Miller Jackson with his wave paintings. (Photo courtesy of Donald Jackson.)
Miller Jackson has just had his first solo art show. He’s four and a half. (Feel free to be jealous.)
Art’s in his blood — his father, Donald Jackson, owns the Color Wheel Studio in Bucktown (2016 W. Concord Place), and his mother, Julie Horowitz Jackson, owns Virtu (2034 N. Damen Ave.), which showcases unique pieces from artists and artisans. After the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, Miller, who goes to Burr Elementary in Bucktown, a magnet school with a Japanese focus, spent his spring break making monoprints of dark blue-green waves with his father. Miller and his parents decided to sell the originals and inkjet copies — 11 originals with three copies of each, significant for the date (3/11) of the natural disaster — and donate all proceeds to the American Red Cross Japanese relief efforts.
RedEye sat down with the young artist the day after the April 17 opening reception to talk about his process and why he wants to donate to Japan. (His mom and dad also pitched in during the interview, to help translate to and from kid-speak.)
Can you tell me a little bit about why you made the paintings?
Miller: Uh, for people to sell, and then we’re gonna have all the money and give it to Japan to help them.
That’s so nice! And you wanted to give some of your own money?
That’s so nice. That’s so generous. So how did you make these paintings?
Miller: Well, we took a towel and paintbrush, putted it in paint, put it on the paper and then… [Dad: Put it on the plate.] On the plate, and then if we would do a towel, we’d go like this [makes a rubbing motion], rub it on there, and then we would flip a paper over, take page, unfold it, rub it on the paper, and then flip it back over and it makes [the wave].
It’s not painted directly on the paper?
Dad: No, these are done on a plate or a plexiglass — we used plexiglass — you’ll do the painting on there and then, like he said, we will put the paper down on top of it, we’ll put the buffer on, then rub the back, then when we pull the paper up, it’s the reverse image that’s on there. These are called monoprints, which you only get one image from.
Your dad taught you how to do this, and your mom too?
And how did you pick the colors?
Miller: Uh, Daddy mixed the colors.
Dad: Did we have to go through a few colors?
Dad: We went through a few to find out which ones we liked, remember?
Mom: You had some light blue, you had some royal blue, then you had, like, a dark green, and one of the dark greens made it into the series, right?
And you didn’t really like the light blue?
Mom: No, it was too joyful. It didn’t convey the power. He chose the deep teal.
Dad: We put them up in a line [in the studio]. And … he’d have to go through and find out which colors he liked better, so we’d edit things down like that. And then he’d say, I really want it darker, so we’d have to mix up another color, do some more, and then put them back up in a line and find out which ones he’s liking. So we went through quite a few colors. It took awhile, took a few weeks, doing all this.
That’s great. Did you tell anyone at school? Did you talk to your friends about it?
Miller: [shakes head] Mmm mmm.
Mom: He did most of this over spring break. It’s been spring break, so he was doing it for a couple of days while he was still in school. … He had to sign every single print, and that took how long? Did that take a long time?
Mom: What did you sign it as?
Miller: I don’t know.
Mom: Do you remember what you wrote on the bottom of every print?
Miller: Yes, I wrote, “Tsunami Wave” — what are the numbers?
Dad: Well, you had to write your name.
Miller: I writed, “Miller Jackson, Tsunami Wave,” and what were the numbers?
Dad: We had to do numbers 1 through 11, and then we had to write, for the edition prints, we had to write the edition numbers as well in the right-hand corner.
And you wrote all that yourself?
Dad: It took a while to do.
When did you learn how to write your name?
Mom: He started his first name in Pre-K. I think most kids learn that in the first year of Pre-K, and “Jackson” started coming over the summer, I guess. And the way that he writes words is that, we’ll write it down first, and then he likes to visualize them and copy them. Or we can just tell [him] the letters sometimes — he’ll write “T” and “C.”
Dad: A lot of this, especially for “tsunami,” just verbally tell him the letters, and he’ll just write them down.
Mom: And then numbers are probably the hardest part, right, ’cause you’re not used to writing numbers.
Mom: And that’s how you learned that tsunami was “ts”unami, that the “t” is silent.
Dad: What does that look like it sounds like?
Miller: T-sunami, because it adds a T and then a S. T-sunami. [laughs]
Mom : [laughs] Especially for someone who can’t spell.
Do you paint and draw a lot?
Mom: Pretty much every day.
What are your favorite things to paint and draw, usually?
Miller: Mmmm …
Dad: You do a lot of different things, you know. I don’t know if there’s anything specific.
Mom: You have moments. Like, this came out of after watching the news, everything he was doing was a wave, and I think —
Dad: It was a wave, but with destruction and people.
This was just something you guys noticed?
Miller: Running away from the waves.
Mom: That’s right, ’cause what would you do if you saw a wave like that?
Miller: We’d run away.
Dad: So he did a lot of drawings and paintings like that.
Mom: But he has moments of flowers and moments of people and moments of buildings, and then he had a whole series of highways with lots and lots and lots of cars and trucks. You go through moments of series, I think.
That’s really cool. This is your first show?
Very exciting. Not too many 4-and-a-half-year-olds can say they’ve had an art show. Did a lot of your friends come and see your paintings?
Mom: No, because they’re all away on vacation — that’s the crazy thing. A lot of the art friends came and their friend’s kids, but our school friends didn’t come because everyone’s in St. Thomas or Disney World. It’s hard.
Dad: So while everybody was on vacation, he was here working on prints to donate to Japan.
Mom: He’s looking forward to going back and telling everybody.
Did you take pictures to show people what the exhibit looked like?
Mom: There’s a video that Daddy took. We took him to Takashi last night for dinner to celebrate his successes because Chef Takashi is having his own benefit tonight [April 18]. … I think it’s important for us as parents to teach him about the community and that we’re all part of the whole community.