Artist Interview — Otha “Vakseen” Davis III
Below is the abridged version of the interview conducted on September 21st, 2016. You can find the full video interview here.
Adam Dubbin: So let’s start first… you’re obviously a multifaceted artist. I’ve read your bio and a few of the other interviews that you’ve done. I’d like for you to describe yourself as an artist with all these different moving parts that you’ve got. How would you put yourself out there.
Otha “Vakseen” Davis III: I think simply stated, I’m an artist in the purest form of the word—I’m a creator. A lot of the times when you hear the word “artist” it might apply to one medium: they just paint; they just play this instrument. And with me, I was blessed with a talent that allows me to do what I do in the creative aspect. I firmly believe that I can excel in that. I’ve had a music career—I started as a musician, as a songwriter that transitioned into a career in the music business. That then transitioned into becoming a professional artist. In the same breath, I’ve also done acting and it’s something I really want to get into, but I’m just spending more time mastering my craft. I understand that you can spread yourself too thin, I understand you can do too much. So I’m not afraid of doing too much, I’m just taking my time, staying patient as possible. You know, just creating. I’m an artist that understands business, that understands the importance of the grind, the hustle as it relates to being able to make a living as an artist, being able to actually do you want to do: make a living from that.
AD: You’ve done that quite well and we’ve seen it over and over. Your nom de plume, “Vakseen.” How did you create that? What was the impetus behind you creating this other name… this maybe even, other persona?
Vakseen: I was first a musician and a writer, and I was rapping and writing songs. And as a rapper, my name was a short acronym “IV”, which was short for short for “i.Virus”, and that was short for “infinite virus.” That just means “never ending virus” and that’s kind of what I represented—the last person you want to cross in any aspect. So “Vakseen,” when I started getting into production, that kind of served as the yin to the yang as an artist or as a writer. That’s initially how it began—the cure to that virus, just providing balance and balance is very very important in everything in life. So that’s where it started, and it just kind of blossomed from there. That’s where the “Vakseen” started—as my producer name, and that’s a hat I’ve never taken off—I’m still the producer to this day. That’s why everybody calls me “Vakseen.” So it makes sense. Now I’m a visual artist, a professional visual artist.
It didn’t make sense to transition away from that. I was initially—maybe the first year or so when I was pursuing art after I moved here to L.A.— going by my government name as an artist. Or you would see a lot of Otha “Vakseen”—with quotations—and my last name Davis III. It slowly just began to where I lean more to sticking with “Vakseen.” Honestly, I’m kind of conflicted now because you want your legacy to be there with an authentic name trace. Ironically, I was reading his book this morning and it was talking about the importance of a character if you will. It listed all of these stars from Marilyn Monroe to Sting to Madonna, and it listed all of their real names. You kind of see why people go with an alter ego so to speak. But at the same time, it was amazing because you would never put two and two together unless you were just a super fan.
So where I’m at now, when I do shows nine out of ten times times it is going to say “Vakseen” as far as the cards that are next to my things. But I have started leaning towards “Otha Davis III, professionally known as Vakseen,” just so people can kind of connect the two.
AD: Well what you do have in your favor: “Otha Davis III” is a pretty dope name.
Vakseen: Yeah, I mean, I do I like my name. I love my name. It’s a unique name; it wasn’t that way when I was a child, though. But it’s a mature name and something that always ends up being a conversation piece. So it definitely works. When I looked at that list, I saw some some horrible options. I was like, “OK, that makes sense why they changed their name.” You know, I thought about it before, like just going by Otha. The biggest thing for me, I guess the reason why I’d need that connection, is because I’ve done so much in music with the name “Vakseen” and so many people know me as that that you don’t want to start from scratch when it comes to branding, when it comes to people understanding my work. So I want to make sure that there’s never a question of who is who.
AD: It makes perfect sense. So when you came to Empty Sink for our first issue, you submitted your three pieces and we are branded as “the magazine for intellectual deviants.” What made you at the time, feel like you fit in with that theme, with some of the other things that we had posted on the site that gave everyone an idea of what we stood for. What intrigued you about us?
Vakseen: Just simply stating the fact that you guys were providing a platform for young creators like myself to just share our gift with the world. That’s just very important. There aren’t really a lot of credible genuine platforms, so that there is a connection and you guys ended up being one of my biggest supporters, and that’s something that I forever cherish and I truly am thankful for.
