American Arcanum

Overstreet Ducasse chronicles secret realms through the prism of popular culture

(a work from Overstreet Ducasse’s recent series, “Rock Paper Scissors.”)

Symbols, identities and dreams all merge in the visionary work of Overstreet Ducasse. The 37 year old Riverside based artist creates highly engaging works that address everything from politics and religion to national identity, yet rather than issuing his messages with the heavy hand of a zealot, Ducasse instead creates compositions that are guided more by a soft secrecy, a personally defined order of ciphers, logos and archetypes. Born in Haiti, at the age of six Ducasse moved to South Florida with his family. Encouraged by his parents to pursue his obvious childhood skills at illustration, in his adolescent years Ducasse began utilizing various paints to express his burgeoning creative desires. While in his late teens and early twenties, Ducasse discovered the music and mythology of the NYC hip hop pedagogues known as the Wu-Tang Clan, who he credits with inspiring not only his work but even subsequent life philosophy and worldview.

While Ducasse is quick to dismiss the comparison, visually his work finds some affinity with the Surrealist movement of the early 20th century. Faceless figures and grinning celebrities are juxtaposed alongside religious and occult-like icons, as objects as disparate as batteries, food and familiar product brands are seemingly chosen for their numerological and metaphysical values. Yet unlike the at times-rigid or manifesto-driven work of those same cerebral predecessors, Ducasse seems more directed by his recurring motifs and concepts by way of a loose and ever-changing system that is expressed in the form of various series.

A local resident since 2004, Ducasse has shown in group and solo shows at venues as varied as the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum and the Art Center Cooperative. Along with creative cohorts Adrian Rhodes and Roosevelt Watson III, Ducasse formed the group-movement that the trio call the “Deepressionists,” whose title addresses both the mindset and plight of contemporary artists. Once again Ducasse is also participating in the group show “Through Our Eyes,”  an annual show curated by Lydia Stewart that is displayed at The Ritz Theater and Museum. This year will be the twentieth anniversary of the show, which opens on Dec. 13 and runs through June of next year. In March, Ducasse will also be featured in (the tentatively-titled) “The Americans,” group show at CoRK where he will be joined by peers Dustin Harewood and Princess Rashid.

Starehouse spoke with Ducasse on the evening of Tuesday, November 20 at his studio that is located on the same block that houses CoRK, Intuition Ale Works and MetaCusp studios. What follows is a verbatim transcript of much of our talk.

DRAWN INTO PAINTING, ROAD SCHOLAR AND THE THREE ROSES

Starehouse: Are you spending a lot of time here in the studio?

Overstreet Ducasse: I am constantly going back and forth to Miami because my sister had a baby and I would say in the last month or so, this is the longest that I have actually been here.

S.: Well give me the grand tour.

O.D.: (walks over and opens giant panel-like windows on side of room and points out to train tracks) Well, this is nice. You get the train going by all of the time and it gives you a good feeling… (laughs) like you are somewhere.

(We walk over to where Ducasse keeps an array of different picture frames, paints and materials)

O.D.: This is where I store all of my stuff. I have plenty of frames, canvasses, tools and paints…

S.: You are pretty organized. You need to go for the “Francis Bacon”-look with your place. Have you ever seen pictures of his studio?

O.D.: Nah.

S.: It’s a complete mess. It looks like someone threw a grenade into a studio and blew paint tubes everywhere and some paintings somehow landed on the wall. It is awesome. I think they actually moved it piece by piece into a gallery or museum. (looking at shelves of various paints) So you use mixed media, right?

O.D.: Yeah, I use enamel, acrylic, oil – you know, whatever.

S.: So did you start with oil and then kind of work your way out from that?

O.D.: When I was in, I think, junior high school, I was very, very good with pencil. Do you know Adrian Pickett (referring to local pencil artist)?

S.: Yeah, yeah he has a gallery at the Landing.

O.D.:  When I first started doing art in high school that’s what I used to do, stuff like highly realistic images.

S.: Did you use different grades of pencil, like soft and hard pencils or charcoal as well?

O.D.: No, just one kind, usually maybe an Ebony pencil. My junior high school teacher saw that I could draw really well. So she tried to make me paint. And I didn’t know painting was going to be such a difficult task (chuckles).  She introduced me to oil paint first and I thought that it would have been easier for me to use acrylic.

S.: Right.

O.D.: So I’m over here playing around with the oil paints (gestures in air with painting motion) and it did not go well (laughs).

S.: Was it the fluidity of the paint that was weird?

O.D.: I think it was just the fact that it was a wet medium and it took forever to dry and you have to be very conscious of what you are doing. I was not ready for that yet. So from junior high to high school it took me a really long time to say, “You know what? Let me try painting.” But once I actually started to really try something, I did use an oil-based paint to do a portrait of my sister. That’s what kind of motivated me.

S.: What – to paint her?

O.D.: Yeah. Everything needs a certain time and place since all of the sudden I wanted to try painting, had a picture of my little sister that I began to draw and I just happened to try using oil-based house paint. I used gasoline to thin the paint (laughs) but the painting turned out very, very well and that totally motivated me.

S.: So you were a high school aged kid when you really started painting?

O.D.:  Yeah.

(Overstreet Ducasse photographed in his Riverside-based studio – Tuesday, November 20th at 8 p.m.)

S.: When we were out the other night, I asked your sister Rose if she was also an artist and she seemed almost emphatic in saying “no.” Are you the only artist in your family?

O.D.: Well, technically she is an artist.

S.: Really? I wonder if she thought I said something else! Now I’m kind of worried about what she thought I had said (laughs)… it was loud as hell in that restaurant and there was like eight people talking at once. Maybe she didn’t want to steal your thunder since it was your birthday party.

O.D.: Well, there are four of us. I’m the second oldest. I have an older sister who lives in Albuquerque, which is the reason I live in Jacksonville.

S.: What’s the correlation there?

O.D.: I was working at one point doing a union job and the job allowed me to travel. So I was in South Florida, Philly, and Texas and eventually we had a job in California. So the one woman you met at the dinner, Dana, lived in California and we used to date. When I went out there to live we reconnected. When she was in college, she went to Florida State and I was living in Tallahassee. That’s where we first met. Ironically, even though I was from Miami, when I lived there [Tallahassee] a lot of my friends I met there were from Jacksonville. After I was there for so many years, I wound up doing the nuclear plant job when I started doing all of this traveling.

S.: What was the job?  Like engineering?

O.D.: No, it was not that serious. Basically, since it’s a union job there are two jobs, the Boilermaker Union and the Labor Union. So if you go in as a laborer, you are given assignments like “confined space” where you are monitoring people working in a space, checking the air and making sure it’s breathable and those kinds of things.

S.: How old were you?

O.D.: Wow, let me think

S.: And happy birthday, today no less. What are you 36?

O.D.: Thanks. No, 37.

S.: Lemme tell you, it gets better and better – I say from up here on 40 year old mountain.

O.D.: (laughs) I left high school in went to Miami Dade College for maybe a year, less than a year.

