Johanna Jackson, a treasure of the West Coast and of the universe, introduced to most of the world through Beautiful Losers, has six hand-knit sweaters and a blanket strung up at the new Portland Museum of Modern Art, a makeshift gallery inside Mississippi Studios on North Albina in Portland, Oregon. Her show, The Big Fig, reflects her roots in street and folk art culture, and celebrates craft, feminized mediums and the psychically, physically and philosophically dynamic metaphor of weaving and knitting.

You still have a few more days to catch the show in Portland — it’s up through Saturday.

I’m curious if other textile artists like Sheila Hicks or Lenore Tawney provide you with any inspiration. Hicks has a book called Weaving as a Metaphor the pages of which hold all of her miniature weavings she’s done over the last 40, 50 years in Paris, Mexico, Florida, wherever. Each one is like a poem — how the weft expresses the way the wind was moving that day and the deep blue ribbon was a man she’d spoken with on the corner. Do you feel like your sweaters are part of this sort of kinesthetic storytelling tradition?

I do feel influenced by Tawney and Hicks, but more influenced by people way outside of the professional art world, like Bertha Gray Hayes and Martha Stewart. Still, I love Hick’s poetry, and I feel the cyclical loop within loop motion of the knitting process mimicking a kind of narrative impulse — it turns the formless enormity of time into fabric the way a story turns the infinite succession of events into a finite chain of events, looped one to another.

Does art have to be useful? These sweaters are real and will keep animals and humans warm. They could even insulate tomato plants or reupholster the driver’s seat of a car. Does it feel different to make art that can be useful in real life?

I don’t think that art has to be useful. I mean, it’s all dust.

It seems like you and your partner Chris have strong feelings about not worrying to much about shit and just living the good life. What is there to learn from letting go of the label of “artist” — or conversely, spreading it out to encompass everything you do?

Life is the best thing that I have. I don’t want to block it by labeling myself, limiting my creativity or prioritizing some of my life work (say painting) over others (brushing my teeth). I want to be here for all of it, who knows where the art is?

Images via Portland MoMA

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