AD: It’s been a pleasure being on the ride with you, and as we move into our next phase I can promise you that you’ll have our continued support from me, Branden and Suanne. You’re right, we were and are about getting people the chance to shine, things that are a little different. Often, these things are an improvement upon the norm and that’s why we like that deviant approach.
Now we were talking a little earlier about you being a multifaceted artist. Is there one particular form of art that you feel you’re the best at or that you enjoyed doing the most?
Vakseen: It even caught me by surprise honestly, and ironically I’ve been into visual art since I was a kid. That’s the medium that I’ve been doing for the longest. But in high school, I got turned off by a teacher I had and art just took the back-burner. At the same time, I got to do some music in early high school, and that that that music bug just really took a hold of things. I never, ever—not once— thought about a career in art. There was a point in time where I was creating music on a day to day basis, and I would fall asleep working on music day in day out. And as I got into the music business, I slowly had less time to create my own projects. I was still creating, but it was in a different form or fashion—just because you’re a producer doesn’t mean that you’re going play all of the notes. You might bring musicians and you might direct guys to do this and that. That’s what somebody on the level of Quincy Jones did. So I was creating, but if I had continued to pursue creating music, maybe the answer would be something different. I probably wouldn’t have ended up getting into art, but the journey took me from creating as a musician and building in the music business, accomplishing all the goals I would want to accomplish as a musician.
I still need and crave that creative outlet, and that opened up the door to getting back into art and to take things seriously and actually pursue it professionally. It was my music business experience that gave me that platform to stand on in that understanding of the entertainment business. There are times where I wish that I was able to invest more time into my music and things maybe could have gone a little differently, but I’m so thankful for producing, because I wouldn’t be in the position that I am now. So to answer the question, I think what I’m doing now, honestly—without being egotistical or anything of that nature—what I’m creating is amazing. I’m really in love with what I do. I create for myself; I can see that first and foremost. And I keep in mind what people like and I pay attention to that kind of thing. But I create for me, truly for me. I trust my taste I trust my intuitions. And I feel like if I think it’s dope, it’s amazing.
AD: You’ve got a great track record there so far—I haven’t seen anything that was short of spectacular.
Vakseen: And you won’t. The good thing about quality control. I have a bunch of concepts laying around my room and I just kind of walk by them and make sure that I love them. I’m not even going to paint it unless I love it. Now granted, there’ll be one or two pieces that I love less than others, but I’m really big on quality and consistency so I can guarantee that you’re never going to see anything subpar coming from me at all. It’s just not going to happen. That’s important for your brand, any brand. You have to have that consistency.
AD: It sounds like you learned that workflow from your music business days, because that really that sounds to me like how one would go about putting together a song—you’ve got riff, you’ve got a certain beat, a hook that you kind of have sitting to the side while you’re working on other things, and you’re like, “You know? Yeah. Now I know where that goes.” So it’s a similar workflow, isn’t it?
Vakseen: Absolutely. I never realized those things in the moment, but when I sat back I was just able to realize that a lot of my creative process is very parallel to the way that I would create as a musician, when I was more hands-on. So it’s just pretty interesting to see how those kinds of things transition over.
AD: So let’s talk a little bit about what inspires you. I want to start with your roots. You’re from basically the area I’m from in North Florida. How does your upbringing and growing up in our region affect your art yesterday and today?
Vakseen: My life experiences go into what I’m creating with my work now. If I have to say one word that my work revolves around it’s “insecurity”—everybody deals with insecurity. And that’s my experience growing up in north Florida: as a chubby kid to an overweight young male. We live in a superficial world, unfortunately. When I moved from Jacksonville to Miami, the atmosphere changed. That’s when my works in the business side of things actually took off, and Miami is a much more superficial city than Jacksonville. It’s at the top when you talk about superficial cities. The only cities I’d say are worse are maybe New York and definitely here in L.A. So that definitely shaped me and I feel like Miami prepared me for what I’ve encountered out here. But at the same time, I saw firsthand how many cosmetic procedures that people—women specifically—go through to fit in with everything else that’s going on.
One of the first things I noticed in a general sense when I moved to Miami was that it was very inspiring, and that’s where I changed my lifestyle to a much healthier one after I lost weight. But it started from the initial observation that everything was on a different level. There’s more money; the scenery is beautiful; the people are beautiful. It was just a step up and those things definitely play off each other, the experience. And then in turn I put into my creative work.