S.: Did you study art at college?

O.D.: No, I did not.

S.: Totally self-taught?

O.D.: Yeah. I had AP art when I was in high school, but then after I graduated I really didn’t want to do anything that was art related. I went to Miami Dade, I went to FCCJ, but I didn’t actually take a college course in art until I moved to Jacksonville. I had Larry Davis – very, very good teacher. I was very fortunate to have him. And I also had Dustin Harewood.

S.: Is that right? Man, he is a killer artist.

O.D.: Yeah. We are actually doing a show at CoRK.

S.: Oh yeah. When is that?

O.D.: That is in the first week of March.

S.: He’s a good dude.

O.D.: The show is me, Dustin and Princess Rashid.

S.: So let me get back to how you wound up here. You had friends in Tallahassee?

O.D.: Yeah, it was weird. All of my friends were from here. I think there might have been this strange rivalry between people from Miami and people from Jacksonville.

S.: Well, people just find reasons to not get along, don’t they? And you had to pick a side and choose who was cooler?

O.D.: (laughs)  Yeah, yeah. So what ended up happening is after I think four or five years of living in Tallahassee, my friend Kenson had just joined this union and he was traveling, doing all of these jobs and he sounded very, very excited. I was not really doing anything and he said, “hey man, you need to come down to Tennessee and work with me…”

S.: Plus it was union so I guess the pay was good.

O.D.: The pay was good, plus I was used to working some crazy jobs. And I had worked with my father when I was nine years old until I was a teenager. My father was a construction worker and he used to build houses from the foundation up. The only thing he didn’t do on a house was electrical.

S.: So what did you do with your dad? Were you like his assistant?

O.D.: Yeah, I was his assistant. We did roofing, drywall, the foundation, the plumbing – everything. It was just raw. We carried and mixed our own cement by hand with a shovel (laughs) so I was used to doing really, really hardcore work.

S.: So a union gig was a step up from that!

O.D.: Exactly, so I get in the union and I suddenly have rights (laughs) and if I want to change a light bulb I have to go get the light bulb from storage and hand it to someone who is certified…(laughs) “We need to write down the exact time that the light bulb was put in.”  And between myself and maybe three friends, we were the youngest of the bunch, working with people who were in their forties, fifties and sixties who were used to this. But I was used to working hard at a very early age from what my father taught me. And I get on this job and some of these guys that are older than me are like some of the laziest men I have ever met in my life (laughs).

S.: That’s why I am pro union!

O.D.: (laughs) I’m not against it! It’s really about respect and everybody has a job and there’s a team.

S.: How long was your union career in total?

O.D.: About three years.

S.: So what started out as an adventure kind of turned into a profession?

O.D.: Absolutely. The good thing about it was that it was a very good paying job and you had the chance to travel. I was in Tennessee, Georgia, Philly, California, Texas, Arizona, South Florida – I saw parts of the country I would have probably never seen.

(Union of Imagery: Ducasse spent years traveling and working throughout the country before settling in Jacksonville in 2004.)

S.: I thought I read in your interview in Folio Weekly where you talked about how you did some of your best work in that kind of confined space while doing that job.

O.D.: This painting (points towards a piece from his “Aquarius” series) was from then.

S.: How dangerous was this gig? Did you have to wear hazmat suits and that whole deal?

O.D.: Oh yeah, it was very dangerous.

S.: This is like that “Offshore Scuba Diver” type shit. “Men, one of you probably won’t make it back!”

O.D.: (laughs) Absolutely! Before we walked into the space where there might be hot materials or radiation you have to be completely geared up with the hazardous material suits, the gloves, the hat and facemask.

S.: Did they do the “Silkwood” scrub down if you walked in glowing?

O.D.: You have two different types of devices to measure radiation. One measures your, I guess life time dose of radiation and the other one reads your daily dose. Everything is how you would imagine. You walk into the place, there’s the hand geometry reader.

S.: So it was some “007” type stuff?

O.D. Yeah, then you walk in  they have guards and while I’m not a gun enthusiast (laughs) I believe they were holding M-16s and their hands are on the triggers. It’s a serious deal and before you are even given clearance you have to pass certain tests, like psychological tests.

S.: Are they measuring your mental stability? Like “do you enjoy making homemade nuclear weaponry”?

O.D.: Yeah (laughs).

S: So you eventually lost the job. And is this when you were in California?

O.D.: Yeah, there was a period of kind of a depression because I didn’t have a degree and I had lost this very good job that paid very, very well. I was living with a friend and that point I thought, “ Look – I have to get over this depression. I am here in California” and everybody’s telling me, and I do believe, okay this is a sign from God that I am an artist in Southern California, which was the perfect place. But then there’s another side of me is the way that I was raised, which is to always work hard. And I had lost my that job.

S.: So you were kind of torn as to what to do?

O.D.: Yes, but I decided to stay in California and do this little art thing and go to Venice Beach.

S.: Did you plug into the arts scene there?

O.D.: I did but actually I don’t think that I pursued it as much as I could have.

S.: So I’m confused, how old are you at this point?

O.D.: Oh it’s hard to tell (laughs) – let’s see, I graduated in 1995, I probably lived in Tallahassee in ’96 and 97, I started traveling with the job in 2000, 2001 – so I think it was somewhere between 2003 and 2004. I moved to Jacksonville in 2004.

S.: So you were 29 or 30. Were you showing there at any galleries or anything?

O.D.: Yeah, yeah I did some shows. I had some things in places on Santa Monica Boulevard, almost like these Five Points-style boutique stores. I did some minor murals for some businesses.

S.: So you tried to be involved.

O.D.: Yeah I was definitely involved but I don’t think that I was that motivated as I am in Jacksonville.

S.: So how did you get here? I think I keep taking us off point.

O.D.: So remember I have three sisters. All of them, for some reason or another, was living in Jacksonville. After they graduated from college they were all here at once.

S.: Maybe serendipity to get you over here.

O.D.: Right. Probably so. My middle sister was moving back to Miami because she was going to get married.

S.: What’s her name?

O.D.: Rose. All three of them are named Rose.

S.: Is that right?!

O.D.: Three Roses and an Overstreet (laughs). So my older sister, who I totally have the utmost respect for since she is the genius-brainiac of the family, was always a straight “A” student and went to Stanford University and was studying Pre-Med. But she decided to go into Chiropractic Medicine instead because all throughout her life she had migraines. And she tried everything but nothing helped her. But she had a chiropractic alignment and her headaches disappeared. So she devoted herself to that. She went from a medical doctor to a holistic doctor. Anyway, my younger sister moved here first from UF since she had a job offer with Merrill Lynch. Then my middle sister moved here to study Forensic Psychology and she had a job where she was dealing with mental patients, but she wasn’t totally happy with that (laughs)  And my younger sister convinced her to work with her doing the financial things. Then my older sister, who had been in California, Atlanta and Tennessee, was looking for a place to finally have her own practice. Jacksonville was pretty reasonable as far as the startup cost and she called me and asked me to move here and help her.

