Dogs & Penguins
Photographs courtesy of Jackie Dorage.com & StudioManhattan.com
Most New Yorkers are skeptical about taking the G train anywhere. However, when I had met Jackie Dorage who invited me to her apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I could not resist. A coffee and a 45-minute train ride l later, I found myself wandering the streets of an area of Brooklyn I have never travelled to after 6 years. A good mix of Hasidic Jews among other cultures, the area represents an evolving urban landscape. A neighborhood which boasts the best donut bakeries in NYC.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jackie at fashion event a few weeks ago. Her positive spirit and constant smile left a lasting impression. Not to mention her story of selling popsicles and her self-published DIY piano lessons book.
Wearing jean shorts over black tights, a ponytail and a self-assembled sweatshirt necklace, a sick Jackie and I walk 5 flights of stairs into a vintage building. The ride, the donut and those five flights were worth the wait to getting an inside look a the core of Jackie’s paintings. The vulture painting hung next to the front door symbolizes the beginning of Jackie’s journey. We sat down and chated over coffee, a laptop and some kleenex.
FC: What began your journey as an artist?
JD: I was always artistic. I sketched for friends and they would always come out good. But growing up, music was my main thing. I played piano competitively, obo, flute and violin. It was nothing unusual. My whole family is artistic. My mom is naturally a good artist. My grandpa was a cartoonist and my grandma paints flowers. It was always a fun thing to do. Late in college, I decided to take it more seriously.
“I did 4 vulture paintings and I loved them.”
FC: When was the turning point of when you decided to establish a career?
JD: My first painting was when I was still in college. That painting changed everything for me. I started as a music major but, definitely felt that I was burnt out and sick of the competitiveness of music. It is a very intense thing to be studying. I still love music but prefer to love it casually rather than continue it as a career. I hate performing and being judged constantly, but I still love dissecting music and studying music theory in my own time. I would rather paint.
FC: You’ve been doing shows lately and getting more involved with the local arts. What brought about your transition to NY?
JD: I like this scene better. Atlanta where I am from, is booming but the arts scene is smaller and not very diverse. The city itself is so big and sprawling that it is a harder city to find your client. There were also fewer galleries that I could have gotten into. They were booked for years. Plus, I grew up in Atlanta and was ready for a change. NY was more friendly to aspiring artists. When I moved to NY, I decided to focus fully on painting.
FC: I noticed that unlike many modern artists who focus on abstract concepts or patterns, you have chosen a whimsical approach which outlines animal life. What brought about this interest?
JD: It was my fifth year of college, because I kept changing my major and transferred schools. I took a painting class with a teach who really sparked me mentally. She gave great assignments that require a real narrowing down of your interests. I ended up painting four vulture paintings and just loved them. I loved the depth in vultures, the colors that I somehow stumbled upon using, the way the animal seemed totally relatable without being anthropomorphized—it was the first art I made that I was proud of. It’s just crazy it took 5 years of art classes to find a teacher who brought this out in me.
Vulture in Birdbath
FC: Why is this “Vulture” so important to you?
JD: Vultures are disgusting. They pee on themselves to cool themselves off, they projectile vomit to protect themselves from danger, they are so full of bacteria and parasites that they’re virtually lethal for other animals to eat–they are nasty. Yet, they are incredibly necessary to every eco-system. If the vulture population goes down, it is a problem. They are also closely related to the stork. Storks are perceived as beautiful, givers of life. So, it’s kind of a sibling rivalry–the psychology of a vulture as it compares itself to other birds. The other painting I did was a vulture carrying a baby sack. It’s so ominous and awkward. I did about 4 in the series in 2009. It took about a month to work on it.
FC: From vultures, you’ve expanded to other animal life with an intense focus.
JD: After the vultures, I thought, ‘if this worked, I should try it again!’. So, I started researching more animals and thinking more about ways to paint animals without painting the typical cheesy animal portrait. There’s a fine line there that I’m always tip-toeing around. But I think that’s a part of the challenge of painting animals that I enjoy. If I make an animal too human-like and relatable, in my opinion, I just killed any mystery and intrigue about the topic. I painted a character, rather than a species that, and this is true, I care so deeply about. After researching, drawing, and learning about these animals, I get incredibly immersed in them…I love, respect, and adore them. And I want others to feel that same admiration and interest when they look at my paintings. So, the last thing I want to do it turn them into some kitschy, goofy, pet painting. And it’s hard to do…it’s a constant struggle, a constant balance, and I often mess up, but it’s fascinating to me. Anyway, as you can probably tell, after the vultures, I was hooked–simple as that.