AD: Has being out in L.A. changed things for you, as far as what inspires you? Or are you still rooted in your own experiences?
Vakseen: The irony is that I grew up overweight; now, I’m in great shape. I’m the same person—the same exact person—though I’ve evolved as a man into an intellectual being. But I’m the same person. I don’t really entertain the fakeness that’s out here that kind of ties into it all. Insecurity is still the message because it’s something I still deal with, even though I look differently. We’re talking about 25 years of a certain kind of mentality, of a certain experience, where people definitely act differently. Women act differently, people act differently when you look a certain way. So is it worse? It’s absolutely worse because it’s that dynamic here in L.A. I mean, L.A. is Miami on steroids. Miami prepared me. If I had come to L.A. straight from Jacksonville, it might have been a culture shock. I would have been one of those people who either messed up or ended up getting turned out in that environment. So, if anything, L.A. made my message that much more clear because you see it on a day-to-day basis. You see the cosmetic enhancements everywhere you look: on the billboards, in the magazines. This is the entertainment capital—you have to look a certain way quote unquote to make a living in this business.
My work focuses on women, and what they encounter is just unbelievable. Mind you, I’m speaking from a male point of view, but it’s just something that is consistent across the board, it doesn’t matter what gender you are, you can relate to insecurities. So yeah, I think L.A. definitely fully cemented that I was on the right track with my message.
AD: We actually just started to segue into my next question: Your art features a lot of refreshingly gynocentric themes using positive empowering motifs involving women. Your bio also expresses a strong appreciation, not just for the superficial aesthetics of the woman, but also her inner qualities. Tell me, as a man, how did you come to this understanding?
Vakseen: Well, my mom raised me, so I’ve always had a certain kind of appreciation for women. At the same time, my work revolves around insecurity, my work also revolves around duality. It’s just about the underlying things that would lead you to alter your unique appearance—the way that you were brought into it this world—that’s pretty disturbing to me and it’s just creating carbon copies. In this day and age, it’s incredible to see how quickly that movement has grown. I can’t talk about the specific percentages but year by year, the number of enhancements that are done have grown tremendously.
I don’t know necessarily how someone else could could come to that appreciation but that’s just the way I look at things. None of us would be here without a woman, and no matter how you feel you can’t deny that fact. Everything we do as men is for a woman in one way or another—there’s just a lot of power that women have in general. I like to say that women are God’s greatest creation, just a natural work of art. You can literally just take a picture of a woman and her natural being, whether she’s fully clothed or whatever, and that’s art! How are people not going to love that? I call it the cheat-code—just doing anything that revolves around a woman. But things look very scary for just the women species—we may wake up one day and it’s all just robots—everybody is going to look exactly the same, and it’s going to be an awful nightmare.
AD: I hear you, that’s very dystopian. You think of the ability we have to affect genetics now. Maybe we’ll reach the point where people kind of look at a book and say, “I want this feature, this feature, this feature” and you’re right, that is a very scary future to think of. Hopefully, we will be smart enough to not go down that road. We’ve got artists out there to inspire. Maybe we can prevent that from happening.
Vakseen: I don’t know if I have that much faith in the human race.
AD: I don’t either, but you’ve got to have hope. You’ve got to have hope.
Vakseen: Oh yeah, absolutely.
AD: Some of my favorite pieces you’ve done are the jazz and hip hop series, and you’ve done really incredible pieces. So what I want to ask you is as an African-American how does your experience being African-American affect your art?
Vakseen: The African-American experience is a unique experience. It definitely impacts me because I’m African-American and I’m a male. It doesn’t take a genius to turn on a television or just open up Facebook and you see what’s going on in this day and age. It’s scary, it’s very scary. And that’s the reality of the African-American experience and my personal experience.
Just the fact that I’m African-American is the surest connection to my art. Everything I do is going to have a piece of that attached. But honestly, when it comes to my portraits, my work is more about diversity, and I never really want to pigeonhole myself into one space or one box. If I went to all-black schools all of my life, lived in all-black neighborhoods, then maybe everything I am doing would be impacted by the African-American experience or maybe my work would be a little different. I have always been around diversity since my dad was in the military. I’m actually used to being like one or two of the only African-American kids in class. I went to an all-black school for college for two years, but that was really the extent of that. So there’s always going to be an impact, but I love for my work to speak to a bigger audience. I want to speak to as many people as possible and impact as many lives as possible.
