Steven Jackson's favorite cartoon as a kid growing up in Las Vegas spoke volumes about the man he would become.
Just by looking at the now 30-year-old Falcons running back, "He-Man" makes a whole lot of sense. At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, his build surely resembles that of The Most Powerful Man in the Universe. But it was Jackson's fascination with He-Man that led him not to the football field, but to an art gallery in West Hollywood, Calif.
The culmination of Jackson's life-long love for animation, art and photography is a 23-piece mixed-media art exhibit that debuts Thursday at Hamilton-Selway Fine Art in Los Angeles.
"I think what piqued my interest in art, to be honest with you, is when I was a young man I just loved cartoons. I loved comic books," Jackson said. "And people like Stan Lee (Marvel Comics) and other creative minds at Walt Disney really formed my mind ... through animations."
Although early aspirations of becoming a cartoonist eventually surrendered to his athletic talents, Jackson never fully abandoned the hobby. Coupled with the relentless bite of the travel bug in his adult years, Jackson began to creatively express himself by photographing the people and places he came across during his trips abroad.
"When I started taking these photographs, I was just documenting my travels for myself and my personal use," Jackson said. "And over the years, of course, you build a catalog, and one of my good friends saw my work, and he really complimented me on it and thought I was a very talented photographer."
That friend was artist and sculptor Michael Kalish, whose notable collectors include Muhammad Ali and Jay Leno, according to his website. The two met at a dinner party of a mutual friend who collects Kalish's work.
"I saw a piece on his wall that was a flower made out of license plates, and I thought, 'How unique something so soft naturally was made out of something so hard,'" Jackson said. "It drew my interest into inquiring who the artist was, and I got in touch with Michael."
The two became fast friends. Since connecting some six or seven years ago, Kalish has encouraged Jackson to pursue art as more than just an offseason hobby.
"To have somebody with that kind of pedigree in my corner, it really pushes for me to feel like I'm not just getting a pat on the back, but he really sees some potential in me," Jackson said.
Which is what brings Jackson to Los Angeles this weekend. With his show, "Looking Forward: Running Back," Jackson will accomplish what some artists spend a good portion of their lives trying to do. He described the opportunity to debut at a gallery such as Hamilton-Selway as a blessing and is eager to prove himself to the art community in the same way he has to the NFL.
Younger athletes who have idolized Jackson for his feats in football may want to take note of his eclectic exploits.
"In the NFL community I just want to be a driving force of inspiration," Jackson said. "I just want to be one of those beacons of light for the young guys behind me and say, you can always follow your path and inspiration and things that you love outside of sports."
Jackson admitted his initial hesitance to share his artistic endeavors with his Falcons teammates, but did invite some of the guys to the show.
One of Jackson's 23 pieces might catch the eye of an athlete. Titled "Game Day," one photograph emulates the running back's mindset as he charges onto the field.
"Of course on Sundays, my style of play is completely opposite of my day-to-day life," Jackson said.
Jackson said the juxtaposition between the personable guy he is sans helmet and the man sporting No. 39 out of the tunnel is what inspired the photograph.
"For those few hours I totally take my job serious," Jackson said. "I believe that if you're not in an Atlanta Falcon jersey, then you're on the wrong side of the fence."
Jackson hopes the exhibit, open from July 17-20, will serve as an example for athletes who tend to pigeonhole themselves based on the expectations of others.
"I hope that me debuting as an artist will allow other guys to see they can do anything."