Art and soul: Oconee artist captures the character of her subjects

Artist Jackie Dorsey paints her subjects in her home art studio in Oconee County. (Photo by WAYNE FORD)
Artist Jackie Dorsey paints her subjects in her home art studio in Oconee County. (Photo by WAYNE FORD)

There was a morning recently when Jackie Dorsey went into her art studio to engage the watercolor paints and through a revealing window saw a fawn only feet from the house curled on a bed of brown leaves.

Deer often browse the quiet neighborhood of her Oconee County home.

About five years ago, when she and her husband, Alan Dorsey, were moving to Athens, they found a house on a cul-de-sac in a forested subdivision near the Athens Academy campus.

“When I saw this house I thought ‘there is my studio,’ ” she recalled about the airy ground-floor room with the large window providing a sheltered view of nature.

The move to Athens, when her husband took the position of dean of the University of Georgia’s Arts and Sciences Department, provided a chance for Dorsey to explore her penchant for art. And in this room, the woman with a dream set up shop.

When she was a youngster growing up in the Sacramento area of California, she was known among family and friends for her artistic talent. But when she went to college at the University of California at Irvine, she majored in psychology, focusing on cognitive psychology and a study on the “critical periods of language acquisition.”

She had chosen a career in science over art.

When she went to the University of Illinois for a post graduate degree, she met her future husband, who is a native of Fairfax, Va. He was studying for a career as a physicist. The young couple moved to Cornell University in New York for their post doctorate work, then they moved on to the University of Virginia, where her husband taught physics. The nomadic couple then found their way to the University of Florida, where her husband eventually became an associate dean before he was recruited to UGA about five years ago.

They have two sons. Kyle Dorsey is working on his doctorate at Cornell University and Ryan is studying art at Virginia Commonwealth University.

It was while the couple were living in Florida that Dorsey said she became pregnant with their second son and decided to become a teacher at a Montessori school. But when the move to Athens happened, she saw an opportunity to immerse herself in art, a side of her personality that lay dormant over the years.

“When you reach a certain age, you have to tell yourself — If not now, then when. I had reached that age where I need to do this. It’s a dream I had. I needed to see what I could do with it,” she said.

Working in the medium of watercolors, she said, was “more accidental than intentional.”

She took watercolor courses, two under the direction of local watercolor artist Kie Johnson.

“I didn’t know anything about watercolor. It’s really a tough medium, but when it works, it really works nicely,” she said.

A painting of Grassland String Band members Adam Poulin, Kevin Fleming and Michael Lesousky.

A painting of Grassland String Band members Adam Poulin, Kevin Fleming and Michael Lesousky.

Many watercolorists do impressionistic work, but Dorsey wanted to focus on people and capture a feel of reality.

“A lot of artists in general say, ‘I’m trying to get the character of the person because otherwise you may as well take a photo,” she said. “I agree with that in principle, that you need to go well beyond the photo, but I also work really hard at capturing a close likeness to the person. In commission work, they do want the painting to look like their loved one.”

Today, Dorsey photographs her subjects before creating the painting. That may mean having the person at her home for a session or at a suitable locale. She takes hundreds of photos to find the right expression.

Dorsey will have an exhibit — “Athens Celebrated” — opening Jan. 20 at the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation in Watkinsville, where selected works will showcase musicians who perform in Athens and her favorite Athens businesses from Two Story Coffee to Aurum Studios.

“It’s from the heart that I love Athens and I feel like I can compare it to a lot of good college towns, but I have not been more happy than I have been here,” said the artist, who has also lived in Ithaca, N.Y.; Champaign, Ill.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Gainesville, Fla.

“I love the businesses,” she said. “Every single morning I go to Two Story. I go to Earth Fare and I go to Five Points Bottle Shop and I go to the bakery and the chocolate shop.”

She enjoys dining at Kelly’s Jamaican.

“Seriously, every two weeks I have to get my Kelly’s fix,” she said.

A painting of Kelly Codling of Kelly's Jamaican restaurant.

A painting of Kelly Codling of Kelly’s Jamaican restaurant.

She and her husband have blended into the audience of the city’s vibrant music scene.

Among paintings planned for the OCAF exhibit are ones showing Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood of Drive By Truckers, the Grassland String Band, singer Sam Burchfield and the singer known as Wrenn.

For the painting of Burchfield, she placed the musician on the steps of the Foundry.

“Anybody that goes to the Foundry will recognize the steps,” she said.

Dorsey did a “photo shoot” on Wrenn.

“She is stunning and she is also a good model, so she was able to strike the most beautiful poses,” Dorsey said.

With a mounting core of work, Dorsey last year submitted a proposal for an exhibit at OCAF in an effort to get her work more in the public eye.

“They accepted it and I was very excited, ” said the woman who is living her dream.

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Art and soul: Oconee artist captures the character of her subjects
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