Ronald Jackson’s Masked Portraits of Imaginary Characters Stoke Curiosity About Their Stories

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#narrative #painting #portraits #Ronald Jackson

Ronald Jackson’s Masked Portraits of Imaginary Characters Stoke Curiosity About Their Stories

an oil painting of an imagined young black figure wearing a plaid lampshade bucket hat, a blue and green eye mask, and a blue button down shirt

“Undercover” (2024), oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches. All images © Ronald Jackson, shared with permission

Six years ago, Ronald Jackson had only four months to prepare for a solo exhibition. The short time frame led to a series of large-scale portraits that focused on an imagined central figure, often peering directly back at the viewer, in front of vibrant backgrounds. But he quickly grew uninspired by painting the straightforward head-and-shoulder compositions. “Portraits, which are usually based in concepts of identity, can present a challenge for artists desiring to suggest narratives,” he tells Colossal.

In his bold oil paintings, Jackson illuminates imagination itself. He began to incorporate masks as a way to enrich his own exploration of portraiture while simultaneously kindling a sense of curiosity about the individuals and their histories. Rather than portraying someone specific, each piece asks, “Who do you think this is?”

“The primary inspiration for my art comes from the value that I have in the untold stories of African Americans of the past,” he says, “specifically the more intimate stories keying in on their basic humanity, as opposed to the repeated narratives of societal challenges and struggles.” The mask motif, he realized, was a perfect way to stoke inquisitiveness, not just about identity but of its connection to broader stories, connecting past and present.

For the last two years, Jackson has focused on an imagined figure named Johnnie Mae King. To help tell her story, he has become more interested in community collaboration, enlisting others to help develop the character’s narrative through flash fiction and other types of creative writing. Through this cooperative process, Jackson has developed an online platform, currently being refined before a public launch, where literary artists can engage with visual art through the written word.

In addition to the storytelling platform, Jackson is currently working toward a solo exhibition in 2025. Explore more on his website, and follow updates on Instagram.

an oil painting of an imagined young black woman wearing a blue blouse and green skirt, standing in front of a black and white background holding a pink jello mold on a platter in front of her and wearing a blue and green eye mask

“Potluck Johnnie” (2024), oil on canvas, 40 x 46 inches

an oil painting of an imagined young black figure wearing a button down shirt and suspenders, in front of a foliage-patterned background nd holding a pistol, with his face covered in a geometrically patterned mask that reveals his eyes, nose, and mouth

“Saint Peter, 1960 A.D.” (2022), oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

an oil painting of an imagined young black woman wearing a black and white dress, gloves, and an eye mask, standing in a room with patterned wallpaper, a pink gramophone, and a chair

“Badass” (2024), oil on canvas, 66 x 72 inches

an oil painting of an imagined young black woman wearing a a floral top and a patterned face mask that reveals her eyes, nose and mouth

“A Dwelling Down Roads Unpaved” (2020, oil on canvas, 72 x 84 inches

an oil painting of an imagined young black woman wearing a scarf on her head, a red top, a blue and white face covering that shows her eyes, nose, and mouth, and white cat-eye glasses

“She Lived in the Spirit of Her Mother’s Dreams” (2020), oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

an oil painting of an imagined young black woman wearing a black and white dress and an eye mask, standing in a room with patterned wallpaper, a grammophone

“Arrival” (2024), oil on canvas, 66 x 72 inches

an oil painting of an imagined young black woman wearing a white and blue dress, in front of a green leafy background, wearing a patterned mask and flowers in her hair

“In a Day, She Became the Master of Her House” (2019), oil on canvas, 55 x 65 inches

#narrative #painting #portraits #Ronald Jackson

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