Take a look: art is always around you. Many of us are consumers of the art scene without even being aware.
That was the case for author Nell Linton Knox, who says she grew up here surrounded by the masterpieces of some of the very same artists she now writes about in her new book.
Knox, along with photographer friend and delta native, Ellen Rodgers Johnson, will release Studio Jackson: Creative Culture in Mississippi’s Capital (The History Press, $22.99) on November 4 at 5 p.m., profiling twenty three Jackson artists’ studios, with a release party at Lemuria Books. The event is a homecoming of sorts for the women who met while working there.
Pitched to The History Press soon after finishing graduate school in southern studies at Ole Miss, Studio Jackson came out of Knox’s need to go deeper with profiles she had written as a freelancer for PORTICO jackson. “I was doing a piece on (artist) Fletcher Cox,” Knox said, “and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to do a more in-depth thing?’ I thought, ‘I’ll profile ten or fifteen,’ and it clearly swelled.”
Knox knew photography would be an important component of the book, so she began reaching out to a list of photographers to help her, Johnson being one of them. “I said, ‘We’ll just do it,’” Johnson remembered. “It was a lot of work, with interviews and scouting trips and a return trip to photograph each artist.”
Subjects of Studio Jackson were chosen on several criteria, namely those who made art their full time career and those who had studio space in the capital city. “We also asked them, ‘What kept you here?’ Knox noted. “Because it was a choice (to stay). “Many of these are nationally acclaimed, some internationally acclaimed, artists.” The answer to that was, in a digital age, the work goes anywhere.”
Johnson gave another reason that artists stay, an example from years past. “Nell’s husband, William Goodman, was getting ready for a show four years ago, and said he wanted to move to New York City one day,” Johnson recounted. “I told him I understood that and that he could make it there. But, I said, ‘You will not have the support of the community like you do here. You won’t have those close knit relationships.’ And that’s why I think they stay.”
Knox agreed. “Financially, too, the quality of life might be dramatically different in big cities. There are always those who blow up and make millions. But they stay here, where life is more affordable and they have more money to invest in their work.”
Jackson’s art community has history, as is discovered in the book. “I was interviewing Bebe Wolfe and she mentioned Daniel Johnson working in her studio,” Knox recalled. “And I said, ‘Okay, rewind…the same Daniel Johnson that is in Midtown (at Turn Up Studios) now?’ Such established artists were given their start in others studios.” Jerrod Partridge and Ginger Williams Cook, profiled in Studio Jackson, got their feet wet in the art world at Pearl River Glass. Johnson calls them a “melting pot,” churning out great artists. “Maybe (Pearl River) creates a great work ethic,” she suggests. “Something is definitely going on there,” Knox added.
Already, the pair are talking about a sequel to Studio Jackson. “We have an idea, but it’s a zygote,” Johnson laughed. Knox agreed with additional insight, saying a second book could take a more metro Jackson approach, noting so much artistry in places like Madison and Clinton, too.
As for this work, Knox is beaming. “I’m proud of the both of us. I can’t speak to this work’s perfection, but the integrity is one hundred percent strong. We really put out hearts into this book.”
“Studio Jackson,” with a forward by Malcolm White, is available for pre-order at Lemuria. Fondren artists profiled whose studios are in the neighborhood include Jerrod Partridge, Roz Roy, William Goodman, James Patterson, Ron Blaylock, Elizabeth Robinson and Ron Chane.