#Ronald Jackson

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

April 25, 2024

Kate Mothes

“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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Ronald Jackson


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