AD: I think that fits you—you’re a very cosmopolitan person in your approach and that diversity is important. I want to talk about the evolution of your art: In the time that you’ve been associated with Empty Sink and maybe slightly before, I’ve sort of noticed an evolution of your work. We’ve got your first three pieces: “The Veils of Carnality,” “Toujours” and “Ignorant Butterflies”—only the last one resembled your current surrealist, cubist style. The other ones were more of a merging and blending type of style. Was there a transition there?
Vakseen: Yes! Funny you bring that up because when we were speaking earlier about when we first connected, I was going to mention that the first few submissions were in my earlier style and we just happened to connect at a point where I was creating, looking for a lane I could call my own. I was just trying to find something that I could put my foot down on and claim was my own. So, it was just a unique period, and “Ignorant Butterflies” was the very first piece that I did in my Vanity Pop style. That’s all you’ll see from me now, aside from the music pieces that I was doing then as well. But it was just a natural progression from the music pieces: the cubism aspect, the colorful palette that I use which is so very apparent in my work now.
It just really evolved, and I knew that I needed to have a distinct style, something that you can expect from me. And the biggest thing, honestly, was that the early creations weren’t challenging me at all. The music pieces I could do in my sleep. It takes me two or three days to do and they’re beautiful—they all sell. But it wasn’t challenging me as a creator and I’m a creator that really loves, appreciates and yearns for substance. I wanted to create something, find something that challenged me consistently.
That first piece just kind of happened organically, and after that I did a few more in that style, and based on the reception, I was just like, “OK, I have something here. Let me continue to create and develop a story,” and that’s just kind of how things unravelled with my Vanity Pop style. In essence, I’m fusing multiple genres: you have that cubism aspect, you have the surrealism, you have the hyper-realism, photorealism, the fashion design. So you have all these different things and it’s like I throw them in a pot like gumbo. That’s how I was able to find my own lane. Similarly, I always tell people in music when consulting artists–that’s how you create your own sound, that’s how new sounds are being created now. So, I just pretty much just did the same thing with art—found my lane and from there it’s just been about creating, mastering it for the past few years. I’ve been a professional artist since 2011—that’s not that long ago—and I’ve been mastering the Vanity Pop style for the past three years.
AD: The word I would use from what I’ve noticed is “matured.” There’s a maturation process that you’ve gone through with that, going from “Ignorant Butterflies” to all the different things. Like you said, you’re adding different elements—each recipe you’ve got a different spice you’re adding to it, a little something different. And I can feel that you’ve come into a zone, like a baseball player who’s hitting home runs or the rock star who can just wail every time—you’re in that zone right now.
Vakseen: I am honestly, man. It’s funny you say that because I am, and I’m in a real pocket right now—I’m having fun. I know what it is that people love and expect from me. So I think the biggest thing for me—the biggest challenge for me at this point—is dumbing down my creations to keep things in pace. Because where I’m at mentally with my creations is probably a few years ahead and I have to really scale back. So I’m glad you see that. I want each piece to be different and truly unique to itself. Making sure that happens is definitely a must, but also keeping it in pocket until it’s time. But then I’m like, “Well, there’s so many people that haven’t seen them.” So I can’t get into that mentality just because I see them so often.
AD: So since you’re in this zone, do you have a ritual that you go through for creating your art, or do you have certain activities that you do to inspire yourself, or does it all just kind of come spontaneously to you?
Vakseen: I get inspiration from high-end fashion magazines—more so foreign fashion magazines, because they’re a lot more edgy and ahead of us when it comes to different trends of fashion and things of that nature. So I get a lot of inspiration there. I’ll have my own shoots to get those those juicy lips or those eyes that people love. Not all the time, but there’s always a mixture of things going on and I create my concept small scale, maybe an 8″x8″. It varies because I have some concepts that are 8″x8″, some that are 12″x12″… 20″x20″… It just depends.
So I just create the ideas and concepts for these portraits on average in a matter of five minutes or so—I come up with the concept and I leave them once I feel like they’re done. I just leave them out to make sure to progress as I continue to create. But honestly, the way I move, I spend more time on marketing than I actually do creating, and I don’t actually consider painting “creating” because of the work of it—my concept is already done and that’s the actual creating part. I just came to terms recently within this year that I need to develop my creative output, because that’s going to allow me to grow that much quicker, as opposed to doing them one by one.
