We first encountered Felix Jackson’s work while driving through a Denver neighborhood last summer. The campaign was in full swing and Barack Obama was about to accept the nomination for the Democratic Party ticket. Denver was buzzing with political energy, as the city’s immediate visual landscape was blanketed with posters, stickers, T-shirts and picket signs. Of the many political images, we distinctly remember noticing one beige icon, hung humbly in an apartment window. Barack Obama’s stylized portrait was presented with a simple answer to the Democratic Party’s lingering question: Is America ready for change?
Interview by Marc Hobelman
How did you get to where you are now?
I graduated college in Florida, and while most of my friends were going to New York and L.A., my girlfriend and I wanted to do something different. We wanted to go somewhere new, where the seasons change, the leaves turn yellow and we could play in the snow. And we love it! I’m finding better ways to explore my hobbies, I found the dopest spot for a burger and I’m meeting awesome people.
Why did you first become interested in Art & Design?
I’ve always sketched and doodled. I would turn in tests with lines bouncing from word to word and girls riding rockets into the sun. I guess really I got into art out of a need to personalize and decorate. Like make my own desktop wallpapers or buddy icons or posters. I went to school wanting to be an architect, but left with an Art degree.
What is your favorite medium to work in?
I would say I like screen printing the most. I enjoy working in layers. I even paint the same way. But mostly it makes me feel more productive when I’m mass-producing art. When I can turn around and have 50 of the same image staring back at me, I like that. And at the same time it’s making art more accessible.
What’s your process like?
There’s a lot of TV watching… and pausing… and rewinding… I’ll see a scene or hear a quote that I find funny and then I’ll make a bunch of sketches based on that and work back and forth between Illustrator and hand-drawing until I’m happy with it. But then I’ll ask [my girlfriend] what she thinks and make more changes if necessary. She usually knows what’s up.
Who are your most important influences? Who do you get inspired by?
Mostly my art friends that I’ve made over the years. They’re all super talented, and have crazy work ethic and ideas. Knowing how much they’ve grown, and what they’re up to and the work that they’re producing, it’s inspiring. I strive to reach their level. So if you’re reading this… I love you guys and I miss you. Besos.
Your Cosby Sweater series, and other works that reference pop culture, seem to point back to the 1970’s and 1980’s — especially to black entertainers. What do you like or what are you pointing out by using that subject matter?
I guess the thing I like most about that time is that everything wasn’t taken as seriously. I love the visuals produced in the 70’s, the fun colors. There’s actually a great 70’s poster art show downtown right now. It’s something I strive for with my art. Something I can never take too seriously and be able to make people smile or laugh. If I’m not doing that, then I’m doing something wrong. And that’s how the Cosby Sweater series got started. I was commissioned to paint a Cosby piece and I thought it would be hilarious to paint him wearing a moose sweater. I liked the image so much that I decided to modify it and use it as a model to showcase how ridiculous his sweaters have been and potentially could be.
So your sense of humor determines how you look at your art. Are there some hints of the Blaxploitation film era in there?
Yeah, definitely. Especially with my color choice and the way I try to use type. I’ve been told it’s 70’s as fuck. Even more so in my earlier work. It was all afros and funky car chases. I would actually go to Best Buy looking for those multi-packs of Blaxploitation movies. I always find something new or inspirational, and once again it’s just great how nothing was serious back then. It was just a fun period of time.
You relocated to Denver right before the DNC. How has the 2008 presidential campaign, and Barack Obama’s win, affected you and your work?
Well, I started out following Obama purely for selfish reasons. I was really into politics, but I liked the idea of having a black man in the White House. I even voted for Al Sharpton when he was on the ballot. And I wanted to do my part to get Obama elected. That’s how the original “Yes, Please.” painting came about. But then I started to read up on him and really got into what he was about. What got me though, was that he had an arts policy that included providing healthcare for artists, tax breaks and showing the importance of arts education. So I contacted a few people about helping me get the image out there, and the response was amazing. That’s how I got to be a part of Sticker Robot’s “Hope” Series and Manifest Hope: DC. One of the many things I’ve learned from this experience is that I can’t be shy about showing my work and contacting people. If I hadn’t, then we probably wouldn’t be having this interview. This is an amazing time and I’m fortunate to have been able to witness and be a small part of it.
There’s obviously a lot of attention being paid to Shepard Fairey right now, concerning his popular “HOPE” poster vs. the supposed AP photo it’s based on. What are your thoughts on fair use and the trouble he’s in right now, from your perspective as an Obama artist?
Well, let’s just say that I’m torn. I love what he did for the Obama campaign but he’s been sampling images like that for a while now and sometimes even more blatantly. I guess it’s starting to catch up with him now because of his new-found fame.
Check out the “Yes, Please.” painting, Cosby Sweater Series and Felix’s other work at felixjacksonjr.com.