S.: Man, I gotta ask you, when you are all together how do you and all of the Roses address one another?

O.D.:  It’s a weird thing, because I think it’s almost how people think twins have a spiritual connection. But when we were little, my Mom would say “Rose” and they could tell who she was speaking just by the tone of her voice. But then over a period of time, we used middle names. My oldest sister is Rose Agnes, the middle is Rose Baylene and the youngest is Rose Dani. So in high school their friends started saying Rose A., Rose B. and Rose D. or it was Rose One, Rose Two or Rose Three.

S.: So you moved to the states when you were six?

O.D.:  Yeah. There’s my father, mother, three sisters and me. But we didn’t all come over together. My father came over first in the eighties. He was a refugee and took a boat over, got stopped in Cuba, went to jail, then was sent to America, was in the Krome Detention Center, the whole deal. He told me this story and I think the whole trip was just this crazy month of being bounced back and forth from place to place, being out to sea and then being processed. So after he made it here, he found odd jobs, whether it was hanging sheetrock or washing dishes, saved his money and then he brought my mother over. And not on a boat, but on a plane. After he brought her over, he brought me and middle sister over. Then after that he brought my two other sisters.

S.: You were six when you arrived here but have spent thirty years in the states. Do you have strong memories of living in Haiti? Do you think your early childhood resonates in your life?

O.D.: I don’t know. I have memories of Haiti and remember certain things. I think the last time I went back was when I was in junior high school.

S.: Why did you go back?

O.D.: It was probably to kill a couple of birds with one stone. But I would say the main thing was that since we originally came to this country illegally (laughs) even though we came on a plane, after my father arrived on a boat – the show that Dustin, Princess and I are working on is about being American. When I think about it, the fact that my father came here illegally, on a refugee boat and all that he went through – then he brought every single member of his family here on a plane, legally. I think that is one of the things that makes me feel even more American. The idea that most people that are patriotic and born in the United States – they are actually just lucky. When you look at someone like my father and the sacrifices he made, he is actually following the trend of the people that created America. The opportunity – so I don’t want to sound like an asshole about it (laughs) but I feel like I am more American than your average American! And for me to say that is a major accomplishment, because the things that we went through – I can’t imagine what my father went through – but the things we went through in elementary school, junior high – it probably got a little better towards high school. But we were treated horribly, you know? They used to throw rocks at us.

S.: Why was this? Was this how they were treating Haitian-Americans specifically or –

O.D.: Yes and just how they perceived us. Think of how they now perceive Mexican-Americans, which to be honest I don’t think is as bad as how I was treated – the animosity and the hatred.

S.: So that was popular prejudice of that time, to focus this frustration towards the Haitians moving to Miami?

O.D.:  Yeah and being raised there were a lot of Cubans and Haitians moving in and there was definitely animosity.

S.: It’s powerful how that hate just changes form and shifts.

O.D.: It is.

S.: What’s remarkable is how your dad went from coming in illegally and within such a short time was flying everyone in legally.

O.D.: Not only that but you have to think how someone like him would put all of his energy towards this. I know my father is a very, very ambitious person. But all of his ambition – his ambition has never been to have the nicest house or the biggest car – all of his ambition has really been to take care of his family.

S.: In that regard, it sounds like he succeeded.

O.D.: Absolutely.

CULTURAL BULLS EYE,  SERIES OPENER (ENTER THE WU-TANG CLAN), GUIDED BY THE UNCONSCIOUS

(Into the Mystic: “Queen of Jewels,” chalkboard, gun target, acrylic, chalk, and pencil, 36 x 48, 2010. Taken from Ducasse’s “Target” series, in this piece Jacksonville artist Rhonda Bristol is portrayed as the Virgin Mary and is surrounded by the 12 Jewels of Islam: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice, equality, food, cloth, shelter, love, peace and happiness.)

S: I want to shift gears here towards your current work and I guess first of all, congratulations on receiving that Art Ventures grant. What was your proposal or how do you have that money earmarked?

O.D.: Well, my proposal was that I wanted to create the Florida “Targets.”

S.: So this is ongoing in your “Targets” series?

O.D.: Yeah.

S.: Right now in the series you have Jon Stewart, NWA, and Bill Maher – so will these be local targets?

O.D.: Exactly. So the proposal was to create a local target for the city of Jacksonville and there would be ten to twelve paintings. So what I’m going to do is target, you know, events, people, venues, locations –

S.: Now what is the intent behind this? Are they actual targets as in “targets of derision,” “targets of controversy,” – that kind of thing?

O.D.: Well, they start off as actual targets, like you see there (points to the wall, where a paper shooting range target is riddled with darts and holes)  – as a silhouette, a shooting target. Actually, this is how this came about: a friend of mine named Olice William, he’s a gun enthusiast – he’s a sculptor and I believe his work will be in the Ritz show as well – but me and Adrian Rhodes were living over on McDuff and Olice had donated these targets to us that he had just shot at (laughs). So for long time I just hung them on the wall. After I moved to Springfield, I was inspired to do something with them. The first one that I worked on was “Florida Lottery.” There was a show downtown at the Center [The Art Center Cooperative] called “All Things Florida” [2009], right? So in my mind, as an artist I’m known as the person who thinks outside the box.  I’m thinking “if I do this show, every single painting in that show is going to be a pelican, a bridge, (laughs) or some sea turtles -”

S.: Cypress tree in the Everglades!

O.D.: Everglades – so I’m thinking, “how can I kill a couple of birds with one stone and get in this show?”  So I thought that I’d take these targets that I am already working on and create a magazine, and call it “Florida Targets.” So then I had access to the show. And then that is when the “Target” series started and the concept of making it a magazine cover.

S.:  How many originally?

O.D.: First there was the “Obama” and then “Florida Lottery.”

S.: Do you have any ideas for local targets?

O.D.: Ummm – for the proposal I gave some examples but I try to not focus on those ideas because there might be something interesting or passionate that might happen between now and when I am done. Here’s the thing, I was a little skeptical about doing the “Targets.” When you get the grant, they usually want you to do something positive or community-oriented. And originally we had thought of doing one of this historical figure, a woman from Durkeeville – but I’m not from Jacksonville, I didn’t really know anything about this woman and I don’t want to tie myself to anything that I am not passionate about. But I wanted to do the “Targets” so I just thought, “I’ll let it ride.” But still, my idea was “targets” and I didn’t want them to just have this negative reaction, to get the wrong idea. So when I went to the meeting everybody was so excited because I guess there was me and this other person that was chosen with unanimous decision. And not only was it a unanimous decision, (laughs) but one of the guys there had an idea for what he might want to see in a target, which was the idea that once again, Jacksonville had become the murder capital of the state.

S.: So they were right in line with you. Your intuition paid off. But are these targets like they are under threat of injury?

