By Nora Pehrson
Book Arts Member Artist Veronica Jackson had over three decades of experience as an architect and exhibit designer when she decided it was time for a change. She closed up her Washington, D.C.-based design firm and moved to San Francisco to study visual studies at California College of the Arts. Once there, she says, “I had the tools to look at my life, my being as a Black woman, and take those materials and turn them into something.” Now based in Central Virginia, Jackson is a visual artist with a burgeoning printmaking practice and a reputation on the rise. She had her first solo show, “The Burden of Invisibility,” in February 2019 at Riverviews Artspace in Lynchburg; the exhibit debuted for a second time in February 2020 at Chroma Projects Gallery in Charlottesville.
In July 2020, Jackson and I spoke on the phone about her letterpress work, from process to creation.
Nora Pehrson: First, let’s talk about your letterpress practice at the Virginia Center for the Book and the piece that came out of it, That’s Pops’s Money. You created 813 timecards, each one a quantification of your grandmother’s unappreciated domestic labor. How did you feel as you carried out the process of your own artistic labor?
Veronica Jackson: Well, you hit the nail on the head in the aspect that I physically labored through that project. By physically hand-cranking the timecards through the press, I was literally emulating the daunting, repetitive work that my grandmother did for sixty-seven years. I wanted to pay homage to her devalued labor. At first, I wanted to make the black paper, but black paper, it turns out, is very difficult to create. So, I said, “Fine. I will buy black paper.” It came in huge, 20 by 30 sheets, which I had to cut down to 8 by 10 sheets. That was its own labor. Just to back up for a moment, there’s also the labor of working out the project. As in, how do you physically set this up so that you can execute it? That’s where my architecture training and my exhibit design training came in. Process is very important to me; it sparks the ideas.
NP: How did you first become involved with the Virginia Center for the Book?
VJ: I was introduced to the Center for the Book through a papermaking class that I took at the University of Virginia in the summer of 2017. I had done printing before, but once I got to the the center, the whole discipline just blossomed in my life. And that’s where I met [Book Arts Program Director] Garrett Queen and Kevin [McFadden]. That’s where I got the spark to do That’s Pops’s Money—through making paper, trying to make black paper. The mental origin of the piece was a threeword phrase stated by my uncle. Representing that physically—that’s where the letterpress work at the Center for the Book comes in.
NP: How does your family history inform your work?
VJ: My mother and my aunts are strong women who grew up in a patriarchal family environment. They fought their battles wisely, and they set the examples that formed the framework of my feminism.
In my professional career as a museum exhibit designer, I had my ideas dismissed and ignored, and then used later with success by supervisors who failed to credit me. I was constantly developing projects without the same level of support provided to my white colleagues. But I don’t negatively dwell on these slights; I use them as material for future work. It’s the catalyst that propels me forward.
NP: You describe art as primarily a form of communication. When you’re working on a piece like Homeless Tourist, for example, do you imagine yourself communicating with the people who have mislabeled you or treated you as invisible in the past?
VJ: I’m responding. I’m definitely responding to those people. But my art is not for them. It’s a way for me to exorcise these feelings that I have in my being. It’s dedicated to Black women, but it’s also for anyone who has felt oppressed or invisible. That’s part of that social consciousness work that I am trying to do.
NP: What draws you to text-based practices?
VJ: Text is important because it’s a form of explaining. “You didn’t see me, simply because you didn’t see me,” as I say in my Language of Invisibility piece, a series of black letterboards featuring quotes from myself and other Black women. Now, I could try to use a plain, wordless black board, but how well is that going to read? I don’t need to be obtuse or abstract. All of my art has an interpretive label or interpretative text because I want people to know what I’m thinking. I want them to know how I want this piece of art to live in the world.