Visual artist and sculptor, Buddy Jackson is known throughout Nashville as someone who has always stayed true to his values. He has the need to feel something when he is creating. That is what motivates him as an artist. His iconic past experiences in the commercial design world have helped him evolve into the well-respected visual artist he is today. Rather than struggle in his head with what he wants his art to become, he prefers to get out of his own way and allow his creative energies to flow through him into his artwork.
Buddy was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, and was inspired by his grandfather who was a sign painter. As a little boy, they would draw together, and Buddy enjoyed creating cartoons. Growing up, his dad was often away and much of his time was spent with his mom and two sisters. As a young boy, he felt that girls were more creative and expressive than boys and enjoyed that characteristic. Perhaps that is why much of his artwork today often showcases strong and powerful females.
As an undergraduate, Buddy majored in oil painting with a minor in sculpture at the University of Tennessee. After being discouraged with his career as a painter, he relocated to Nashville with the intention of studying commercial art at a small college in Franklin, Tennessee called Harris School of Art.
“I had a painting instructor at UT my senior year who said I would never make it as a painter—that I just didn’t have it. And [he] thought I should consider going into commercial art or teach to make a living. [But] I didn’t want to do that,” Buddy recalls.
On Buddy’s second day in Nashville, he learned of a job with a little mom-and-pop print shop that would unexpectedly change the course of his career. Instead of starting school, he took the job. He quickly found himself doing paste-up and prepress work for the owner who had previously worked with Methodist Publishing. While there, he learned typesetting, darkroom work, and how to make printing plates.
Buddy worked at the print shop for a year. After learning all he could from the shop, Buddy got a job with an ad agency. Working in this ad agency and doing more creative work, Buddy spent the next seven years climbing the corporate ladder. In a short window of time, Buddy advanced to Senior Vice President and Creative Director as the company grew. Eventually, the company merged with an advertising PR firm growing from seven people to more than 20 within four years. Working 80-hour weeks on salary and trying to keep up as Creative Director, he became burned out from the constant stress. At that point, he decided to take a leave of absence.
Upon reflecting on recent experiences and his current situation, Buddy elected to start doing freelance work around Nashville for ad agencies at his own pace. After a year of working alone, he realized he might never be able to take time off. He decided he would hire other people to do the things he didn’t enjoy like bookkeeping, mechanical art, and the ordinary office paperwork. He never set out to be a business owner in the design industry—he fell into it. Before long, he rented a little office on Music Row, and started Jackson Design.
Buddy explains, “I started doing freelance work around town for ad agencies. I was hired to do some design work by a guy in town who did the animation for movie theaters. He offered me about twenty-five thousand dollars’ worth of work. So, I thought, that’s enough to start off. And that is how the company was born.”
From the start, Buddy was not interested in the traditional advertising market. He hired talented and motivated young people for his team and coached them along. Most of the shops around Nashville at the time were illustrator-based and had freelance artists to handle the overflow. Wanting to offer complete creative services, he was willing to take on smaller clients with lower-paying jobs in order to be more creative.
“I made a sacrifice to get paid less than everybody else to be able to do more of what I wanted to do. We attracted entrepreneurs and startups who usually didn’t have big budgets but were less conservative with ideas. We were able to be real aggressive with the messaging because they didn’t have anything to lose,” Buddy recalls.
As Jackson Design grew, they became credible because of the high caliber of their work that won awards from the American Advertising Federation, The Dove Awards, and the Grammys for advertising and music packaging projects. For years, they were featured in design publications both locally and nationally.
At the time, Buddy was feeling frustrated with the pressure of his business. It was here that he was approached by an industry colleague who wanted to buy part of his company—with an offer he couldn’t refuse. He agreed to stay on as a partner, signing a five-year contract, but he left after only six months feeling frustrated. After 25 years, Buddy made the decision to leave the stress of the commercial advertising market.
He explains, “I was never officially trained. I never had commercial art classes in school and never had business classes of any sort. I was just flying by the seat of my pants for 25 years!”
Buddy is a curious artist who likes to stay busy using his hands. He built a studio in his backyard where he could be messy while creating. He sometimes struggles to paint with the pressure of producing something two-dimensional. When he lost partial use of his right hand as a result of cutting a tendon, he thought playing in clay might be good therapy for his hand. While enjoying the cerebral process, he also found that he was much more relaxed with the process of producing sculpture.
Buddy is a yearly artist in residence in Appleton, Wisconsin, at an old monastery on the Fox River. Last year, that connection led to a job working on a pilot series for Netflix and HBO. He was hired to design and help build buildings for the set in that remote area in Wisconsin. He was able to hire his son to assist him, and as a result, he was able to enjoy the opportunity to share that creative process with his son.
Buddy has artwork featured in the Metropolitan Nashville Airport, the Tennessee State Museum, and Vanderbilt and Baptist Medical Centers. He created a piece for the public artworks “Watermarks” series in a Nashville neighborhood affected by the 2010 flood. He also completed a life-sized statue of Adelicia Acklen for the Adelicia in Midtown. Currently, he is working on a life-size, bust portrait—a commissioned piece—as a tribute for a Montgomery Bell Academy donor.
In the past few years, Buddy has been experimenting with photography but doesn’t consider himself a photographer. He fell in love with the process and collaboration that goes into working with models. He books sessions with traveling art models coming through town, building new friendships which in turn generate more word-of-mouth work. On occasion, he designs record covers for his friends in the music industry.
Buddy enjoys working on three-dimensional work, making art he hasn’t seen done before. He attests that his challenge as an artist is to touch someone’s soul with his work in the same manner as the work of his idols John Prine and Van Gogh.
“I’ve been blessed on many levels that things just seem to happen for me. I worked hard as a creative person and did right by others. I feel blessed to have been in the right place at the right time so many times over and over and over again.”
Buddy Jackson will be participating in the “Down a Country Road IV” art show at Columbia’s Theta General Store. This show will be held Nov. 13 – Nov. 14 and will feature Buddy’s artwork alongside that of Robin Conover, Steve Confer, Val Adams, Ken Means, Stacey Zaferes Alger, Nathan Collie, and show organizer Anne Goetze.
For further information about Buddy Jackson’s artwork, be sure to visit his website and social media.