O.D.:  No, it’s almost like every target would basically be a magazine cover from a different issue. So the one with Jon Stewart is called “For Entertainment” and the reason I chose him was because we are really talking about people who are comedians: Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert – and the whole idea is that these even though they are comedians, when you watch their shows you get some much information and news that it seems almost unbelievable. One of the things that I like about Jon Stewart is that he always catches them in their lies. He will show clips of what politicians had said before and what they are saying now – and you think that a comedian shouldn’t have to do that job (laughs), a journalist should be doing this. So the whole concept is that we now have comedians delivering the news. Then you have people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly – they are the news people that are being comedians. “Rush Limbo – how low can he go?” (laughs)

(Weird Times: The piece “For Entertainment” from Ducasse’s “Target” series, features late night comedian turned news anchor Jon Stewart.)

S.: Are you afraid you might have less of selection to choose from with just Northeast Florida targets? There’s not a lot of Jon Stewarts rolling around. Would you pick like celebrities, cultural entities, are you going to do like, Shahid Khan – are you aiming for subtle and obvious stuff?

O.D.:  Actually, I haven’t really nailed something down. So much has changed now, for instance in the show I am doing at the Ritz.

S.: How many pieces will you have in that show?

O.D.: I proposed three pieces but I could do as many as twenty. I’ve thought of some ideas but I might do more than that.

S.: Are there any definite “Targets” you have in mind?

O.D.: Al Letson is one of them. The Jaguar owner [Shahid Khan] is definitely a possibility – maybe even The Ritz Theater.

S.: So those would be examples of positive targets. The crime rate almost seems like a “gimme”-

O.D.: Yeah – oh –  one that I proposed was based on an experience I had when I was walking downtown. I was at First Wednesday Art Walk and you have two things going on during that day. You have the art walk and you have First Baptist Church, who also meet on every Wednesday. So it was very interesting one day when I saw one person who was walking with a painting and a glass of wine and another person trying to get into the church with their bible – so I thought that was so fascinating because I have never been in another city where the church just takes over downtown so much.

S.: And goes so far as to build a landlocked lighthouse in the middle of downtown!

O.D.: (laughs) Yes and that too. I think that with what is happening now, because art is really taking off downtown, combined with First Baptist – so I don’t think it’s a war but there’s probably a clash, but something will happen and it will be interesting to see what happens. You know, you need bars and restaurants for people to hang out and I had rumors, which I don’t know if this is true, that the church made an effort to purchase so many liquor licenses and own them so other people can’t use them.

S.: Maybe they’re going to open up one hell of a bar.

O.D.: Yeah.

(Head Rush: detail from “For Entertainment.”)

S.: I want to talk about your use of series. What do you find so engaging about working in a series?

O.D.:  Well I work in a series because I think that at a certain period of time you just get so inspired and fascinated about something.  When I was in high school and still just drawing, I was looking for something, trying to find something expressive – I guess what was expressive was in the details of the characters that I was drawing so I always drew things very detailed, people that were old or maybe people that were singing – some kind of emotions because I had wanted to express something so badly.

S.: You wanted some emotional weight, something deeper than just actions.

O.D.: Right, I wanted some kind of emotion. So it wasn’t until I moved to Tallahassee that I started getting really involved in hip hop music and one of the bands that I listened to all the time, was Wu-Tang Clan. They originally had nine members and they probably have 50 or 60 now due to various groups. Being that I was so involved in listening to their music, I started incorporating them into my artwork. So it was almost like I was being trained, due to the fact that there were nine members – this right here is an example and (shows older piece of his artwork featuring dart and Wu-Tang imagery) is their symbol and they called their lyrics.

S.: Darts!

O.D.: Right! And these represent the nine members of the Wu.

(interview is paused as train roars by open window)

– This to me was basically me being trained to work with the idea of a series and developing who I am as an artist.

S.: (yelling over train) So you were as much drawn to them because of Wu-Tang were so methodical with their storytelling, their use of this continuing series of ideas – this signature thing that was almost like one idea – (train fades)

O.D.: Right, (both of us laugh) absolutely. RZA just came out with this new film, “The Man with the Iron Fists,” which I went to see for my birthday.

S.: How was that? Any good?

O.D.: (laughs) No because I was nodding out through it – but I have a tendency to fall asleep in movies! But the thing about their albums was at the time hip hop was dominated by West Coast, which was primarily gangsta rap and that was one of the things that attracted me to the East Coast, because people like the Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest – was more creative and openly artistic. When you listen to a RZA or Wu-Tang album, and they call themselves Wu-Tang because of all that Kung Fu stuff, they were really trying to create a movie within each album. They had skits, all the members had a story behind them.

S.: Plus, they self-mythologized in a more fantastic way. Dr. Dre and Eazy-E were just about this street deal – and Wu-Tang Clan were incredibly prolific. It was hard to keep up with their sheer amount of work and output, almost like visual artists – but their mythology was weird, surreal – it wasn’t just a pot leaf and a pistol. You had to really dig into their thing.

O.D.: Yeah, they were the most “art-like” hip hop band and at that time for me going from high school and then to Tallahassee, to hear their music and the influence on me was like the “basic training” for everything that I am doing right now.  So that was how my series came about.

S.: How do you decide a finite number? Did “Aquarius” just have three?

O.D.: No, there’s probably 20 or 30 in “Aquarius.”

S.: Well there’s an example. How do you pick that number? Why don’t you go to 31?

O.D.: I don ‘t put a cap on it. It all depends on what I’m going through or if I have a show. I might be working on something and then be involved with a show so to just to satisfy that obligation I will use something from a series. For example, the latest series I’m working on is that “Abomination” series, and I really enjoy working with that. So when I start a series, let’s say if I do ten pieces I probably have 40 different ideas and I choose the best ten or so. Because those were the ones that I’ll be more motivated to finish and be done with it. And when I am done, I will move on to something else. To be totally honest, it’s a spiritual thing sometimes. Everything seems to work out in the specific time when it’s supposed to happen.

S.: I gotcha. And you might readdress a subject or an idea, ten years from now.

O.D.: Yeah, just like when you called me about the holiday show (Folio Weekly Ornament Story) for some reason, because I was doing the “Abomination” series prior to that, I said to myself, “That would be a good piece to work on.”

S.: Right. If you don’t mind, I want to go through some of your series and you could kind of give me the story or inspiration behind each one. I guess we could start with “Abomination.”  I notice it has the signifiers of like the shrimp and it also has the Old Testament writing. What is that about?

O.D.: Okay, the series, just like the show at the Ritz. Every year the Ritz has a show featuring black artists and if I’m not mistaken this is the only show locally devoted just to black artists.

S.: This is the exhibit “Through Our Eyes,” right?

O.D.: Yes and the reason I like this show so much is that it’s not the kind of show where you just hang a piece; they have a theme, they have a very, very short period of time when they release that theme and the deadline to create the painting.

S.: Do you like themes?

O.D.: I like themes.

S.: And you like a finite series?

O.D.: I do.

S.: So you kind of like this sense of constraint placed on the work?

O.D.: Yes and then on the other hand too I will just place something on the wall and allow myself to slowly work on it.

