Jacqueline Overby is a multidisciplinary artist living in Austin, Texas. Since graduating with a BFA in Painting from Texas State University in 2016, Overby has shifted her practice to soft sculptures that use a punchy cartoon aesthetic to examine social standards of the human form and how they relate to established gender constructs, non-binary fluidity, sexual trauma, and body dysmorphia.
In 2020, Overby co-founded MotherShip Studios in San Marcos, alongside her business partner, Courtney Peterson. More recently, the duo started Blast Suppers in Austin. Both initiatives provide spaces for artists to create and foster community, and Overby considers these projects social practice efforts.
Over dinner, Overby and I discussed the current state of her collaborative projects, and her soft sculptures, which will be on display in the group exhibition Uncovered and…Then Some” at Anya Tish Gallery in Houston from November 18 to January 17, 2023. We also talked about what she has planned for the future.
Caroline Frost (CF): You were raised in San Antonio?
Jacqueline Overby (JO): Yes, until I was 12. Then we moved in with my grandmother in the Wimberley/Canyon Lake area. It was my grandmother, Carolyn Taylor, who taught me how to paint with oil. Her own work is hung around the retirement home they designed and built. Her mother’s pastel drawings hang around the house as well. My great-grandmother was actually a draftswoman for the air force during the WWII support efforts, and she made the patterns from which manufacturers would cut wing shapes. And her mother, my great-great-grandmother, was also an artist, but sadly, only a few of her pieces remain in the house. I was raised in a very artistic environment.
CF: Do you see any influence from your oil painting practice within your sculptural practice?
JO: I find myself regularly in the frame of mind that I’m making wall-mounted work, and it took a while to become familiar with approaching a sculpture with a 360° view in mind. It’s been interesting to watch my instincts shift from 2D to 3D.
CF: What steered your interest in soft sculpture and social practice?
JO: I was initially attracted to needle felting because of the felted wool texture. I appreciate the soft nature of the forms and how you can build that up. Regarding social practice, that has been a more in-depth transition over the years. In undergrad, some of the artists I was most interested in were those who focused on social change in some way.
CF: Can you describe the needle felting process?
JO: You’re essentially stabbing fibers back into themselves with needles. Basically, the wool fibers are knotted back into themselves with this stabbing motion that builds up form and shapes it as you go. . I build these masses of spongy fiber, and then I will leave some fibers loose to create wispier aspects, depending on the piece.
CF: When did you begin working with needle felt? How were you introduced to this medium?
JO: The exact moment I fell in love with needle felting was when I saw Mark Burt’s work at Ro2 Art in Dallas in 2019. I was drawn to Mark’s work as soon as I walked into the space and I started felting when I got home the next week.
CF: You liken the bright color choices in your sculptural works to that of poisonous animals warding off predators. Do you view these sculptures as on the defense?
JO: Yeah, I suppose I do, I’m interested in this play between attraction and lethality, almost like the femme fatale trope. I like for these pieces to both attract people on the one hand, but hold a sense of danger on the other. I think that my experiences with trauma have led towards this dichotomy of wanting to be “good” and attractive and desired, but also to feel safe and to be able to defend myself if needed. I don’t want to be seen as a victim.
CF: Your sculptures are childlike and playful in color and texture, but the figurative forms they possess, like lips, appendages, open mouths, and other orifices, exude a mature undertone. How do these contradicting qualities form the larger concepts at play in your practice?
JO: I am very interested in this duality. There’s almost a sense of perversion, like a jelly bean that looks like it will be root beer but actually tastes like dirt. My childhood was taken away from me at an early age and I’ve mourned that. Coming from personal experiences with sexual assault, domestic violence, drug abuse, and abortion, I think that I yearn for a sense of innocence that I’m not sure I ever had. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t dealing with something that stole my ability to live unburdened. So I think that these sculptures are a way for me to revisit my inner child and protect her. I may not be able to change my past experiences and traumas, but through my work, I feel as if I’m able to change how I feel about them.
These works allow me to convey this sharpness that I wish to encompass, like a sense of armor around me. As a survivor of rape, I think I have struggled to reconcile my desire to feel attractive with my desire to feel secure. In my work, I like to walk that line in order to better understand myself. I think there is a lot to it —and I might not understand everything yet — but a lot of my issues with my own body ideas in a larger scope of what characteristics make a woman a woman, and what is desirable and worshiped as a society, are some of the things I see coming out of these shapes.
CF: Do you see any overlap between your soft sculptures and your social practice efforts?
JO: I only see that they share a desire to create something that affects change. Other than that, I enjoy keeping them separate. I think my needle felting practice is an escape from my more social efforts and allows for a quiet space to process and keep my head straight.
