I stumbled across Mike Jackson's artwork a few weeks ago when he posted some drawings destined for his upcoming show, Fast, for a Catcher. If you’ve followed my blog for more than a week, it should come as no surprise that Mike’s drawings jumped off the screen when I saw them. I wanted to know more about the art and the artist, and Mike generously agreed to an email interview. The following is a lightly edited record of our conversation.
Mighty Flynn: Tonight I looked through your Tumblr archive and realized that I first saw your work last November when I reblogged your "Bryce Harper as a member of Kiss" piece. I’m glad I came across your stuff again as you’re preparing for your show.
Mike Jackson: The Bryce Harper drawing actually started the whole idea for the show, as I remember it. It’s fun to try to connect dots between seemingly unrelated things, and I did that on a night where I just wanted to have something to show for my time. I’d forgotten about it after starting to work seriously on the show, so I’m glad you mentioned it.
MF: Fast, for a Catcher is the title of your upcoming show at Indy Hall in Philadelphia. Are you a Phillies fan?
MJ: Yes, my family and I are big Phillies fans. My aunt used to take us to Veterans Stadium in the 90s as kids on Sundays to get autographs from the players as they came in. We’ve got signatures from just about everyone who played with the Phils in the time – and we thought they were all superstars. Three of my brothers and I have the Phillies Sunday plan as adults, and my fourth brother goes with my aunt, who still has her own Sunday plan. So it’s still a way for us to see each other and hang out regularly.
MF: How long have you been drawing ballplayers? Your drawings of players in action strike me as pieces that could only be drawn by someone who has moved the way ballplayers move, someone who has swung a bat and thrown a ball in a game setting. Did you play baseball?
MJ: I’ve been drawing my whole life, and usually I draw the things that are around me. I don’t always draw ball players specifically, but I do enjoy drawing people, seeing what I can simplify or exaggerate while maintaining a likeness. I can catch and throw, but I never played beyond Little League. As an adult, I play in softball leagues from time to time, and I do seem to reflexively practice my batting stance in the elevator door reflection at my day job. I think baseball naturally brings about these beautiful, fluid motions, so maybe that’s what you’re seeing in those drawings you referenced.
MF: In the press release for Fast, for a Catcher, I was struck by your comment, “Baseball is a remarkably simple game, with an often slow pace, that can create a beautiful rhythm. But strange things can happen on any single play. Stuff that you’ve never seen before. Stuff that hadn’t happened once in 125 years could happen twice in one game. You can’t get caught being spaced out during a baseball game. And that’s life too.”
That idea—pay attention or you’ll miss the very thing you’re looking for—seems central to an artist’s mindset but also contradictory to the dreamspace that’s so necessary to creating art. Do you draw while watching games?
MJ: For me, a lot of drawing is just paying attention to what you’re seeing, and as someone who loves drawing real people, it’s a lot of fun to go through old baseball cards and try to capture the different ways the body can contort itself. The one-line drawings that have been on Instagram all come from drawing old baseball cards. I usually listen to the games on the radio, and now, on my phone, while I work. I’ve always preferred the radio because of the rhythm it provides, which I spoke to in the press release.
Drawing is a pretty solitary thing, so having those voices relaying a live narrative really helps me remember that there’s a world beyond the illustration board in front of me. Radio announcers can’t take it for granted that I’m watching along with them, like on television. Nothing is obvious on the radio, so I feel they’re more in-tune with the audience’s experience. It’s a good way to remember that the person who might see my drawings isn’t bringing the same experience to that drawing that I did, so I have to bring him up to speed if I’m to stand a chance of him digging it. We happen to have two radio guys in Philadelphia, Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen, who I think are a phenomenal team. There will be a drawing based on those two in the show. Again, I draw the things that are around me – it’s my way of processing and categorizing things in my brain (I wish I had a less pretentious way to say that).
I guess that speaks to the dreamspace you referred to. Drawing is a really practical thing for me. I try not to wait for inspiration – I just start doodling. One thing usually leads to, or away from, another. And then there’s an end result. Working on a big piece where I’ve done all the thinking, and all that’s left is execution, is where I let my mind wander and think about the next project, something my girlfriend said to me, or what I’ll have for lunch the next day. Anything, really. That baseball rhythm really runs parallel with that approach.
MF: You also speak of life memories being attached to baseball memories. Would you care to share a specific instance?
MJ: My grandmom was pretty sick in the hospital last summer. She’s a fantastic woman, and seeing her down like that really shook me up. I was visiting her one afternoon, and she dozed off, so it was just me in the room hanging out. The Phils were playing that day, so I flipped the game on and watched in silence. My grand mom had always been (and still is!) a phone call or subway ride away, and that dependability being threatened really messed with me. The Phillies were a pretty big disappointment last year, but it hit me in the hospital room how grateful I was to have baseball as a stabilizer in my life. The Phillies don’t need to win or be good for me to enjoy it. I’ll always leave on a blowout, because I only get a few hours a day, and so-many days a year where baseball is there for me. And really, I’ll watch any two teams play anyway. I was able to steady myself after watching a few innings that day while she slept, and we ended up talking for a while after she woke up. She actually doesn’t pay attention to them the way my brothers and I do, but I got a huge kick out of hearing how she falls asleep to the games sometimes at night, and oftentimes checks up on the them in the paper in the morning. It continuously is and isn’t a surprise how sharp my grand mom is.
(Here is where I should also say I’ve seen a lot real world parallels to the traditional/advanced stats argument. I happen to love advanced stats.)
MF: The show will run from April 5th - 26th at Indy Hall, in Philly. What’s Indy Hall like?
Indy Hall is a community in Philadelphia where people who would normally work alone come together to get their stuff done. It’s the most welcoming, accepting thing to which I’ve ever belonged, and I still have to remind myself that this place exists (I’m typing from here now). This show has been a team effort, because this community helps out whenever they can. If someone knows a guy who knows a guy, he or she will make sure you get in touch with that guy. Sean Martorana has done a ton of the heavy lifting with regards to the press release and the details of the show, which has allowed me to focus on the artwork. I drew 19 portraits of ball players that stand out to me for some reason or another, and they’ll be available for sale in packs, as souvenirs from the show. (Collect them all!) Sean designed the cards (and the press release, and the flyer). The artwork will be mine, but the show itself is a product of this community.
Big thanks to Mike for taking time out of his show prep to chat. If you’re anywhere near Philadelphia, I hope you’ll make it over to Indy Hall to check out Mike’s work. I would if I could.
Fast, for a Catcher
Ink and watercolor drawings by Mike Jackson
April 5-26, 2013
Indy Hall (Philadelphia)
Mike Jackson on tumblr: alrightmike
MIke Jackson’s website: alrightmike.com
Indy Hall: indyhall.org