S.: I know that for me, if I don’t have a deadline I will just sit around and stare at my foot. Do you think you need structure, because otherwise left to your own devices –

O.D.: That is one of those things I’ve been battling with for years because it’s very difficult to determine. Because it seems like the motivation always comes at the last minute and I don’t know if that’s because you know that there is a deadline or what.

S.: Maybe it’s the spiritual power that rides on top of procrastination. It almost becomes like a high.

O.D.: It really is something I have struggled with for years and that’s one of the things as an artist that I can’t stand because I would love – I would love – to treat this (motions at canvas) as a nine-to-five job. You know, wake up, clock in, I create a painting a day or two – I go to sleep at a normal time at night – (laughs) but just for some reason it has never happened like that.

S.: So what was the “Abomination” series created for?

O.D.: They were created for the last year’s show [“Through Our Eyes” in 2011] and every year they have a different theme. Now the theme for this year is called “20/20 Vision” and they idea is that it is the 20th anniversary and they have 20 artists.

(Ducasse addresses the hypocrisy and absurdity of intolerance in his “Abomination” series.)

S.: Right.

O.D.: So the theme last year was “The Art of Relationships” and it was based on this lady, she’s a poet and she wrote this book – I can’t think of her name- but she wrote this book and I think it’s called “For Women Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Not Enuf”(sic) –

S.: Oh yeah, I know this. Dude what is her name? She has a really memorable name that neither of us can remember – she’s a playwright too as well as a poet [The actual work mentioned is the 1975 Obie-award winning play/ choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” by Ntozake Shange.]

O.D.: So then that same year, Tyler Perry came out with that movie based on the story.

S.: We are probably the only two people in America who can’t think of her name. Now I’m racking my brain –

O.D.: Yeah, I don’t know – but in having such a short period of time and working with a theme, you are very open for creating something and that’s the beauty of it. You can taking something very, very small and make it very, very big. So I did not read any of her poems, I did not go see the theatre show and I did not see Tyler Perry’s movie. So what I went on strictly, was the title. And the thing that struck me about the title was the word “rainbow.”  So then when I heard that word “rainbow,” the first thing that came to mind was Civil Rights, Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition. The second thing was, a rainbow in the bible, where God makes a promise that He will never flood the world again [Gen. 9:12-17].

S.: Right – that was God’s original covenant to man. After He nearly wiped us out. “Okay, no more floods. I think you got the message.”

O.D.:  So fire and everything else is cool – but no floods.

(both laugh)

S.: Prepare for a plague of locusts but you don’t need the umbrella today!

O.D.: Right! (laughs) But then the last one, when you think of “rainbow,” you think of homosexuals and gay rights – so what I did was I merged all three of those ideas together: we are talking about civil rights, the bible and gay rights. What I did was a parody of the discrimination of gays by Christians and the whole idea was that there is a specific verse in the bible that all of these Christians use to say that gays are an abomination.

S.: Leviticus something or other…

O.D.: Yeah, it states that if a man lays with a man like a man lays with a woman, then that is an abomination [The actual verse is: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” – (Leviticus 18:22 KJV)] so that’s where the term “Abomination” comes into play with all of the paintings.  So my whole thing was, after reading the book of Leviticus, there’s at least twenty or thirty other things that are considered abominations in the bible.

S.: Yeah, some of  it’s like Abrahamic Real Estate Laws.

O.D.: (laughs) Yeah and what also stuck out to me was that it’s also an abomination to eat anything from the sea that doesn’t have fins or gills, so shrimp is an abomination. So the whole series is based on the fact that how in the hell are you going to stop someone from being gay if you can’t get common society to stop eating shrimp? It’s just such a joke.

S.: What you are doing is surely a form of justifiable ridicule.

O.D.: (laughs) Absolutely.

S.: Let me veer off for a minute, because I want to ask talk about this and some of the figures in “Abomination” made me see this as well. Earlier I spoke with (“Through Our Eyes” curator)  Lydia Stewart she had this to say about your work, I’ll quote her verbatim: “The thing I find about Overstreet’s work that I find compelling is that it is uniquely presented and he uses surrealism and creates work that isn’t just aesthetically nice to look at. It really forces you to think. You can’t walk past it and say ‘that’s nice’ and keep moving. The detail that he puts in the work is very specific; there is a story there and reasoning behind it. He does his homework and research, whether he is addressing a political statement or the plight of artists.”

Besides the obvious fact that you have a big supporter in Lydia, I think she also gives a fairly apt description of explaining your work. The first term she used, “surrealism,” is what also comes to my mind when I see your work. And to tie this into the “Abomination” series, those figures in some of those pieces look almost like Rene Magritte in the way he would draw those faceless, doll-like figures. Do you feel like you were directly inspired by something like the surrealist movement?

O.D.: I would say no. And the only reason I would say that is how other people have said I remind them of something like Dali – but to be honest with you I am probably one of the most ignorant artists around. (laughs) I mean, I took like a Humanities class and all that.

S.: When you say “ignorant” you mean more like your vocabulary of being aware of other artists?

O.D.: Yeah, that kind of thing, where the history means absolutely nothing to me at all. I’m not saying that history has no value but it isn’t important to me as far as influencing my work.  To me, everything is on a natural path .

(New Age: an image from Ducasse’s “Age of Aquarius” series.)

S.: Right. Well, how so?

O.D.: This will put into perspective. I just came from New York a few months ago. Me and a friend of mine visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Before we even got inside the building, I was outside just saying “Oh my God this is unbelievable!”  And then when we got inside, I saw some things that were unbelievable and some other things where I said “I can’t believe someone got this out of their garage and put in here!” (laughs)

S.: The museum should put that on a sign outside: “Welcome to The Met – It’s a Real Crap Shoot!”

O.D.: (laughs) But one of the artists that stuck out to me as Chuck Close. My God the detail – it was the most realistic image I have seen, just amazing. But from that day on, did you see the picture I did online of Rebecca’s (friend Rebecca Miller) grandmother? That was directly inspired by seeing that Chuck Close. But what I’m saying is that this is reality and experiences that really exist. I don’t try – everything to me is on a natural basis so I very, very rarely find things – it’s almost probably part of my personality and part of my sisters’ personality. It’s very hard for us to be impressed (laughs) I don’t think it’s being jaded, you know?

S.: Well it could be just a healthy sense of discernment. But I don’t think you take offense to people seeing your work and comparing it to something else.

O.D.: Oh no, not at all.

S.: Let me fall back to Lydia’s quote because she also talked about the narrative-quality in your work –

O.D.: But you know what, before we get into that, if you don’t mind there’s another point I wanted to make –

S.: Sure, sure –

O.D.:  When people ask me, “who inspires you?” well especially in Jacksonville, I’ll name someone that really inspires me: Rhonda Bristol, Billie McCray – like those people.

S.: You did a painting of Rhonda Bristol.

O.D.: Yes! In that one painting she is the Virgin Mary.

S.: So why her in particular?

