Jess Ackerman Presents “Always Been the Laughing Boy” in Portland

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Chefas Projects, Portland // June 02, 2023 – July 01, 2023

Chefas Projects presents Portland-based artist Jess Ackerman for their inaugural solo exhibition with the gallery entitled Always Been the Laughing Boy. In Ackerman’s latest collection of work, the artist draws upon the “sad clown paradox”—the psychological concept characterized by one’s creation of light-hearted humor in public situations, despite inner turmoil. With expert use of color and imagery, Ackerman leans into highly emotive and personal narratives with a playful eye. Vibrant depictions of tulips, cake, and everyday objects are the visual lure for a deeper conversation.

To take in Always Been the Laughing Boy at first glance is to pick up on a jovial or celebratory vibe. Nowhere is that more evident than with “It’s Cake/Strange High” and its unique rendering of a multi-tiered birthday cake. Presented in a flat perspective, decorative layers of sugar and cream provide a feeling of euphoria though the inevitable sugar crash awaits. Upon closer examination, a sense of psychological unease begins to peer through the brushstrokes.



In “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, a figure is buried behind a book as if to cower away from the viewer and immerse themselves into an alternate reality. With “Sucker,” meanwhile, a flower and two vibrant color wheels extend away from a vase on thorny stems, imparting an aura of subtle anxiety.

One might ultimately approach Always Been the Laughing Boy as being jubilant in presentation but all too aware of its own underlying distress. Just as a clown or stand-up comedian doesn’t show their dark side unless it’s for laughs, Ackerman likewise puts on a colorful show while making only discreet nods toward the complex well from which these images arise.

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