Keel: From his incredulous beginnings to “fugitive pop artist”

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While we wait for solar-powered hovercrafts, and our oil-based wars to cease, we can float down to reality and appreciate those who still ride bicycles to work or create hand-to-canvas. In this MIXX 10, we get to know Keel of the art collective No Art Major, a painter who isn’t discouraged by his endangered genre of choice. Here he explains his incredulous beginnings and anticipates his own future as a “fugitive pop artist.”

How did your artistic journey begin? “No Art Major,” and yet you have great detail and elements of depth perception to your pieces. Where does it come from?

I was 21 when I got my first apartment. It was so empty; I was trying to fill it up with something and I was browsing the web for artwork. I came across a piece, but right before I purchased it I said to myself, I could do that.

I went to Michael’s for the material. (I had) no experience with paint at all, just the ability to sketch. It came out exactly like the piece I almost bought. I started doing some more pieces, teaching myself about different mediums—that’s where the name came into place, No Art Major, having to learn on my own, with no schooling or degree.

Where do you feel your art is going? And where would you like to take it?

As a visual artist, I don’t plan on becoming famous, but I at least desire to have some type of recognition in the society that is Miami . . . as a Miami-grown artist. There’s so much talent here; just to be acknowledged around my peers is good enough for me. My ultimate goal is to own a gallery and network with only residents of Dade/ Broward counties, artists of all kind, whether its clothing, music, photography, dance . . . opening the eyes of the millions of people that come to our city every year.

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Where would you place your art in this technologically advanced world? Do you feel as though modern technology (Photoshop, creative design, etc.) has reduced hand-painting to an antiquated craft?  

Not at all. Personally, I value anything handmade, rather than something computerized, especially artwork. Just knowing every detail was done by hand, the textures, the different mediums involved . . . I’m still amazed by some Photoshop work, but it’s not the same feeling to me. Anyone can use that.

How would you describe your technique/process whenever creating a new piece? Do you vary in approach according to the different mediums you like to use? 

I’m obsessed with photography; a dope image is really what gets me started. After I draw it up, I hang it for a couple of days until I decide what will fit the image, while also figuring out what I can do different from all my other pieces. This is normally how either a new medium or tool gets discovered.

Some artists feel as though there can always be a detail added here or there. How do you know when your work is finished?

To me, you’re never finished. “Currently satisfied” is the best I can say. There are pieces I’ve done in the past that I’d like to redo—due to the fact that I was limited in my skill set. Now, I’m more experienced with different mediums and tools. Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to actually finish a piece. But for now, I’m currently satisfied.

Which piece are you most proud of? How is that a reflection of your creative style?

Recently I did a piece of the singer, Sade. It was a very simple piece, but complicated because of the perfection I needed in my lines (zigzag line style). The image of her stood out more than any piece I’ve done; it’s an image of what I think of Sade: pure, soulful, beautiful.

What is your most important tool? Is there something that you can’t live without in your studio?

Hard to say, but I’d have to go with Sharpie oil paint pens, they’re the reason why my images are so detailed. If there’s one tool I can’t live without, it’s my sharpies. Most of my tools for my paintings are so random; every piece has a unique item I use to make the background. For instance, I visited Michael’s last week looking for any thing to make my James Dean piece stand out. I stumbled over an old shelf outside the store, a shelf with holes. I took it home and it became a stencil for my latest series.

As you are becoming known for your work, are there certain requests for pieces that you just can’t or won’t do?

I’m still up-and-coming, so therefore any request I see as free promo, regardless of price. In this economy, art is a want, not a need, so if you’re reaching out to me, but you really can’t afford my prices, I’ll honestly work with you, I’m very reasonable. In life period, art is needed, regardless of the economy.

What do you feel is the role of the artist in society? What is your role? Your message? Does every piece you make even have to have a message 

The role of the artist in society is to open up minds, make our eyes smile, which is also my mission as a fugitive pop artist.  My role, being a fugitive artist, is to capture the essence of those who once inspired us artists to continue with our craft. This is payback, this is me saying thank you.

My message to all the artists is pretty short: Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort box. It’s Art. There’s no such thing as a mistake in art . . . so I’ve learned.

Every piece doesn’t have to have a message, to me. In my own way, being an immigrant, I came to America, strived to learn the culture, watched a lot of biographies. These were the people who influenced me to practice my craft and perfect it.

Keel4In an age where our young men and women are criminalized and discarded as unfocused, undisciplined, and flat out lazy, we have individuals like Keel who can demonstrate that with patience, strong auto didacticism and passion, great things can be cultivated. Moral of the story folks: THINK AND DO.

Special Features Writer for The Mixx Magazine