O.D.: I don’t know, there’s just something about her energy, there’s something about her style of work. And then there’s something about Billie McCray also – it just speaks to me. Even though I’m not making work like them. But it’s not a Salvador Dali or someone like that.

S.: What we like at times is probably not even a conscious decision.

O.D.: Right and why do we have to pick somebody that is well known? We could go far on this subject but – (laughs)

S.: No, let’s just roll – okay she talked about your narrative. I know with the series you do, but do you have a definite idea of story inside your work?

O.D.: No. It can work either way – actually there are several ways it can work. Sometimes I have a specific idea in my head and it goes very smoothly and very, very natural. Sometimes I have an idea and it is completely transformed – sometimes, if you believe there is a God – this is exactly how I feel: sometimes when I am working on a painting, I feel like there is a spiritual being above me that is only feeding me teaspoons – you know what I mean?

S.: Just like glimmers of what it is?

O.D.: Yes. Like I will get to a certain step and I won’t see what is next. Then it is finally revealed to me and it all makes perfect sense.

S.: So when you remain willing, it just kind of keeps showing up?

O.D.: Mmmm-hmmm, yeah.

S.: So it’s not a complete free association, but you have a pretty open-mind when you are in the middle of that process?

O.D.: I’m totally open to it. I am not so adamant about something that I won’t change my entire view.

S.: I want to talk about this because you brought these words into it and I see it in your work but I don’t want to bring my own agenda when I am talking to you.  But you talked about spirituality and God. In a lot of your work there are symbols, there’s archetypes. Sometimes they seem really overt and obvious – like the shrimp. A lot of it is more subtle. But a lot of the 19th century symbolism was really dark, like the Europeans used these fable ideas. And I see you as kind of a fabulist.

O.D.: Yeah.

S.: But the precursor to using symbols in art really stems from religious symbols and icons – the cross, the Om symbol – only now those are more like graphic logos and brands. I guess I’m wondering if you are mindful of this. Do you kind of toy with those motifs and ideas?

O.D.: I guess the best way to explain that is that all of these things occur to me naturally. (We walk towards painting) This whole series of “Aquarius” came about simply because one of my favorite songs from the seventies is “The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius” [Grammy award winning 1969 hit song “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”] by The 5th Dimension. So what happened was, while I was in Tallahassee someone asked me to create a mural on their wall; it was for a music store. So he [the patron] was an Aquarius and he asked me to do something with that theme. So that was the first one I ever did. I did this whole mural piece of musical artists, of hip hop artists that were alive and dead. Somebody rising above water – and it wasn’t until years later on when I looked at the painting and I thought “wait a minute” because I was only then starting to understand what the lyrics of the song were about. “When the moon is in the seventh house”  – that represents the sign of Libra, which is a balance sign – ”Jupiter lines with Mars” – Jupiter a sign of Aries – no, I mean Jupiter is Sagittarius the Archer and Mars is Aries the Ram. So then I started learning about all of this and I looked at my painting and said, “Oh my God, the Libra sign is there.”

(The Secret Doctrine: Ducasse explains some of the symbolism that guides much of his work.)

S.: So it was purely unconscious.

O.D.: Yeah, exactly and without me even knowing any of this, so then it motivated me to paint these other paintings about “Aquarius” but now I had more knowledge. So now when I paint this one (points to work) this represents meditation and it is bringing forth the Age of Aquarius. And now I have knowledge that Libra is the Seventh House, right? And this the moon in the Seventh House. I have knowledge now that Jupiter and Mars are aligning, (pointing to planets in scene) Aquarius is represented by Uranus, rising above water and Pisces was the age before that, and is going back into the water and represented by Neptune. The bracelet on the left hand is the Aquarius sign and then there is the Pisces sign and the balancing sign of Libra. So I guess over a period of time, whether it was conscious or not, you experience something and all of the sudden it all just makes sense. And that inspires you to take it even further. But I think there’s a thin line. When I was younger I used to think that as an artist “ignorance is bliss” because some of the things that I have experienced happened totally without knowledge.

S.: Do you mean occurrences in your life or in your art?

O.D.: Both. But then once I became of that knowledge, then it took me even further.

S.: So do you think that experience with painting the mural that ultimately led to this series was a spiritual experience? As in you somehow tapped into this bigger and greater sense of things.

O.D.:  I don’t know what it is but the only thing I can take back from it  – for sure- is that I was deeply, deeply inspired by a song that I heard and all of the sudden all of this energy and information from that one song and moment showed up later in my life.

S.: Yeah, like Carl Jung talked about this, how we are surrounded constantly by what he called archetypes and that’s why we use these same symbols in life. It is like something trying to communicate to us and even through us. Maybe you tapped into this unconscious, whatever-the-hell –

O.D.: Right.

THE GOSPEL OF PARADOX, SUPREME MATHEMATICS AND FUTURE ANTIQUITIES

S.: Let me go back to the series. The “Aquarius” series, which you have explained, seems almost overtly mystical with those symbols. But also, going back to these signifiers, the “Chalkboard” series also has astrological and occult-like symbols. What is the story behind that?

O.D.:  Lemme see – there are a lot of things that kind of shape what I create. It isn’t always necessarily “idea consciousness” – it is also about materials. I will create art on anything.

S.: Right, because in the past you had used old doors –

O.D.: Right, I’ve used doors, I’ve used chalkboards, wood, canvas or whatever it may be. So there was a time when I was just receiving chalkboards so I started painting on them. And for some reason, and I don’t what was the exact reason, but I was inspired to do something on a chalkboard that represented Christianity, Catholicism really, and Voodoo, because if you look at some of the art that was coming from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico – really all of the Caribbean Islands that had been enslaved – there was a lot of similarities between the saints and I guess the gods that they worshipped when they were still in Africa. So, from what I understood, was that they had their religion back in Africa, they were forced to practice this new religion when they suddenly slaves in the Caribbean,  but they hid their beliefs from the masters by mixing, merging and changing the names as if they were following something new but they were actually worshiping their own religion.

S.: They just adapted their faith and something new occurred.

O.D.: Exactly. So what they did in Haiti as that when they practiced Voodoo they would find something that was crushable and malleable, like chalk or brick, and they would use that to draw the image of their god. And after the whole ceremony was over, they would just blow the image away. So I thought that the “Chalkboard” series was perfect to address all of that. Because you have the chalk, which is dissolvable, and you have the chalkboard which can be erased but chalkboards are also usually used for teaching.

S.: So it’s like dealing with this kind of subterfuge, but also carrying on this tradition –

O.D.: Yes, exactly.

S.: This leads into something that I want to talk about and an idea that I personally see strongly in your work. I think sometimes when people use symbols and signifiers they are actually trying to make it easy for the viewer but in your work it is at times the opposite – it is not obvious, something is hidden. It taps into secret knowledge, esoteric teachings – it is a celebration of all of that.

