Artist Profiles | Visual Arts

Shilo Jackson Tricks the Eye: A new body of visual trickery at Stolen & Escaped Gallery

What do Salvador Dali, Alice in Wonderland, the Mona Lisa, and fortunes from cookies have in common? For one thing, they are among the ephemera collected by Shilo Jackson to be used in various combinations someday in a painting. That day is here as Jackson finishes some 30 new works for her Autogenous Automatous exhibit opening October 21 at Stolen and Escaped Gallery, below Frosty Darling, on Broadway.

At a glance one might think these bits and pieces of collected material are collaged to a cork or fabric background. That’s the trick. Actually, they are carefully and highly realistically painted. Even the cork is an illusion, painstakingly painted to make you believe you could feel the rough texture if you touched it.

The French call this trompe l’oeil, which means “trick the eye.” When a viewer looks at Jackson’s painting and says, “Oh my God, you painted this?” she’s delighted. “Initially they think I’ve just stuck pieces to a board,” she says. When they realize it’s really a painting, not mixed media, “then I know I’ve accomplished something successful.”

But it’s not just the visual trickery that draws you and holds you to study Jackson’s work. The images she selects are combined in ways that have meaning for her, often with tongue-in-cheek humor. It may take a minute or two for the viewer to get it. Or the viewer may get a completely different meaning entirely. That’s perfectly all right with Jackson. What may start as autobiographical becomes shared meaning. “I leave it up to the viewer to interpret what that meaning is. In doing so, they become part of the experience,” says Jackson.

Take, for example, the painting of the “eyes.” On a painted cork background, Jackson has painted images of a half-mask of a woman with big eyes; a portion of the Mona Lisa, including those famous eyes, divided into puzzle pieces; a card promoting Fortune Teller Miracle Fish; and a strip of paper like the fortune from a cookie, on which is written “You shall soon achieve perfection.” One might interpret this painting to be about a puzzling future; the fact that nothing, be it our eyes, a fortune teller, or a fortune cookie, can really help us see or predict our future. Someone else might find something entirely different in the juxtaposition of those images.

“I had a friend who bought one of my paintings and he thought I painted it specifically for him, which is great. But I hadn’t. But he found some intricate messages in what I had painted and that’s great because it spoke to him on one level and it spoke to me on a completely different level,” she says.

This body of work is an evolution of work she exhibited at Art Access in 2008 – her first solo show. The works in that show, called “Note to Self,” were the beginnings of her use of ephemera in an autobiographical way and developing the trompe l’oeil style (read a review here). However, her earliest experiments with the technique go back to her days as a student at Salt Lake Community College. Her instructor, Sandy Gagon, challenged her to try trompe l’oeil painting. That was the first time she painted cork, and she’s been hooked ever since.

“My work allows viewers to question what they are actually seeing,” says Jackson in her artist statement. “As in life, things are not always what they seem upon first inspection. It’s important to take a closer look.”

After completing her associate degree at SLCC, Jackson enrolled in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the University of Utah. There, Jackson says she was fortunate to have professors who allowed and encouraged her to continue developing her highly realistic style. One of her paintings won Best of Show in the 2008 student exhibit. She was also the recipient of a College of Fine Arts scholarship while at the U.

Even before graduating in 2009, Jackson boldly entered the life of professional artist. In late 2007, she became director at the Women’s Art Center, which, unfortunately, by that time, was doomed to close. In January 2008, she took over as owner/director of Kayo Gallery. By this time she had also been selling work from her studio at Poor Yorick, and she had a good sense of what sells and what doesn’t. This is knowledge she not only applies to her own work but also to the progressive artists she selects to exhibit in Kayo. It’s a bit of a high wire act to find the balance between “progressive,” “conceptual,” and “saleable” in today’s Salt Lake City art market. But Jackson seems to find that balance by painting in a series and being faithful to her theme and style, while infusing her work with humor and whimsy.

Jackson feels very fortunate to hold this show right downstairs from Kayo at the Stolen and Escaped gallery space owned by Matt Black and Amanda Hirtado. Black took over the space about a year ago for his filmmaking offices but decided to use the reception area for a gallery feature installation art and other experimental artists.

If you attend the opening reception during Gallery Stroll on Oct. 21, prepare to be confused, excited, and amazed. Above all, have fun deciphering the hidden meanings in Jackson’s new collection.


Sue Martin holds an M.A. in Theatre and has worked in public relations. As an artist, she works in watercolor, oil, and acrylic to capture Utah landscapes or the beauty of everyday objects in still life.

1 reply »

  1. Again, thanks Sue for this insightful profile on another of Salt Lake City’s best. I have known Ms. Jackson for some time and am glad to have this perspective on her and her work, as I feel, like your past articles, this allows me to get to know my friend that much better and I thank you, Sue, for that. I look forward to the show and taking a close-up look at Jackson’s work which comes across as playful and intelligent, as does Jackson herself… again, well done Sue!

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