An Art Fair's Singular Vision
On a windy March morning, a white moving van caked with dust and salt pulled up to an industrial block in Brooklyn. The artist Tim Okamura rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. Along with his studio assistant whom he jokingly calls Bruce, Okamura began negotiating the turns from his garage-turned-studio through his bedroom and living room, out his front door and down the hallway and outside to the truck. Its owner and driver is a man who calls himself Einstein due to his thick white hair and matching mustache, features that give him a surprising resemblance to the famed scientist.
The transferring of work from the studio to the truck was Okamura's last step in his preparation for Volta NY, a contemporary art fair that requires each of the 86 participating galleries to select one artist and apply for consideration to a curatorial committee. The half-Japanese artist hadn't slept more than seven hours in three days as he put the final touches on the 12 pieces to be hung at the show which runs from March 3-6 in conjunction with the Armory Show and Pulse.
Founded in 2005, Volta is listed as a boutique fair that features solo projects, giving visitors the opportunity to learn more about a single artist through the breadth of work exhibited.
Okamura has been painting his vivid street scenes, larger scale works that combine loading docks with graffiti, portraits of African Americans with details of butterflies or birds, for the last 20 years. His work has been featured in films such as "The School of Rock" and "Unfaithful." Some of his celebrity clients include Uma Thurman, who he met on the set of "Prime," a film by "Boiler Room" director Ben Younger, Swiss Beatz and most recently John Mellencamp.
Mentally and physically exhausted, Okamura continued to work, touching up the highlights in a denim jacket while talking about the portrait Mellencamp commissioned of his two sons. He's accustomed to managing high- profile clients, something which harks back to his Canadian roots and the hip-hop radio show he hosted in Calgary. With such guests as Ice T and Will Smith, Okamura learned long ago that they were "just people too," the artist said.
His studio, which is accessible only through his bedroom, is packed with canvases four deep, and every bit of wall is covered with canvases, some taped to the wall, others stretched and hung. The canvases run parallel to the ceiling as the studio's floor slopes down, disorienting everyone but Okamura, who's spent four years in the space and says he hardly notices it. Two guitars sit on the floor next to a couch, leaning against a military green filing cabinet holding a TV. There's dry paint everywhere.
Okamura, a lanky man with thick fingers and tattooed arms, is nervous about showing at Volta despite having a piece purchased at Pulse Miami that's waiting to be shipped to Jordan.
"I'm a little nervous, Volta is different than other art shows," Okamura said, referring to the fact that his pieces are the only ones Lyons Wier Gallery will be showing. "I don't like getting paintings back," he added, referring to work that returns to him unsold.
Exhaustion has overcome nerves as Einstein finishes loading the last pieces onto the truck. Okamura, with an ever-pleasant demeanor, shrugs off his puffy black jacket closing his eyes for just a moment before he returns to the studio to quickly straighten up, turn off the lights and head to his long-awaited bed.
Tim Okamura is currently showing with Lyons Wier Gallery, New York