O.D.: Absolutely. If you look at the “Chalkboard” series, especially with the hearts, there is a lot that is going on. One of the things I tried to capture was the fact that I am from Haiti, and while I am American, I know from experience that a lot of Haitians do practice Voodoo.  But on the other hand, they also go to church and they might even be Baptist or Catholic. Now one of the things the bible says is that you cannot serve more than one master, you can only have one god.  But there have been a lot of Haitians that I have known that worship Jesus or God, but as soon as they get into a bind, they are the first person who will go see that Voodoo Doctor (laughs) to take care of their problem.

(Syncrestic Lines: Ducasse’s “Chalkboard” series addresses the merging of disparate belief systems such as Catholicism and Voodoo.)

S.: And if they still do this it must still work for them. It’s like a parallel faith.

O.D.: Yes. And there’s a lot of stuff going in the painting. In one there is wedding of two people marching. One of them represents my mother and one represents my father. My father’s whole entire family, from what I understand, believed in a Voodoo-type religion. He is the only one who turned away from that. Then he married my mother, who was Catholic, and she eventually became a Baptist. So that marriage in the painting is a union of the faiths. And then underneath that there is the roosters, there are three different roosters, as in the story of Peter. He denied Christ three times and the denial of a different god.

S.: Is your knowledge of religion kind of a holdover from your childhood or is it something you’ve explored after you started painting, investigating these ideas?

O.D.: I did some studying on my own. For example, in the “Abomination” series I really scoured over the book of Leviticus, trying to find out the concept of the Jewish laws.

S.: Is that investigation solely for a painting or do you have a personal interest in these things for your own beliefs?

O.D.: I think for that series it was solely for the art, but sometimes when I start a series, I think that the ideas in the art will overlap into how I live my life.

S.: I see your work as spiritual.

O.D.: Yes. And I honestly believe that we artists are the real Christians.

S.: How so?

O.D.: Well the reason that I say that is because the whole concept of Christianity is something that is based on faith. Right?

S.: Right, believing in the intangible and invisible.

O.D.: Right. Now what more faith can you have if you are trying to be a fulltime artist? And if you claim to be a real Christian then everything in your life should be to emulate Christ and God.  It takes a lot for someone to be an artist and just have faith that something good is going to happen. I mean, you have to create and hopefully sell your work and all of that – but art takes a lot of faith. I’m living on faith every single day; because this is what I do.

S.: You went pretty deep researching the “Abomination” series. But I also watched a video interview from a few years ago. And you said that it was inspired by the Nations of Gods and Earth/Five Percenters and particularly Clarence 13X (Clarence Edward Smith,  February 22, 1928 – June 12, 1969) .

O.D.: Yeah, was that filmed at the Burrito Gallery?

S.: Yeah, yeah. Because my whole point is that I think you work as a symbolist and the symbols you use are deliberately arcane. And citing Clarence 13X as your influence is indicative of this. He was a political leader, a complete radical really, but you didn’t pick an overt or well-known leader, like Malcolm X – people would have picked up on that right away. Clarence 13X was almost of like this Sun Ra-like figure and incredibly complex. His ideology seemed guided by things like Egyptology and Gnostic or Coptic Christianity. It seems like even your most political work is injected with a deeper, metaphysical or spiritual presence. Do you agree with that, or am I just way off the mark (laughs)?

O.D.:  This is basically what it is and it makes the Wu-Tang even more inspirational.  When I first started listening to them, I did drawings referring to the Wu-Tang symbol. So being from down South , I thought when they spoke it was just some kind of New York slang, when they are talking about “Yo God, Yo Earth – peace – constant elevation – ” all of these things they were saying I thought was just slang. So it wasn’t until I got really, really involved in the music and I realized, “What a minute – this a whole culture that existed way back in the sixties with Clarence 13X, Nations of Gods – there is a whole system of numbers that they used, a system of alphabet  – and I was listening to this music for that entire time and knew none of that stuff.  So once I found all of that out, it became the next major inspiration, so “Supreme Mathematics” became evident. I did several pieces on that theme alone.

S.: So we have another series that gets stacked on top of the next realization.

O.D.: Exactly. The “Rhonda Bristol” painting is an example of “Supreme Mathematics” because it has twelve jewels: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice, equality, love, peace, happiness, food, clothing and shelter. Actually, when you look at it, she is the Madonna but also in the same way Catholicism mixes with Voodoo, this is Catholicism mixed with the twelve jewels of Islam.

S.: So again, you are asking more of the viewer. It’s like hide and seek. Are you concerned with whether or not that people who look at your work might never dig that deep into it?

O.D.: Just by my own experience, I know that most people are not. That’s one of the things that people always get on my case about, because they feel like even though I might have a piece at a show –  with a name, media or price – I don’t go into detail explaining what is going on in the work. Sometimes I do want people to know. If I am physically there I will tell them what is going on. But sometimes it is inspiring when people who have knowledge of astrology, or “Supreme Mathematics,” will see a painting of mine and say “Oh my God, I completely understand what is happening here and know exactly what you are talking about.” Some people in the gay community looked at the “Abomination” paintings and told me that they completely understood what I was doing. So really, as an artist it would be great to sell paintings all of the time, but I think what I do just connects with really specific people.

S.: I guess your painting is working on different frequencies and I guess it also depends on whether or not the viewer is open to receive that certain transmission.

O.D.: Right. And I would also say over a period of years, that is something I am learning to appreciate about myself as an artist. The art is the most important thing. Some of my work is religious or political – but as an artist I am just here to create something that I was inspired about. I don’t care if I am dealing with Muslims, I don’t care if I am dealing with Catholicism. If somebody came up to me and asked, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a Christian – I just did a mural in South Florida in Fort Lauderdale that was in a church. And you know, my whole game as an artist is that you want to go in there with respect and you want to create the best possible Christian painting that you can. So I don’t care what the subject matter is, if it is Christianity, Muslims or the gay community, I have something good that I want to bring to that.

S.: When you are hired for something like a mural, how do you navigate delivering your own imagery with the desires, requests or even demands of the patron? As in, “here’s five thousand bucks and we want this, this and this.”

O.D.:  You know what? I have just been very, very fortunate and very, very lucky. Ninety nine point nine percent of the time, someone comes up to me and they’ll say “look, this my idea – and you do what you want to do with it.”  And thankfully, usually when I am done they will say, Oh my God, this is far beyond what I ever expected.”

S.: So you already have the momentum of your reputation and being in their favor.

O.D.:  That’s what usually happens. Because they will look at the work – and I think this is why it is so hard for me to sell paintings sometimes (laughs) – because they will look at the work and say “obviously this guy is talented and obviously he is saying something – (laughs) but I don’t want his paintings in my house!”  So if somebody is hiring me and likes what I do, I’m not going to do anything to disrespect that person or their ideas.  And I have experienced that more than once, where someone will say, “I like your work but I just cannot see having this in my house.”  You know they like the image, the story, but maybe they think if they have it on their wall they are going to go crazy (laughs).

S.: It seems like you look at the local art scene in a fairly complementary way. You mentioned First Wednesday Art Walk, which is still kind of an astounding phenomenon since ten years ago there wasn’t shit happening downtown.

