By Clare Walker, JAC Intern
Recently, JAC had the opportunity to talk with JAC network artist Spoon Jackson and artist SaraMarie Bottaro. Over the past year, the two artists have formed a friendship and collaborative partnership despite the physical distance that exists between them. The following is an artist spotlight conducted in conversation with each other.
JAC: As much as you feel comfortable, please share a bit about your backgrounds.
Spoon Jackson: My first pieces began with my only drawing a tree on each envelope – a naked tree with no leaves. I think that leafless tree was the result of my having played Pozzo in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. There was only a small tree with no leaves. That fact stood out in my soul. I did not know I could draw back then.
SaraMarie Bottaro: The first drawings I really poured my heart into were of the Chinese goddess Hsi Wang Mu and the Japanese goddess Ben Zai Ten when I was twelve years old. Eastern philosophies were a constant presence in my home growing up. Chinese ink paintings fascinated me from an early age. Images of Green Tara and Kali-Ma that I copied when learning to draw never really left me.
SJ: I went from only drawing on envelopes to different size paper. At first, even these drawings with more space contained only one naked tree. Then, the mountains and the moon appeared. I started in darkness with only black ink. Every drawing was a night scene or captured dusk, there was no sun. Eventually, I added more trees, mountains, birds, and even flowers. The trees flourished, sprouted leaves, and grew fruit.
The first series I completed was all trees and fences. From there, I progressed to desert and valley scenes populated by the many animals I love. I have a series of desert scenes now and as I continued to create, the fences vanished. My colors expanded to blue, then red, and then a full rainbow of colored pencils became part of my work. The fences along with the trees were subconsciously influenced by my incarceration. Now, mainly nature remains. I’ve also expanded and added faces behind bars as another series to actively create art about this subject. Doves show up repeatedly in my drawings and represent freeing the spirit.
SMB: I was born and raised in San Diego, CA where I spent my time in the ocean, dancing, drumming, drawing, and devoting myself to my studies. I moved to the Boston area to attend Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston concurrently.
Now, as I’m beginning to immerse myself in the cultural heritages of my ancestors I see that the form of the Divine Feminine is waiting there in The Black Madonna, Cybele, and The Morrigan. Right now, I’m allowing my personal stories of the land, the ocean, and my feelings to flow.
SJ: I’ve never physically been anywhere but Barstow, the heart of the high Mojave desert, and prison. The guideposts I had were the far away purple and red clay mountains that appeared to be my whole world. So much of what I create now draws from the same few desert plants, animals, and omnipresent birds that I grew up with. My pieces come directly from my heart and soul – the personal is universal.
JAC: How did you get into art?
SJ: I started out with no interest in any art at all other than listening to music. I came to prison without any art background. My journey started with my wanting to be a better person and not hurt people any more. I understood that for some reason knowledge was the key to understanding life and myself. Tragedy woke me up and I never wanted to be in a negative robotic sleep again. I told myself re-education and “ologies” was the way to go. I started with religion, then sociology, psychology, and philosophy. I discovered that different levels of philosophy encompassed all “ologies” and gave me a foundation to launch my re-education. I checked out numerous books from the library and education department and found me a spot to read and study all day. I found me a spot to ponder life and all it was about.
SMB: I was always wanting to make things, draw, sing, dance, act, and generally express myself in every way possible from a young age. I drew every single day the summer I was 13 and that is when art started to really blossom for me. I was never the most talented artist at school, for me it had to be about wanting to improve and the discipline to show up and do not so great drawings for many years. I’m still not where I would like to be with my artistic skills, but that’s the beauty of it too! There’s always more to learn and more growing to do.
SJ: I signed up for high school and college and took both at the same time and I signed up for self help groups. In my philosophy studies it kept referencing poets and poetry. So one day I signed up for poetry classes and that started my journey into the art world. I sat in silence for nearly a year and allowed the depth and magic of poetry to soak into my spirit, heart, soul and mind. I saw that nature has always been poetry and silence as well. I found out art was life and important. I discovered language, english, grammar and reading was magical.
JAC: I know you are both writers and artists, and you say that as a result of your individual strengths and weaknesses you both mentor each other and help each other grow. Will you say more about your partnership and what you feel you are each learning from each other?
SMB: This sounds strange at first since our only demographic overlap is being born and raised in California, but Spoon and I are very similar. It was immediately apparent to us both we have a lot of shared ground that we’re on the exact same page about. To simplify it would be to say we share the goal of peace, liberation, and compassion. When your deepest truths overlap, there’s an easy flow to conversation.
SJ: Our partnership – SaraMarie and mine – was as natural as the four winds and we meet on so many levels and allow our art to mesh as it needs to. I believe we both know how connected our art is to nature, rabbits and dreams and how our art frees us.
Yes, we both mentor each other and inspire each other to stretch our truths and strengths and incorporate our weaknesses in a way that allows others to know it’s okay to have strengths and weaknesses and channel both into art and expression. Because the universal is personal. I think we are both learning from each other that it’s okay to be ourselves and share that realness with others. We are learning and sharing that we are both students and teachers in life. That we can create whatever we want in our partnership with hard work and allowing our muses our magic to flow through us and create Rabbits of Realness.
SMB: Another similarity Spoon and I share is having no shortage of ideas! The well is ever flowing for both of us, which I think we’re both humbled and inspired by. Having so many ideas also feels like a responsibility. I think we share the sense that this access to creativity within us is the truth of what all people have access to. Ideas of writer’s block or artist’s block are just ego getting in the way.
JAC: What is the inspiration behind your joint project: Rabbits of Realness?
SMB: We are both rabbit people in that knowing rabbits has changed us. In my first letter to Spoon I included a drawing of a rabbit and he responded telling me he was a rabbit person too!
SJ: Our Rabbits of Realness project is a way for people to connect through poetry, prose, art- drawing and photography, Q&A wisdom. We hope to include audio, music, and dance down the line. The inspiration behind Rabbits of Realness is SaraMarie and I coming together to share a vein of art that has never been seen before. The inspiration was both SaraMarie’s and my journeys of coming together from two different worlds and we felt we have a lot of art and wisdom to share and wanted to have folks contribute from around the world – young and old people from anywhere.
JAC: Will you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind your first co-authored mini zine “How to Write Your First Ever Letter”?
SMB: Letter writing is very important to both of us. We each have long personal histories with the medium. We were talking about our shared love of letter writing and how it’s becoming a lost art and how sad that was. Instead of stopping there we turned to “How can we change that?” and of course the most immediate answer was to start with kids and start with the most basic thing – how do you write a letter? Youth is the future and I truly believe that asking them to reflect and then share their thoughts and feelings will serve them in many other parts of their lives than letter writing. It’s also a gift!
SJ: The inspiration behind our first zine is the art of letter writing and our appreciation of that individual expression and we want to keep that art form alive. It is the expression of our souls, and hearts and like fingerprints each letter is unique. It is holistic and freeing. It allows a big part of us to be free. It is an important art form that must not die and SaraMarie and I just want to do our parts.
JAC: What inspires you?
SMB: Nature, always. Saying it like that makes it sound like I think “Nature” is somewhere else and somewhere separate from us but I don’t. There is no separation; being inspired by nature is being inspired by the mystery. Living in right relation and acting towards mutual flourishing. The elation of a blank page or canvas.
SJ: Nature, truth, people who be themselves and walk in his or her own shoes. Books, dreams, and probably anything inspires me to create – even people no longer in this realm.