LOS FELIZ—At first glance, artwork by Vakseen appears to be a giant collage of some kind; how would you collage such large images, that look like they were cut out of the pages of fashion magazines? Lean in closer and you’ll realize the pieces are actually paintings, with a photorealistic attention to detail that is mind-blowing. Vakseen’s works are vivacious and emotional, featuring disjointed body parts coming together to form a face that is never quite complete. Despite his style’s glitz and glam, there is something unsettling about this disjointedness; and, speaking to Vakseen, it became clear that this was intentional. His art intends to be relatable, to spark discussion; not just sit and look pretty.
Vakseen, whose real name is Otha Davis III, is a self-taught artist from Florida, but very much comes off as a child of Los Angeles. He has an established career in the music industry as a producer, A&R consultant, and artist manager. As a visual artist, he has been featured in over 80 magazines around the world, and has become a staple of LA’s art scene with his participation in gallery shows throughout the city, and his own “Vanity Pop” art shows that he has been throwing monthly since this summer. His commercial success and bold art had me expecting him to be extroverted and slick, but he is actually a very gentle spirit, a self-described sensitive Leo.
An interesting line of Vakseen’s artist statement, which I read before meeting him, caught my eye: “Each painting is a unique portrait of an insecure soul with an incredible story to share.” I had to ask – was the “insecure soul” himself, or the subjects of his works? “The subjects of my paintings,” he told Canyon News. “They’re portraits of different women, and they’re all somebody that we know…It’s somebody that’s going through some sort of emotion that you can relate to. I almost consider that a two part question because it almost begs to dive into what my work is really about.”
The artist had a lot to say about the meanings and intent behind his paintings. “My work is about society’s idealization of beauty, at the end of the day…The things that we do that are the norm now in our culture, you’re pretty insecure because you’re doing them,” he explains, speaking generally. “I say ‘you,’ but I’m just as guilty as the next person! We’re all human. We’re all alive, we’re here in the moment, but there’s a lot [that people do to attain ideal physical perfection]. From the cosmetic enhancements, to Photoshop, filters, all that kind of stuff, it’s a lot. Our culture right now is very insecure.” He uses the friend we all have who posts 20 different selfies a day as an example. I bring up that maybe selfies can be an empowering thing for insecure people, to which he responds, “I agree…You want to love yourself, you want to put yourself out there, but there’s a fine line where it becomes a completely different ballgame.”
The subjects of Vakseen’s works are almost always women. In past interviews, he has mentioned that when people see his art and later find out that he is a man, they are often surprised, because he portrays women in a way that isn’t over-sexualized. When asked if he felt like he could understand and relate to women, he nodded his head. “I was raised by my mom. My dad was in the military, so he was out to sea a lot of the time while i was growing up,” he discloses. “I’m an emotional person, I’m very in tune with my emotions for a man. Most men aren’t. It’s not okay to cry, it’s not okay to feel, it’s not okay to do any of that kind of stuff. [But] I embrace that, I always have. It allows me to see the world in a certain way, and it’s just all in the upbringing. I’m sure if I was raised with my dad it’d be a different story. I’d still have respect for women, but I’ve always had a certain kind of respect for women. Just seeing my mom raise us on her own, and then after my parents ended up divorcing years later, she literally was raising us on our own. Women are God’s greatest work of art,” he says sincerely.
Vakseen’s paintings are equal parts surrealistic and fashionable. When asked if his creativity was always influenced by fashion, or if that element came about as a result of working in entertainment, he responded, “Fashion’s always been something I’ve had an eye for. I really appreciate fashion, I [grew up] immersed in hip hop culture, and that’s a huge part of hip hop. That’s a huge part of your everyday lifestyle, just how you walk, how you talk, how you dress.” However, he went on to say that his background in the music industry has influenced his work. “A big part of my experience in music has been on the marketing side…having that experience kind of gives you a different outlook when it comes to creativity, which I think is interesting,” he says. “Most creators – they’re either straight about creativity or they have some sort of business sense. I think most creators tend to be more ‘free-for-all, let’s just create, whatever happens happens’. Long story short, there’s always this sense of business [for me], even if it’s way in the background.” He explains that he often considers how marketable his pieces are, of which he sells not just the originals, but also on a variety of merchandise, from phone cases to shower curtains. “I think, ‘Would it work well on a shirt?’ It just depends on the specific piece…I’m thinking about being creative, which is the number one area of fulfillment for me, but how do you make a living being creative? How do you sell this piece? That matters. If I want to be able to do that for a living, I have to be on point and pay attention to the business.”