CF: What social practice works have inspired your social practice efforts?
JO: I am always inspired by the works of Theaster Gates. I can remember learning about him and the Dorchester Projects and I became hooked on the concept of the arts as a catalyst for social change. Over the past few years, I’ve struggled with finding the motivation to create, and found that I’m most excited by the idea of making something bigger than myself that can have an impact on someone else’s life. After graduation, I felt a loss of the community I had been a part of and began to recognize how much I needed that. That’s really what’s at the core of the efforts of MotherShip and Blast Suppers. It’s an attempt to unite people and provide a space for relationships to be fostered.
CF: When did you and Courtney conceive of MotherShip Studios?
JO: We saw that the San Marcos art scene is very separated from the areas around it, and there are not many art galleries or studio spaces. MotherShip aims to unify artists and provide affordable spaces for creatives to congregate and work. We looked at spaces in Austin like Pump Project, Bolm Studios, and The Museum of Human Achievement, and talked about how these kinds of artist spaces are needed in San Marcos. Personally, I wanted to provide a space I wished to have had when I was a student at Texas State.
CF: What was the process of creating MotherShip studios like? Can you talk about acquiring the space and building out the first studio?
JO: We actually got the large warehouse space in March of 2020, so needless to say, a lot of our initial plans were wiped out by the pandemic. But we didn’t want to let go of the space, so we sublet it to a few artists and waited to see what would happen with the world. We started building out our first studio in the Fall of 2021, which was a 12 x 24-foot studio with a 12-foot-high ceiling. The warehouse itself is about 30 x 80 feet, with two-story capability, so we’ve got room to grow.
I drafted building designs and budgets, spoke with various mentors about our plans, borrowed tools, then called in the troops to make it all come together. We had an amazing amount of help and wouldn’t have been able to do anything were it not for our network of friends and colleagues. I think it’s a reflection of what we’re building — it’s not just an object, it’s this concept of community and camaraderie that exists outside of ourselves. I’m a firm believer that artists need their community to truly thrive, and we need to be surrounded by other artists to fill this space in our souls.
CF: How many artists are currently working in MotherShip Studios?
JO: Including myself, we currently have five artists: Alicia Philley, Shannon Rose, Greg Valentine, and Jessamyn Plottz. Eventually, when we are fully built out, we will have around 15 studios.
CF: Does MotherShip Studios host events open to the public?
JO: So far we have only been an artists’ workspace, but we recently had our first soft opening party. We just had some gallery walls donated, and we’re planning for our first gallery show to take place in the spring, in addition to a city-wide San Marcos Studio Tour we have been working on for April 2023. Our open call application for the tour is available through our link tree in our Instagram profile (@mothershipstudios.smtx)
CF: What are you planning for the San Marcos Studio Tour?
JO: We are hosting a kick-off event on Friday, March 31, 2023, and the tour will take place on Saturday, April 1 and Sunday, April 2. It will be a self-guided city-wide tour, and MotherShip will serve as the main hub. There will also be a group exhibition of the tour participants.
CF: What is the application process like? Who can apply?
JO: Any artist living or working in the San Marcos area is eligible to apply and be featured in our catalog and the group exhibition, but we are only accepting studio tour spots within the San Marcos and Martindale city limits.
CF: What kind of efforts have been involved in creating a new, organized, city-wide event like this?
JO: We’ve been fortunate enough to meet and discuss things with various mentors and friends. We met with Shea Little of Big Medium and talked with him about the early years of the Austin Studio Tour. His stories alleviated a lot of pressure we had from our expectations for the San Marcos Studio Tour debut. Again, we really couldn’t do any of this without the help of our community.
CF: More recently, you’ve started Blast Suppers. When did that begin, and why was it important to bring creatives together over a meal?
JO: We started Blast Suppers in the spring of 2022, so it’s still relatively new to us. Through Blast Suppers, we are interested in the psychology of sharing meals and how that can foster community growth. I’ve repeated this line a lot when explaining the idea to people, but to actually witness it happening has been a surprise to me. It’s an intimate affair, hosted at a different arts location every month. A lot of people have no clue what they’re walking into and arrive as strangers. Objectively, it’s daunting to attend a gathering of strangers with the purpose of building relationships. But by the third or fourth month, we started seeing regulars, and people started recognizing each other. I was able to witness people share moments of recognition and warmth, and follow up on things they had talked about at previous dinners.
CF: Is the hosting radius of Blast Suppers limited to Austin?
JO: For now, yes, we have only hosted them in Austin. However, we’d like to reach out to organizations in other cities.
CF: Are there any requirements to attend Blast Suppers?
JO: We are centered around artists and arts organizations, but the only requirement for entry is that you bring something for the potluck. And be nice.
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This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.