Omi

Francis Ford Coppola’s Archimedes was inspired by the accomplishments of great men and made to honor creativity and innovation. I thought it was fitting for our drink.

So this is the good shit. Can I see it?

It’s a Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. I heard this is just a temporary studio?

Yes, but it’s been temporary for a long time now. A little too temporary! Not in a bad way but nothing has caught my eye as a potential new space yet.

Are you the type that can handle being unsettled?

I mean as an artist you have to be able to work anywhere. As long as I have a space and there are lights that work [I’m okay].

From Jay Z buying a painting to having a solo show at the Chicago Cultural Center, you’ve had several pinch me moments. Can you pick a favorite?

Presenting all of my work to the Miami Heat. I don’t necessarily revere the players as Gods or anything like that but it’s still that kid in me. Being in a room with these guys talking about my work and explaining the pieces they each received from me, those moments are like, “Damn!” Those are those wedding moments where you don’t remember them, you just kind of remember being there and little flashes … It’s cool but you have to keep it in perspective. It’s great that they have it and now what’s next?

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How do you celebrate after special paintings are sold?

I’m lame. I don’t really go out so my celebration might be buying a graphic novel that I wanted for a long time or a coffee table book. No grand celebrations yet. When I get into the Art Institute then we’ll celebrate. We’ll party in the Modern Wing.

Being an artist full time, do you ever find yourself forcing creativity?

There are days of both. There are those days where you’re completely in that creative space in line with what is going on and there are days where you’re just completely somewhere else. It’s like a professional athlete, one day they are doing the most amazing things out on the floor and then the next day they aren’t and you’re thinking, “What the hell just happened?”

On those days when you’re not mentally there, how do you bring yourself back?

It just depends on the occasion, you play through it, you just go. Some days you come back and just paint over it, but it’s still exerting the effort and being cognizant of the fact that you still have to give it your all. Even though your all isn’t your best that day, you just have to give it your all.

When was the last time it was hard to play through it?

Before this summer, just having such a busy year and creating all of this work on top of work for different shows and then still dealing with family issues, like the loss of your parent. You have to go beyond trying to find a balance. It’s one side or the other. I don’t really feel like there is a good middle ground. I had to put on a false face and not really think about it and assess it later. In that moment there were opportunities that had come up that you can’t squander nor can you back out of because the date is set, the door is open that day, what’s going to be on the wall? I think a lot of work in that time period for me was my worst. But in 10 years who knows what people will say. They’ll probably still say it sucked … Times like that, let the subconscious take over and go. Be where you are supposed to be, do what you’re supposed to do, that’s it.

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Who is your rock?

I don’t know if I have rocks. I have pebbles. One guy that I’ve always watched and in conversation learned from is Theaster Gates.

Are any of your pieces up at your house?

I don’t have many but the few that I do are ones that were either in my mom’s collection that I made for her or there were a few times where she secretly went and bought a piece at my earlier shows when my art was dirt cheap. You could buy it for a couple bucks. So I kept those.

Did your friends and family predict you’d become an artist?

I don’t think that they were shocked. They tried to force other occupations on me that might have involved some illustration but yeah I don’t think they were too surprised.

Did you ever get in trouble with graffiti?

Yeah, I got in trouble a lot. The usual stuff. You get caught, you get arrested and then every time you get smarter about how to fracture a few laws here and there. It was part of growing up and bumping my head.

Do you have any favorite stories that make you laugh?

I don’t know about laugh. Nothing that comes to my head right at this moment, maybe ask me after a few more sips of wine.

When you did get caught would you get grounded?

My mom was so ashamed of me that one of the times when I got caught she didn’t tell any of my family members. She didn’t even come get me she was so mad at me, she was just like, “Let him sit there,” and then she caved in and had my friend’s mom bring me home.

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First thing you do to get in the creative zone?

I think it’s just music. Movies. Just background noise.

Go-to jam?

Anything. Right now we were just listening to Little Dragon, before that Flying Lotus. It just depends on what the mood calls for.

Do you have a favorite medium to work with?

It depends on the day you ask me this question. Right now I’m working with acrylic so acrylic is my favorite. Being in the space of wanting to create like the masters, oil. That is where it’s at to me. That’s where you get the richest color and the best texture so I love oil painting too. I don’t get to do it as much as I’d like to because my tolerance and attention span doesn’t necessarily allow for it at certain times.

What is the most challenging part of the process?

With oil the hardest thing is just the fact that you have to wait for it to dry. If you are very much of an intense painter a lot of times you want to capture something in the moment and with oil it doesn’t always come out the best way because the paint is just different.

What is the easiest part of your job?

I don’t know if I have any part of it nailed down. I don’t know if it’s easy at all, honestly. I can make the smallest thing too complex.

Favorite quote about art?

Good artists borrow, great artists steal.

What is Chicago’s reputation in the art world?

It’s growing; we will only get so far because we are limited in our resources just by being Chicagoans. The master class is the bigger cities but at the same time we still hold such a strong presence that we’re right along with them. We’re kind of like the little brother. We’re not able to get in the clubs yet but we still watch our big brother and sister kick it. It’s a good scene. I dig a lot of the artists in it. It definitely holds its own and has its own feel. Chicago is still a partially conservative place so the art has somewhat of a conservative side to it and I feel like that’s just something constant throughout. That’s just who we are in this space.

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Back in November you judged the Red Bull Art of Can Chicago event. Why did you pick Kaleb Dean’s “Mr Bull” as you favorite piece?

Because it was cool. It was an actualization of what that logo is. Obviously 3-D and made from the tabs of the can so it’s very alchemy. I dig that. Plus it’s a big ass bull, solid. And I’m a big guy!

As a former Red Bull Curates Chicago winner yourself, would you say these contests are giving artists a platform that wasn’t available in the past?

For so long the only opportunities afforded to artists were through institutional situations where you got a grant or funds allocated for special projects but with an organization such as this it’s supporting the energy, not just this specific thing, but the energy. They want you to go do what you do, celebrate, get better and grow. So it’s great in that way.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?

I feel like I have an obvious person, but I want to try and seem clever to whoever reads this. Probably George Lucas or Jim Henson. He was a pioneer.

What do you have going on the rest of the evening?

I have to go drop a painting off at a gallery and then I have to go to an artist talk and then coming back here.

Do you consider yourself a night owl?

I’m just a person who has to work. I don’t know what I am.

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KIRSTEN MICCOLI PHOTOGRAPHY / A DRINK WITH

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