THE NEW YORK TIMES -- Suzanne Jackson isn’t fond of the term “overachiever,” though you wouldn’t be wrong to call her one. At 75, she has had a long, storied, multi-hyphenate career as a painter, poet, dancer, teacher, curator and theater designer. She’s not a fan of the word “career” either: “It’s my life’s work,” she says. “There’s just a lot of things to be interested in.”
Jackson traces that attitude back to her childhood in 1940s and ’50s pre-statehood Alaska, where a certain pioneering spirit prevailed. “We just did things,” she remembers.
She went to college at San Francisco State University at 17, studying art, drama and dance; toured South America as a ballerina; and in 1967, moved to Los Angeles, where she tooled around town in a Buick Hearse, took drawing classes from Charles White, began showing her paintings at the influential Ankrum gallery and, in 1968, opened Gallery 32, the community-minded space she ran out of her studio near MacArthur Park for two years. There, she hosted exhibitions by emerging black artists like David Hammons and Betye Saar, as well as a fund-raiser for the Black Panthers.
As a single mother in her 40s with her son in tow, she earned a graduate degree in theater design at Yale, worked on productions with the Kennedy Center and the Berkeley Repertory Theater and eventually settled in Georgia in the mid-90s to teach at the Savannah College of Art and Design.