Hers is both an attraction and an obsession, as it leads her to observe, study, and reproduce the same subject in hundreds of different variables. Hands are the ever-present sovereigns of her imagination, and Jackee Sandelands Strom plays with them, depicting them in magnificent acrylic on wood panel pieces with a hyperrealism which keeps you guessing: photograph or painting?
This interview by Margherita B. was originally published on Tattoo Life (January/February 2020 issue).
Hello Jackee, it’s a pleasure to have you here at Tattoo Life. You’re connected to tattooing because of your husband, Tom Strom. Do you also tattoo?
I’ve been involved in the tattoo industry since I was 18, when I started an apprenticeship at a street shop. I tattooed on and off for a bit, but it just didn’t work out. My biggest connection to the industry has been through my husband, Tom Strom. I toy around with the idea of getting back into tattooing but I want my focus to remain on painting.
On these pages, however, we won’t be talking about tattoos but about your hyper realistic paintings: they’re linked to tattooing but are focused on one subject in particular: the hands. Why did you choose this focus?
I often get asked about my focus/obsession with hands, and never quite understood it myself until recently. Painting hands is my version of portraiture. The paintings tell stories: what does the person like, do they work with their hands, are they young or old, etc. Hands show so much life; whether through scars or dirty nails, they can be so expressive. It all started because I love texture and detail and that has evolved into something of its own.
Are the moments that you immortalize real, or the fruit of your imagination? For example, a hand holding a snake, or a cup of tea…
More often than not, my subject matter is as real as my style of painting. Occasionally I branch out more imaginatively, which is incredibly exciting, but it takes more for me to train my brain that way (I’m inspired by Tom Strom’s crazy imagination all the time).
Besides the more “realistic” hands, I’ve seen other interpretations that have a decidedly stronger impact, like a hand holding an eye bulb. Is there a purposeful reference to darkness and apprehension? Often the same hands are rough, or blood red, with other very dark connotations.
I do love being able to go darker with the theme, it creates a little variety in what I do and lets me challenge myself, which is a drive for me.
How long have you been working on this series, and what fascinated you before it?
I started doing paintings like these years ago, and slowly over time they have become my favorite ones to do, so I figured: why not?
What do you use to paint with, and generally how large are your works?
Almost all of my paintings are acrylic on wood panel. They are usually 60 cm high maximum, but often smaller, although now that I have a larger studio (with Tom and Eliott Wells), my goal is to paint large.
What’s your artistic background, Jackee?
I’m a self-taught painter. I’ve painted since I was a child, but only in a more professional and committed capacity over the last five years.
Are the hands you paint real or do you like to create them – along with the tattoos on them – yourself?
The hands I paint are real. Sometimes I change subtle things, like what a tattoo might say, but they are from real people I meet, generally randomly at a bar, a convention, or while travelling.
Have you shown your paintings in any exhibitions?
I have exhibited my work a number of times at different types of galleries. Showing them at the London Tattoo Convention was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Seeing so many people enjoy what I’m doing was incredible! And everyone was so kind! I’m still blushing!
You’re very popular on social networks, but here I’d like you to tell us something about you, as a “real” person!
My life really does revolve around painting, same with Tom’s. We love it enough that we never feel we need a whole lot of time off. We moved away from America 5 years ago, and it became a central focus for us. In the United States it was more difficult because we were raising kids as well as working, but now that they’re off and through college we can sit and paint in our new home city of Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s very inspiring and beautiful here.