AD: You mentioned that you’re always looking to be challenged as well. It sounds like you’re putting more of an industrious attitude towards it. It’s challenging a little more isn’t, it?
Vakseen: Oh, it definitely is challenging. The biggest challenge now is that I’ll have these six pieces out and I feel like I love them. And then I might be ready to start on this specific next piece, but then all of a sudden I love this other piece. I’m that much more excited about another concept that I had laying around, so then that becomes the problem. I’m still figuring it out. Day-to-day is just that: figuring life out. Can’t say there’s a set protocol of how things are supposed to go or what to expect, but there’s definitely a general consistency there.
AD: Now you mentioned putting a lot of effort into your marketing. One of the things that I have noticed—and the way that I’ve followed you these past several years—is your presence on social media. You’re really active on social media and you’re especially attentive to your audience and your fans on an intimate level, and I’ve always admired this; I think it’s just something that’s really cool about you. Explain to me how that has affected your success, and if the feedback you get from your fans and your followers influences your art at all.
Vakseen: I think it has definitely impacted my success. I would not be successful without people like you, without people that support what I’m doing when I’m creating, whether it’s supporting or featuring me, or whether it’s purchasing some of the artwork or even just following what I’m doing and leaving comments. That’s very important. I’ve been an underdog all my life and nothing has ever been handed to me. I’m a consumer and I think a lot of times most creators, they lose sight that we’re consumers as well. So, in a general sense, I treat people how I want to be treated. That’s just kind of my a model that I live by in life.
When it comes to moving as a brand, there’s no team, there’s “me.” I do everything for myself. So it’s an absolute must that I interact with everyone and that I stay active, because as a consumer if I spend one cent on a product you created, that’s time, that’s energy, that’s money—all are extremely valuable. Those are all things that I don’t think people appreciate enough when they’re in a position to have a brand or product present. Imagine you’re a fan of McDonald’s and you send McDonald’s a tweet and then they don’t reply or they don’t say anything. I’m sure that kind of stuff happens, but it’s like, “Really, you’re too big to interact with the people that keep you eating, that keep you alive?” Without that interaction, I wouldn’t be making a living. Period. So I owe all of this to them and I’m always going to interact with my fans—it’s even bigger now than ever because in this day and age a lot of galleries are doing the same.
The great thing about the digital age we live in is you can cut out the middleman. I have a lot of amazing relationships with galleries, thank God. But I made a post recently where I sold one of my pieces, “Ribbon in her Eyes,” to one of my Instagram followers. I was honestly little leery, because I sold on social media before, but it was always to somebody that I knew. This was a complete stranger who follows me. Loved my work. He asked me to send him a picture of some other pictures of the piece, asides from what’s on my website, which is just the digital image. I always shoot for above and beyond in everything I do—I think that ties into this conversation as well. I not only sent him pictures, but I also sent him video. I just want to be sure you see everything that you want to see. Obviously, I know there is a potential sale at stake, but for me, whether you buy now, whether you buy later, whether you’re a fan… it’s all about the long run, it’s all about longevity. So everything I’m doing is to make sure that my brand has longevity. It’s all just a cycle—you feed off of each other. I honestly never really understand those creators that don’t interact with fans or reply to comments or things of that nature, unless they just don’t have the time. But you could still hire somebody to do that kind of thing because it goes so, so far. I’ve had so many times where people show up to gallery shows, people approached and said that they saw it on social media. That happens so often. So that’s important.
AD: You mentioned something there about feeding off and one of the other things I’ve noticed with social media is that you have a very positive message and you’re constantly giving back to your fans and followers by offering self-empowering themes. Can you tell me the message that you want to get across to your followers and in more depth than just a 140 character tweet or a short Facebook post? What is the message that you’re trying to get out to people about believing in themselves and self-empowerment?
Vakseen: “Self-empowerment”: that sums it up. Loving yourself a thousand percent, it’s something that’s really taken for granted, and it’s something that first-hand I can speak on, because I haven’t always loved myself a thousand percent. I haven’t. It’s something that I’m still working on to this day. So I think it’s important because it’s something that we all deal with. Who feels that they’re perfect in a realistic conversation? So I’m a real positive person, that’s always been who I am, full of love. Not in a cliche way, but that’s just how I move. You know, peace, love, happiness. “Vakseen” represents being mature—which means we could talk about and complain about anything that’s going on in this world, or you can take action and be the change that we want to see, you know. So, I could talk about how hateful people are, I could talk about this and that, but my walk reflects differently, my walk reflects what I want, what I choose to represent and what I want to see in the world, and what better than to share that gift with the world—whether you follow suit or not.