FC: Tell me about the cormorants…
JD: I love stories, storytelling and talking. The flightless cormorant is one of the most endangered birds in the world. After living predator-free on the Galapagos, they lost their wings and ability of fly, that’s why the bird on the left has stubby wings. But, they’re excellent swimmers. I swear, they’re evolving into a Platypus. With this painting, I was imagining if a regular cormorant stumbled across the Galapagos and met his long-lost cousin, the Flightless cormorant. It’s like, “what the fuck happened to you?”. The picture online the eyes are shadowed and half open… I changed it. It literally changes the entire meeting. I am nit picky with every detail. The eyes have so much meaning that it drove me crazy. I changed it because I wanted to make them look dumb. I loved that some animals are really stupid, and that’s nothing to shy away from. So the painting now has these big round doofus eyes, just staring at each other–not too cartoonish, just “blaaahhh” in the way that some birds are.
FC: How do these stories come together?
JD: I read a lot of information on animals from Wikipedia, Animal Behavior Journal, other journals, BBC Nature, and The National Geographic. Sometimes, I look at documentaries and PBS. From there, I usually sketch in my book and some image will get stuck in my mind and I won’t know why. I really admire Gerald Durrell, the naturalist and author. His writings are so fascinating, hilarious, honest, and vivid. Plus he revolutionized the way people study animals.
FC: How does your work come together with all the research and stories?
JD: I typically wait until an image gets stuck it my head. So, after obsessing and learning about maybe 4 of 5 animals, for some reason, one will just evoke an image that is just so powerful. Usually this happens, you know, in the shower or while sleeping or day dreaming…anything relaxing. My head will be buzzing with facts and thoughts and stories that I’ve read and researched, then I’ll be washing my hair in the shower and BAM! “oh my god! it’s a dog sitting stoically like a war hero on a hill with these mindless, goofy, little blue penguins marching from behind him!” And I jump out of the shower, draw it out, and then I’m smiling for the rest of the day. Then I start painting. My painting techniques are quite varied and require some planning. I’m not exactly the best at planning, but I’m continuously getting better and faster. If I can get a painting done in two weeks, I’m happy. There are things that help get the process going…I have to have music, a podcast, or documentary going or else I will literally just sit there. This week I’ve watched documentaries on FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower, plus listened to multiple episodes of Radiolab, This American Life, and StarTalk. I’ve gone through years of episodes of Frontline and This American Life just to keep my engine going. If my mind is too focused on the painting, I just start to obsess and overwork things, which is totally counter productive.
FC: Which one has the most meaning to you?
JD: I am very attached to my first painting of the “Vulture in Birdbath” sitting in the pool. I might keep it in the family just as a keepsake.
FC: I fell in love with the Manatee. Those colors are just so amazing and the picture comes to life.
JD: The “Manatee” is one of three paintings. Those were my first oil paintings. That one on the corner there is a black shape boat coming towards him. They often die and get hit by boats. The next is the manatee hiding under the sand half covered with sand and a boat is going in there. The last is a group of manatees creeping towards the image of ships in the background.
My whole thing about that is that I admire them with how old they are and well involved they are. It is a shame they get injured so much. The reason they get injured is not because they are slow. They can have huge spurts of speed. But, they only hear and high frequency and motorboats are low frequency. So, these painting show the flight-or-flight options of this old species which is great at adapting yet has this really silly issue that they can’t hear their one, worst danger. Of course, it’s a bit fantastical, but I wanted to show the drama of the situation.
FC: What are the materials and techniques you work with?
JD: I use lots of light blue and light pink and I have no idea why. It makes everything look whimsical, which wasn’t really my intention, but it happened and I like it. I’ve never been into pastels and pinks and blues, but then, it’s all over my paintings and I randomly painted my room in 3 shades of pink. My boyfriend walked in and was like “what the hell??” So, it might be one of those subconscious things. For some reason, I use baby boy and baby girl colors–who knows why.
FC: Do you plan to venture out?
JD: I don’t want to restrict myself. That is my big fear. I may do nature painting. Landscapes are so shallow. I could do people one day, or balance something that has enough without being a boring image. I don’t like abstract although I will get abstract when I am ready. I’ve struggled with that one.
FC: What’s next?
JD: I always did a few jobs. I have either had 5 jobs or no jobs. But I could be happy with five jobs. When I moved to NY, I decided to focus fully on painting. We moved here so quick. We both knew that if we don’t do this, I couldn’t live with myself as an artist and him as a CG effects artist by not moving to NY when you are young.
FC: What’s your style?
JD: I like a lot of jewelry and usually have 2 or 3 dangling earrings. I like comfortable. It’s my top priority. And, splashes of color or leggings. I like boots. Fashion is so accessible now that I am with the current trends!
FC: Thank you Jackie! It has been a pleasure!
JD: Thank you FC!
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