The Peace in Perfection: Blurring Perception and Reality
Gallery 30 South, Pasadena
closed September 29
Written by Genie Davis
Vakseen, a.k.a. Otha Davis III, is a self-taught artist creating vibrant art that contains elements that resemble puzzle pieces, look as if they could be collage or mixed-media, and are in fact, hand-painted fragments of, appropriately enough, perfection. Moving between cubism and photorealism, offering literal slices of beauty in a framework that also reflects elements of pop art, the artist is above all else a true original.
His art style, which he refers to as “Vanity Pop”, is a celebration of women. The works examine beauty standards, fashion, insecurity, and self-preservation. He describes his process as being like that of a “cosmetic surgeon,” collaging features together to bring his ideas to fruition, then hand-painting a finished work until he has reached a successful goal — blurring the line between what is perceived and what is real.
The artist takes on the concept of the ways in which we as a society, and women in particular, fragment themselves in an on-going search for acceptance. He describes his art as a mirror that reflects the “surreal and superficial times” of the present moment, and questions the excessive value we place on the superficial elements of beauty in society as a whole.
Of his solo exhibition at Gallery 30 South, Vakseen adds that his work here represents the fact that the world is driven by unrealistic standards. “With that as the foundation of each piece, I paint these abstract portraits that are juxtaposed with diverse, “perfect” features. My portraits are basically a visual conversation about our society’s idolization of beauty, the cosmetic enhancements endured to meet the status quo, and the impact this has on popular culture,” he relates.
His process of creation is inspired from foreign fashion magazines, he notes. “The more obscure, the better. From there I’ll either do my own shoots or keep specific portions of shoots that really grab my attention. I usually spend a few of hours just cutting up photos and categorizing pieces into folders; so, when it’s time to create concepts I can just create with the least amount of effort. The actual process of creating each portrait is truly an organic, thoughtless process. I’m simply there in the moment, allowing God to use me. That’s the best way I can explain it because I’m usually just as amazed with the outcome as my supporters are.”
According to Vakseen, “Every person/portrait has a story to tell, so I just start adding and subtracting pieces to my concept until they feel perfect. Once my ideas are in place and I have certain components in mind for how I want the final piece to look, I’ll usually start painting and make adjustments along the way.”
He explains that his vivid palette is “simply a reflection of who I am, my 90’s upbringing in Florida, and my personal tastes. My work is also driven by emotion so my palette really helps emphasize certain feelings.”
In his current show, backgrounds range from a lemon-yellow to rich purple, deep yellow, zebra pattern, dark aqua – you name it, the background is vivid to the extreme. As to the dissected faces, his visceral red and glossy pink lips, perfectly eye-shadowed eyes, and soft, high cheek bones all reflect a vibrant use of color that grabs the viewer immediately, locking in the attention necessary to truly engage with the works. With its disparate yet connected pieces, the perfectly crafted images are hauntingly familiar, broken yet connected. Within the images of these facial features, Vakseen adds bits of other realistic ephemera – a playing card, a crown, a flower, a section of a hand that is clad in an outlandish ring. In some images, more surreal elements appear – a nose is replaced by a triangular section of bright, solid colors, or an intense print piece that resembles a swatch of fabric. In one piece, one of the two disparate eyes depicted, trails soft, pearl like tears.
Each of the images is precise, perfect in execution; the eyes are hyper-real, the surreal elements when they appear are just as photo-perfect.
Vakseen began cultivating the creation of these almost puzzle-like compositions over the course of the last 6 years. “Creative growth and evolution are very important in my process. I’ve been mastering my “Vanity Pop” style since 2013, so there’s been a lot of growth since that first painting. From the fine detail to my composition and juxtaposition, my art naturally evolves with my view of the world and pop culture trends. You can expect consistency in quality but my art will always change,” he relates.
The artist will be featured in his fourth museum exhibition at the Ontario Museum of History & Art and participate in a large group show at ChimMaya Gallery, both in October. He’s also curating an LA billboard space and preparing for few music releases. Like his rather astonishing paintings, he’s a sum of a variety of parts. “You can stay in the loop on things on VakseenArt.com,” he suggests.