I’m sharing my gift and making an impact the best way possible through the art. We have negativity and all that horrible stuff on a day-to-day basis. So I just share the things that I want to see; I share things that touch me, messages that come to me and touch me. “OK, this touched me?” Let me share it with somebody else because it has to impact somebody else because we’re all connected in some form or fashion. You know, we’re not that different.
AD: I couldn’t agree more. I want to touch on something real quick. “Vakseen” is not just a United States phenomenon. Now, you’ve gone international. I know you’ve been out in Korea and a few other places. Tell me a little bit about the expansion of your enterprise.
Vakseen: Last year, we took our first trip up to Korea and kind of dove into the K-Pop world, and it’s been incredible—really, really been incredible. Surely a blessing that they were receptive to what we’re creating. Basically, I have my team of producers and songwriters, and we’re working with S.M. Entertainment, which is one of the top companies—if not the top company—in K-Pop, and we’ve officially partnered up to where we’re writing songs for the artists. While you can talk to plenty of people that have never heard of their artists, we’re talking about artists that have gone platinum in a week. And that’s not happening here in the U.S. Honestly, what I really love about the opportunity is that they allowed us to just be us as creators. Everything that you would want to do as a creator here in the U.S., you’re kind of kept in a box and you’re not allowed to do those things. But in Korean culture, they’re huge on musicality, they love experimentation, they love mastering the craft. So you get to really show out and flex with all of the talents that you have as a creator. We get more appreciation as musicians overseas than you might get here working in the business. It’s funny, because I’ve had success here, I’ve had success overseas—one of my biggest records period is a worldwide international hit. I’ve definitely seen a worldwide success.
Honestly I love to travel. I love to be engaged with different cultures. And that’s exactly what this opportunity is and it’s just really blossomed into a fruitful relationship, and it’s just the beginning. Literally, we’ve been there in the market for just a year and thus far we have, I believe, seven releases. I think three of them are on one album and all of them have been on number one albums. I want to say I have close to 20 more records that are definitely releasing and almost 30 total records within a year. This is setting me up for the future and bigger than anything, the things I’ve done in music help me pursue art the way that I want to, because I’m doing very well in art on a business level. But between the two, it balances everything out to where I can really focus and not have to go work a nine-to-five working for somebody else.
AD: I’m sure plenty of people are envious of your position. But you worked really hard to get there, you know?
Vakseen: You’re right, you’re very right. I’ve worked in the music business for 11-12 years now professionally. I’ve been pursuing music collectively for over 20 years. That’s a lot of work put in to be in the position where I am now. Since I moved to L.A., I have been working for myself and thank God, that’s what the rest of my life looks like—that’s how it looks like things will be.
AD: So I want to ask you a couple of quick questions here as we sort of wrap up. So first of all, who’s your favorite contemporary artist. It can be visual or musical, it doesn’t matter.
Vakseen: Honestly, I know some of the greats in art but I’m a fan of creators, period. So I go out and just experience art. Any time there’s an art show, I’m there. But to say I have a favorite? It’s a funny question, because I never truly locked in with anyone in that aspect. To put somebody else on a on a level of being an idol to me—that’s kind of what I’d put that question parallel to. So I just don’t look at creativity that way. There’s a lot of people that I really appreciate. Obviously I’m in L.A., so I’m seeing more of the artists that are showing here and there’s so many dope artists here. I do some curating as well, so I get first-hand exposure to a lot of artists. So, not to dance around your question, but that’s just a little backstory of why it won’t specifically be answered. But musician-wise, there’s a lot of artists that I really love and appreciate what they’re doing. I mean, hip-hop is my foundation. That’s my background. That’s always been my favorite but I just love music in general. Jazz, Rock, you know, R&B Soul, you name it. I love music. I have an appreciation for it. I mean, I love what Kendrick Lamar’s doing. On the opposite end of the spectrum I love what Future’s doing; huge D’Angelo fan; I just went and saw Parliament Funkadelic last weekend; I love the O.G. musicians that we have to thank for the hip hop culture. So, I listen a lot of different music.
