of Art in 2003, she began working at Kitchen Sink Fabrications. She credits her education for fostering her love of clay sculpture, and her work experience for giving her the opportunity to become aware of the range of possibilities that mold making and casting offered.
Evolution into art
All of her inspiration and experience comes together throughout her process. Starting each piece as a drawing, she jots down notes about the music, or something she read that gave her the idea. She follows this with sculpting using water-based clay, and then makes a rubber mold of the piece, casting it in an industrial strength plaster. Her last step is to paint the sculpture, coating each animal in black with a graphite finish, making them seem more like shadows of humans than animals.
While her sculptures often portray death, it’s the reactions to tumultuous emotion she focuses on speaking to. As an empath who feels deeply, Darla wants to “embrace uncertainty, pick it apart to learn and grow and reassure people that they are not the only ones out there that feel this way. It also helps me to know that I am not the only one out there that feels this way. It is kind of a mutual reassurance, this interaction. Most of all, I’m trying to say that these darker sides of ourselves, these worries and things that haunt us, it’s all part of being human.”
Work in progress
Her work is evolving over time, as her skills, experience and interests evolve. She continually strives to improve the texture of each piece, with experimentation and collaborative projects—one involved Paul Romano in spring 2019—informing what she’ll do in the future.
“Recently, I painted some pieces with a stronger emphasis on realism, and found afterwards that painting them black didn’t feel right anymore” she explains. “That’s huge for me, because I’ve been painting them black for over 10 years.”
You’ll definitely want to keep an eye on her website to see what she is up to next.