Alison Jackson is a BAFTA and multi-award winning contemporary artist whose art explores the cult of celebrity. Alison creates amazingly convincing photos of celebrities doing things in private, by using incredibly realistic lookalikes. Her work is visceral in its nature, and demands your attention without letting you look away. Alison Jackson’s magic is in creating images so convincingly realistic that they become believable. The work of Alison Jackson has established wide respect due to it’s thought provoking nature and for the way in which it has raised awareness of the burgeoning spectacle of contemporary celebrity culture. Alison’s work spans many media forms, including TV, books and even opera. Alison Jackson has exhibited her work in galleries and museums all around the world, most notable the Tate Modern in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her most recent work, is her new book Private. I really enjoy Alison’s work, so was excited to have her talk books on the site. Please enjoy my interview with Alison Jackson…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I’m a contemporary artist making photographs and films about celebrities. I raise questions about the manufacture and creation of celebrity through media imagery and explore its role in our society.
I’m revisiting Leonard Cohen’s collection of poems.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
I think of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell: I grew up amongst horses and was a keen rider. I love that it’s written from the point of view of the horse; it’s very clever.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I always wanted to direct films since the age of nine.
Did you demonstrate an affinity with art as a child?
I lived my childhood through a lens. I was constantly taking photographs and observing the world through the camera.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
I was a very silent child – few people knew much about me because I was so quiet. However, I was very mischievous. I think my younger self would recognise and admire the mischievous nature of my work.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with advertising legend, Paul Arden. I would choose (and recommend) his wonderfully uplifting book: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
I love to read first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard is a text I constantly go back to when talking about my work. It explores the concept of how we define what is ‘real’ and whether we can say that a fake or copy is any less ‘real’ than the original. By using lookalikes of celebrities in my own work I am creating a simulation: the image of the icon is so powerful that it no longer matters whether it’s the ‘real’ celebrity, so long as the likeness is convincing. The viewer chooses to believe what they see.
In a way, Life of Pi by Yann Martel plays with this idea also. By the end of the novel the author has given us two versions of the same story. It’s up to the reader to choose which of those we want to believe. It doesn’t matter which one ‘really happened’. To me, that is fascinating.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring artist?
1) Make the art you want to make 2) Don’t worry about what other people think.
Who would you say are the three artists that continue to inspire you?
Andy Warhol who completely understood the artifice of celebrity culture and how it’s created for our consumerist society.
Edgar Degas for beautifully capturing intimate and private moments (both in his photos and his paintings).
Merry Alpern for her voyeuristic and suggestive images that so skilfully involve us in the act of looking.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
I keep a very tiny, vintage dictionary in my purse that was given to me by my grandmother. It’s a lovely keepsake and though it’s very small the text is still legible. I like to think about how much language has changed and evolved since then. It says a lot about our times that the word ‘post-truth’ was selected as 2016’s Word of the Year by the Oxford Dictionaries.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
I read a lot of biographies and autobiographies in relation to my work as I want to understand more about the person behind the celebrity. So I will often say to people: ‘did you know this about Einstein?’ or ‘did you know that about Marilyn?’ and I’ll tell them where I read it.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
As someone who enjoys blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, I would have to say both.
Do you think reading is important?
Yes – it exercises our minds.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Fate and Furies by Lauren Groff was excellent.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
Real books. It’s nice to get away from all the screens sometimes.
Do you think there is a relationship between books and art?
Of course – although telling a story through an image is very different to writing it.
Name a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.
I wouldn’t want to impose such a rule. Read for pleasure and the rest will follow.
When I was growing up I was always very aware of the distinction between a private life and a public persona. I’ve carried that through into my professional life and it’s a major theme in my art work. Because of that there are certain books (I can’t just choose one!) that have resonated with me; books where we as the reader get to witness how characters behave in society versus their inner thoughts and feelings. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and Theatre by Somerset Maugham have all had a lasting impact on me for this reason.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford;
Torrents of Spring by Ivan Turgenev;
Atonement by Ian McEwan;
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald;
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde;
An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett;
Ways of Seeing by John Berger.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I’d like to read more Politics and History – to try to make sense of what is going on in our world at the moment.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
When I get round to writing it I’ll let you know…