AD: So speaking of hip hop, this is an argument a buddy of mine and I have and I like to ask other people what their opinion is—Dr. Dre versus Ice Cube: who is more successful?
Vakseen: Oh man, that’s a good question. It’s a good question because off the top I would say Dre—in a blink, the first impulse is Dr. Dre. That’s my first impulse because you got to think, not only did he produce all these classics. You’ve got to think Eminem—that’s his publishing. Fifty Cent. Snoop. Kendrick. It’s all these major stars he created, these artists, they’re signed to his label, so he’s seeing a good chunk of that success. Not to mention Beats by Dre, which is huge. But the part that makes me say, “Hmmm,” is the fact that Ice Cube has been so successful in Hollywood movies. When you put movies and music on a scale, movies hold so much more weight than music. Honestly, music is chump change compared to movies. So that’s what kind of makes me say, “Hmmm,” and he has the major successes of your movies like “Friday” and things of that nature, but that’s a great question. I think I’ll stick with that initial impulse: Dr. Dre.
AD: I’ll go with that. I’ll tell you that my answer is Ice Cube, really based the reason that you said—his facial recognition is far more broad than Dre’s. I had always felt that people who answer “Dre” focus more on his monetary success, whereas I feel like Ice Cube has been able to succeed on a lot greater, wider field than Dre. So it is a good question, and I’m very happy with your answer.
This may be an easier question, or may make you think a bit. What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon, back in the day?
Vakseen: I don’t know if it was on Saturday, but He-Man. I was a He-Man junky—I had all the real action figures, I have pictures of me with He-Man birthday cakes and all that good stuff. He-Man, hands down. I was definitely a huge Thundercats fan, too; I can name a bunch of other things, but He-Man hands down.
AD: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Vakseen: Fakeness. I probably have a few pet peeves—people not following through with what they say, people not being accountable… But fakeness is probably the worst and that’s been a challenge living here in L.A. It’s been a challenge because this is a city that thrives on that culture.
AD: You’ve done a lot of traveling. What are your top three favorite cities around the world?
Vakseen: L.A. is definitely one of them. Rome was amazing. Definitely. On the basis of consistency I have to say Miami as of right now. Because Miami holds a sentimental value, because that’s where my life got started and Miami is an amazing place that people come to from around the world to spend time there. Living there for seven, eight years was just amazing. That’s the reason why we’re talking—if I hadn’t lived there, we would have never been talking, right?
So it started my career—at least taking my career and life to another level—but even bigger than just my career or just the experience is the culture in L.A. and Miami versus anywhere else. I’ve really enjoyed all the places I’ve been to. As much as I want to say Seoul, the two times I’ve been to South Korea it’s been for business. I love it, but I haven’t been able to really, really dive in like I want to. So it’s just about the consistency, like I said. Those are my answers for right now. Next time we have an interview it’ll be different.
AD: That’s a good sign that you’re constantly evolving. So wrapping up here. What’s in store for Vakseen in 2017?
Vakseen: Evolution. I have a lot of great things in the works. Funny, somebody reached out to me trying to see if I would be a part of a show that they’re doing today. I actually had to turn it down because I’m pretty booked throughout the end of the year, going into February. I just got my first grant! You know, technically I’m not supposed to be talking about it, so you won’t see it on social media or anything but I’ll share it with you. It’s my first grant with the City of L.A and I was given a sculpture to create: it’s an angel sculpture and the theme is, “We are the future,” and what that means to us. So that’s something that I’m working on now. I have a lot of great gallery shows coming up through the end of the year. It’s just about evolving, taking one day at a time. Just growing continuously, releasing the highest quality material possible, bringing new people into my circle if you will, bringing in new followers and fans, new supporters, looking for different opportunities to really expand. I just believe in not talking about things until they actually are in stone.
I’m very, very excited, actually. You’ve got to keep in mind that I’ve been a professional artist for five years now. So it’s incredible the things I’ve been able to accomplish in five years. I think it has caught a lot of people off guard, and when I talk to certain people I really respect in the gallery world or in the art world—whether it’s gallery owners, curators or what have you—they always let me know, “We’ve never seen an artist with your thought process, with your hustle,” and, that lets me know that I’m on the right path. It’s just about continuing to create these strategic alliances, continuing to get my merchandise into bigger outlets. I definitely want to dive more into the fashion side of things that revolve around my designs. So just one day at a time, not getting too overwhelmed, too ahead of myself, and just keeping things organic. That’s truly, truly, truly one of the biggest and most important things about me as a creator. Everything is organic and everything is about the vibe, the energy—nothing can be forced. Everything just has to fall into the right place naturally, and that’s what happens.
