OREE ORIGINOL | THE PEOPLE’S ARTIST
How and when did you discover your love for art?
I have been a creative individual for as long as I could remember. As a child I recall my mom paying me $1 to draw her portraits of Jesus Christ. My young artistic spirit lasted until middle school where I then got active in sports. Right after high school I began to get involved in graffiti art and I became active with my art practice again but it wasn’t until I moved to the Bay Area that I started to exhibit my artwork and take my art up as a career. Growing up, I never had set what I wanted to do in life but in the back of my head I knew I wanted to find success as an artist. My early experiences with art making allowed me to realize how I could use this talent as a means of expression which has always been a struggle for me by other means. When I was young I had a stuttering problem which I remember many times would prevent me from speaking up using my voice to express my thoughts or emotions to other people. Drawing gave me an outlet to have fewer inhibitions thus giving me a sense of confidence knowing this was something I was good at. And that’s how I discovered my love for art.
When did you decide to incorporate the element of social justice into your work? Why is it important for you to do so?
My consciousness in social issues began to develop when I started reading books around the age of 21 when I worked at Imix Bookstore in LA. I was never raised to question much until the combination of my personal experiences and reading did I become aware that a person like myself, as a Xicano growing up in the hood, was at odds in this society and that lots of work needed to be done. I remember my first piece of work that incorporated the element of social justice was a small poster with a drawing of Emiliano Zapata along with a paragraph’s worth of text describing our indigenous rights to this land for so called “illegal aliens” from Mexico or Latin America. I created this piece in response to HR – 4437 which was a bill in 2005 that would enhance the mistreatment of immigrants coming into this country. That was the first experience I had wheat pasting posters in the streets of LA. I also went out to the May Day protests and passed around prints of that same design. In 2012 I got more involved in activism when I began collaborating with Culturestrike.org to develop art projects that promoted a cultural shift in the ways we think about immigration.
As artists we are able to reflect and influence our society. The power of telling stories whether it be in a visual manner like myself or otherwise can be impactful because people can relate to the messages or gain deeper understanding of the issues being expressed. Art is closely linked to love as the most vital aspect of the human experience. When you present art in the context of love, the result is always transformative regardless to any level of resistance.
You focus on illustrating the faces’ of victims of police misconduct and brutality...In your opinion, how do these images make for powerful statements?
The art of portraiture has been one of if not the most common practice in art history especially as a means to tell stories of other people or of one’s self. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, if that’s the case then maybe the face could represent the window panel that frames the window in place. By that I mean that the characteristics and expressions of each face could give further detail on what type of experiences these people had in their lives which provides a visual aide to the conversations this art project attempts to stimulate. The details in each face can tell stories of their racial identities, cultural lifestyle, their age, their gender, physical/mental development, and more information that gets the viewer closer to understanding who these people really where as opposed to the narratives the media tends to portray of innocent black and brown victims of police terrorism.
If you could illustrate or paint justice, would it be in black and white or color? Why?
Whether it be justice or any other theme explored in visual art, it can always be interpreted in infinite ways. As for my project, “Justice For Our Lives”, it’s a portrait series in which the designs are depicted intentionally in the color black and white for a few reasons. The first design of this project was of Oscar Grant but my intention was not to do an art project out of it and was more of a quickie design that id release on social media and that was it. I didn’t have time to add color or too many layers so I kept it simple. As I continued with more portraits, I decided to maintain consistency with the black and white color because the portraits related to the theme of police killings. I also felt like black and white could symbolically represent that these people are also our ancestors. The main reason why these portraits are in black and white is because I offer these designs as templates to allow people to alter the designs more easily and for cost efficient printing. Ive seen these designs incorporated into flyers for demonstrations, teachers facilitating coloring activities with their students, stencils on sidewalks, projections of government buildings, and of course banners, T shirts, and posters at several protests. Unfortunately, the lack of color incorporated in this series of work is what makes reproduction of these designs more accessible to people who need this artwork the most.