O.D.: True. I have been here over eight years, April is going to be nine years, and I have witnessed that happen as well.

(Art, Seen: Overstreet Ducasse and Hope McMath, Director of the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, 2011. Photo by Rebecca Miller.)

S.:  So you witnessed that, like someone dropped and “Art Bomb” on downtown – so what do you like about the arts community here?

O.D.: I think when I first moved here, I knew that I had to be positive. And to be honest with you, I think so many people here can have a negative attitude.

S.: I agree.

O.D.: It’s like, “oh Jacksonville is so lame” but I guess someone who has lived here for their entire life versus me just showing up when the city is changing. But I saw opportunity because someone had already worked at making positive changes. And because I had lived in California, lived in Miami, had traveled around as an artist – because the things I had seen in those other cities weren’t here yet. But I thought, “you know what? I can be positive and be part of the change.” I can be part of this, a creator of what is happening, rather than a negative force on the community.

S.: It’s not like a military command, but it seems like people are either part of the solution or part of the problem. I think that is definitely true of the arts. There’s not enough time to just sit around and bitch and moan. Time is of the essence with this. I’m probably an apologist for the area  – but there is actually a lot going on here.

O.D.: There is a whole lot going on in Jacksonville, it’s true. When Art Walk first started, you had a handful of people at Hemming Plaza.  Then there is an explosion and now you get hundreds, thousands there. The fact that I have just been supported by the city, for a grant – that is awesome. Then we have the OneSpark event coming our way, with $250,000 flooding in here. That’s major. The Jazz Festival is major – the World of Nations Festival is major.

S.: And like you pointed out, the Baptist church is walking one way down the street and the Art scene is walking down the other. I think the incestuous nature works in our favor. Let me talk about some of your contemporaries and in particular the “Deepressionist” group, of which you are a founding member. So that’s you, Adrian Rhodes and Roosevelt Watson III?  What does that term mean?

O.D.: We came together and came up with “Deepressionist,” which means the depth of art along with the depressive-state of where we were.

S.: When did you come together to form this?

O.D.: This was probably in 2006, maybe? We have it documented but I would guess in 2006.

S.: So is it a group, a movement or what?

O.D.: It is a group but it is also a movement, acknowledging that while there’s a cultural renaissance going on, there’s a lot of pain involved for it to actually exist. As a movement, we think that all over the world, especially here in Jacksonville, we have seen tremendous changes so far in the arts. But we didn’t get there easily and we are not really where we want to be just yet.

S.: So is it open to anyone?

O.D.: It is totally open to anyone who wants to participate. The whole concept, “Deepressionism,” totally describes where the country and the world is – we are in a recession, things are uncertain – (laughs) everyone is invited! We are all “Deepressionists.”

S.: So what about the show at CoRK n March? What is the story behind that?

O.D.: We were going back and forth about titles, and I think originally it was going to be “All Things American” or something like that. We wanted to focus on the three of us – Dustin Harewood, Princess Rashid and myself. Dustin is originally from Barbados, Princess was born in the states, I am from Haiti – we wanted to create something that addressed being American. We had a very good conversation and decided to do something. All three of us are about the same age, similar background and I have very high respect for both of them. When it comes to the arts, a lot of people know how to bullshit (laughs) but when you talk to Dustin and Princess they are not bullshitters. They are both highly educated, as much self-educated, when it comes to art. Every time I talk to Dustin, I need like a pad of paper to write down all of these things that he suggests I check out or read (laughs). And so I respect their art and their intelligence.

S.: Do you have other series that you are starting or revisiting?

O.D.: I want to do more for the “Abomination” series but right now my main focus is the Ritz show. What I am working on, because of the fact that the theme is “20/20 Vision” I’ve had several ideas that I’ve pitched to them, some of those are going to happen and some of them are not going to happen. One of the things that I thought about doing is that big blue tarp there (points to other end of studio) with the Wu-Tang symbol. This might be in there show, but either way what I am envisioning is going to be more than just painting. We might have video. This is what is crazy. What is today? The 19th?

S.: The 20th.

O.D.: The pieces are due on the first of December, so we are talking about maybe two and half weeks. So what you are looking at now and what you will see in the show could be two entirely different things. One year, Lydia told me, “You are a cliffhanger artist.”

S.: It goes back to what you said about those deadlines. Do you think you get off that energy?

O.D.: I fight it all the time. But I think one of the negatives is that if I was in an area where there was someone I looked up to it would change my perception – and I don’t want to appear arrogant but there is really no one here that supplies that. So I am my worst critic because I will look at my painting and say, “Oh my God this could have been a masterpiece but I procrastinate – or if I didn’t have to go do something else to make money to pay my rent.” But I know that you can’t rely on other people to compliment you or tell you something good about yourself. You gotta have your own bar to raise, you own standards. I will get praised for something but deep down inside I know what I am actually capable of doing.

S.: Sure. We have to raise the bar impossibly high or why even bother. I don’t think you are talking about procrastination.

O.D.: Yeah I guess it’s because I usually get a fairly positive response for what I do. That good a bad thing because a thousand people could tell me that they like a certain piece and I will always think “Oh my God this piece completely sucks!” (laughs)  So for the Ritz show Adrian, Roosevelt and me are working on this concept. It’s kind of a funny thing. Rhodes is Adrian’s last name, Roosevelt is “Rose” and Overstreet is “street. So we are working on this concept that is similar to the “Antiques Roadshow.” We’re going to do three different segments. Adrian is going to be “Antiques Rhodes Show,” Roosevelt is going to be “Antique Rose Show” and I am going to be “Antique Street Show.”  Have you ever seen “Antiques Roadshow”?

S.: Oh yeah.

O.D.: So what I am doing is just creating a background of symbols. You know how they have the backdrop of furniture, art and logos?  So this symbol (pointing at tarp on wall) would represent the “Wu-Tang” series, this would represent the “Aquarius” series, this would represent the “Abomination” series. And then underneath, I guess Roosevelt would do three of his series.

S.: So you would collaborate on this one painting?

O.D.: Yes, but this would only be used for a background for the video production.

S.: So you’re doing a multi-media presentation?

O.D.: Yes, so what we’re going to do is select three pieces by us. Adrian, who is the more musically inclined of the three, he plays African drums and guitar and is also very good at creating music with computers. He is taking that theme song from the “Antiques Roadshow” and reinterpret into three different versions: one that represents each of us. So we are going to have theme music and each have one piece of art and then we are going to have someone who really knows us fairly well to play the role of the appraiser. So we are going to each have a personal segment, “How long have you had this piece of Overstreet’s?” Oh, it’s from the Wu-Tang era (laughs).

Daniel A. Brown

starehouse@gmail.com

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One thought on “American Arcanum

  1. Larry Jon Davis

    Overstreet, you have already left a permanent, positive mark on the Jacksonville art scene, but the best is yet to come. I think that you will be ranked as one of the best in your generation. Keep it up, my friend. It was a treat to be a part of your formative years at FSCJ.

    Reply

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