AD: I love it! The process apparently works too.
AD: So my last question: what advice do you have for any aspiring artists out there who are listening to or reading this? What kind of wisdom can impart upon them?
Vakseen: Cultivate a lifetime of experience, which is definitely why I share so much. So hopefully, people can avoid and embrace the mistakes I’ve made. You know, understand that nothing’s the end of the world. Work your ass off, but work smart not hard. Always strategize, always have goals that you’re working towards—strategic movements are so imperative. Key relationships are everything, your relationships are everything— it’s not who you know, but who knows you. Consistency: consistently quality content—that’s huge. There’s so much that I can share and that I’m always willing to share with up-and-coming talent. Just trust yourself—I think that’s probably one of the bigger things. Trust yourself and trust your judgment. One thing about this journey—what I’m creating now, my Vanity Pop paintings—they’re unique. Nobody’s ever seen something like this. But I can tell you that it’s challenging when you’re doing something that’s unique. But it’s the most rewarding. I can tell you that I get plenty of “Noes” and I know it’s not because of the quality. Because I know my quality’s on point, but a lot of times people don’t know what to do with it.
Most people don’t necessarily have vision, and a lot of times it’s about the bandwagon—who’s on board with x y z. I’ve had so many gallery curators tell me that a gallery’s going to be concerned with your social media following if they want to show you in the gallery. What do you mean? I’m concerned with your following, I understand it, I definitely get it, but point being is it takes a little longer when you’re doing something truly unique. I can tell you when I truly transitioned from my older style that you saw to the Vanity Pop style, I went from when I had everything sold to nothing—to this day, I might have to two pieces left from the older style. When I made that initial transition, I didn’t sell one of those Vanity Pop style pieces for a little bit over a year—so I went from selling everything to not selling a thing. I would sell prints but not originals. But then that second year, I got the first sale, and then slowly, slowly one after the other they started to pick up to where they’re selling consistently now. Even now, when I do the music pieces they sell like that [snaps fingers]—by the time I post the first work in progress shot on social media, they’re typically sold.
If I hadn’t believed in myself, if I hadn’t been persistent knowing that I was on onto something, I would have gave it up. And I’ve seen so many creators do that, whether it’s trying to look like the kind of artist that’s hot, whether it’s going chasing after a style, or what have you. You want to have your own unique voice, your own lane, and have that patience and understanding, but it might not happen overnight. But as long as you trust what you’re doing and you’re doing something great, it’s going to happen.
AD: Well we’ll be sure to share all of your social media contacts so our audience can follow you and learn alongside of you as you go on to continue your path. I want to thank you very much for spending time with me today. It’s been a great talk. I hope that you’ve had a good time too. We will talk again hopefully in the near future. Good luck with everything.
Vakseen: Man, thanks so much. I appreciate you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity and like I said, you’ve been one of my day-one supporters and that means the world to me. So thank you so much. We’ll definitely continue to build. And best of luck in the new endeavors as well.
AD: Thank you very much! Take care man.
While working on hit records in the music industry has played a driving force in his career, it’s Vakseen’s (born Otha Davis III) passion for the arts that has served as his key to sanity in the fast paced entertainment business. The self-taught, Floridian has developed a distinct collage-influenced painting style (Vanity Pop) that fuses elements of cubism, photorealism, fashion design and pop surrealism into vibrantly alluring, abstract portraits. While most viewers assume they’re viewing collage or mixed media art, each #VakseenArt creation is in fact meticulously hand painted directly on canvas. Drawing distinct inspiration from our fascination with popular culture, his gallant paintings are a celebration of women, beauty, duality, insecurity and self preservation. Currently based in Los Angeles, his paintings have been featured by major brands like Adidas, Complex, Vibe, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Juxtapoz Magazine and Tupac Shakur’s estate, to name a few. In addition to being sold to collectors and art enthusiasts, his art has been shown in countless gallery exhibitions and featured in over 100 magazines worldwide. To view #Vakseenart visit VakseenArt.com.
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