This is a character study of a woman named Winnie from the perspective of her friends, family and peers.
“Artist Winnie Clairemont-Jackson, has been announced dead. She was found unresponsive in her home on the evening of July 12th by her housekeeper. She is presumed to have overdosed.” ABC Nightly News, July 13th, 2003
“Winnie Clairemont-Jackson, the artist famous for her controversial 2002 painting ‘I Am Untitled,’ died earlier this month. Winnie is survived by her parents, a sister, and two nieces.” Janie Lee, Celebrity Obits, July 2003
Clips from US Art News – Winnie Clairemont-Jackson: A Retrospective
[Charles Roster, host of the Retrospective, interviewed a series of Winnie’s peers, friends, and family]
James Saint-Paul, Professor of Art History, an affable man: “She was a troubled girl when I met her. Very outspoken, but about the strangest things. Winnie loved putting me in my place. She would read books upon books about our lectures, just so she could interrupt me in class and correct me. I’d never seen such potential, and I was one her biggest supporters. The world has lost a bright star.
But then she made that piece. It was so strange. I could never figure out why she did it. Like she wanted to ruin her career. She was an enigma, that Winnie. I shall miss her dearly.”
Claire Leibowitz-Smith, an art school friend of Winnie’s; a melodramatic woman: “I think that it was always going to happen this way with Winnie. She was fated to be the tortured artist. Messed up family life. Messed up love life. Misunderstood art. Winnie would never be able to escape that kind of death.
She talked to me sometimes, about how much she hated ‘the art world.’ Everyone has to be struggling in some way, or else the art doesn’t matter. It’s true. Without pain, art means nothing. I suppose her pain was too much to simply channel into art.
Anyways, Winnie was a good friend. She supported everything I did. I wouldn’t be half the artist I am now without her influence. I loved that girl.”
John Smith, Claire’s husband; a suave, emotionally aggressive man: “I wasn’t fond of Winnie. I won’t go into details now, but she had this incredibly entitled perception of her work, which was nothing impressive. She lacked vision. I remained unimpressed during the entirety of her career.”
Ruth Clairemont, Winnie’s mother; a wild-child of a woman: “I raised her like I wished my parents raised me. A hippie, a free-spirit. I was so proud of her. She was exactly as I had molded her. Ahead of our collective consciousness. When she told me she was going to art school, I cried tears of joy. My daughter thought for herself. She didn’t subscribe to ‘normal’. I suppose that’s what ended up killing her. She was too different, too alone.
The world won’t be the same without her. That’s for sure.
I have a collection of Winnie’s artwork, which she doesn’t know. Didn’t know. She didn’t visit me much so I displayed the art all over my house. My very own art gallery.
I may just sell them now.”
Donald Jackson, Winnie’s father; a serious man: “I spent most of her childhood in my store, which I regret now, naturally.
They say parents are never supposed to bury their children. I did yesterday and it was unimaginable.
Frances Clairemont-Jackson, Winnie’s sister; a hardworking woman: “I’m five years older than my sister so I’m used to cleaning up after her. But I never imagined that I’d have to do this. Telling my daughters that their aunt killed herself? How will I answer their questions once they’re old enough to learn about her?
She could be so selfish sometimes.
I wish she’d given me a chance to say goodbye. I didn’t care that people didn’t like her or her art. Why couldn’t that be enough for her?”
Winnie’s Final Diary Entry, January 1, 2003:
2003 has started and I’m not entirely sure how I feel. I got into quite a bit of trouble last year with ‘I Am Untitled,’ but I’ve moved on from all that drama. Actually, now I find it funny. People can be so dramatic.
When you create a piece beyond conceptual understanding, people tend to get upset. I was stupid enough not to anticipate this fact.
I’m becoming very disillusioned with this career I’ve chosen for myself. I don’t know how long I can possibly go on smiling through gallery openings and the like. There is nothing here for me anymore.
The idea of just disappearing has certainly crossed my mind more than once, but I fear I’m too much of a coward to cross that final threshold. Could I possibly just walk away from this whole life I’ve built?
It’s not much of a life worth living, though. In all honesty, I’m quite ready to be done with it all.
This piece was partially inspired by my favorite author Eve Babitz, who was known for writing semi-fictionalized accounts of her life. Though the story did not end up resembling my life in any way, Babitz’s work helped me develop the character of Winnie and place her in a story that felt right for her. I also experimented with a different writing style and instead of using the traditional narrative form, I wrote a collection of quotes. It was a great challenge and one I’d be excited to try again!
Victoria is a high school senior from Brooklyn, New York. She is studying Aerospace Engineering with the goal of becoming a commercial pilot, but writing has always been her greatest passion. She hopes to one day publish a novel.