Hailing from Rhode Island and now residing in the Sunshine State, Miami Florida, SHOTCA would like to introduce the newest Visionary Creative: Michael O'Keefe (MOK). MOK brings a very interesting element of psychedelic and realism that we believe will put anyone, even the most sober of us, in an absolute trance.
Ladies and Gentlemen put on your seatbelts, and get ready to enjoy this ride as we delve into the mind and life of MOK.
SHOTCA: So MOK, tell us a bit about your background, your work, and ultimately how you found art?
MOK: Well, to start, I'm from North Kingstown, Rhode Island. I actually started drawing when I was probably in elementary school, I was a doodler. Me and my best friend growing-up, Carl Cunningham whose no longer with us, unfortunately, we loved to draw. We would draw every day in class. In fifth grade we ran a school store, Carl and I just wanted to be the buyers, but my teacher said, "No, you're going to be in advertising. I love how you draw, you're going to make flyers and pass them out to the whole school,". So basically, I started doodling when I was, like, f*cking five and now I'm thirty-one. I never took a drawing class in high school but I took one in college. While there, I figured out I could truly do it. I started working with charcoals, drawing nude models which showed me I could do gestures, portraits, and bodies; I was hooked. In 2010, I started painting and by this time I dropped out of school, college wasn't really my thing. And that's where "Jack the Rabbit" came in, I've been painting him for years now.
SHOTCA: So "Jack the Rabbit" is featured throughout so many of your pieces, how did he become such a staple for you? How was he created?
MOK: Alright, back in my early twenties, my older brother, he had a pet rabbit, and we all use to chill at his apartment. My younger brother would play gigs with his band and then we would all just head back to my brother's apartment where Jack was. He would be hopping around, this little black fluff-ball, and we all found him to be cool as sh*t. One day, me and my boy, we were tripping on shrooms, listening to the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's", and I was sitting on the floor rolling around what I thought were these little chocolate pebbles with my fingers and I was like, "Yo, where did these little balls come from, like, what are these?". Of course, I realized it was rabbit poop which was hysterical to us all, but the following day, we had this idea of making Jack a little clothing line, using his image and making a logo out of him. I started making some doodles here and there and then we nailed it. I have a ton of sketches of him from the beginning until now and he's changed only a bit. He's maintained the one big eye paired with the small one, but Jack's been in my work for over ten years now. He's become my logo, my stamp. He's what I have become known for and I love it. Someone's gotta replace Hugh Hefner, you know?
SHOTCA: Besides Jack, you've completed numerous amounts of murals and beautiful works of sidewalk art. How were you able to maneuver into those realms?
MOK: The murals came from back in the day. I was probably eighteen, nineteen years old and this girl wanted me to paint her room. She wanted some dope flowers on her wall so me and my boy we did it for like $100 each and realized, like, damn we could do this and make bread too. So we did a few more rooms in people's houses after that, we included some flowers, even Jack a few times, but it was mainly trippy stuff. This all made me realize I could do some big pieces. In 2011, I signed up to do a street painting and I completed a Bob Marley piece. At the time I thought it was pretty dope, but of course, as you look back on things, I realized where it could be better but it was definitely a way to get my foot in the door of this realm. I started doing this every year and now, I've progressed to doing walls in Miami Beach and Wynwood, pretty notable spots. I love being outside, I love using the wall as my canvas.
SHOTCA: What goes into your creative process? How and where do you gather ideas from, from what you see, things in your life, etc.?
MOK: I'll base it around my actual background. I'll see the different colors. There's one painting I've done that I really just can't let go of. There's a ton of blues and greens in the background and the green in this piece I saw the Emerald City. So I took that and said I'm going to paint an Emerald City there. So I painted it floating on an island with waterfalls, it just all comes together, every layer can add a new idea. You can have a vision that ends up completely different from where you thought you were going to start.
SHOTCA: You recently had an interesting interaction with the New England Patriots after a dope piece of Tom Brady, tell us a bit about that.
MOK: Well I'm actually a huge Cheese Head, I love the Packers. But I painted Tom Brady out of respect, you know, he’s the GOAT. The cool thing about this piece I made a print and went to the first game of the year when they played the Miami Dolphins. My sister and I, at the end of the game, went on the Patriot's side of the stadium down to field level, row 1, as they're heading into the locker room at the end of the game. A few fans were screaming, "come over here, come over here," and two players came over, Stephen Gostkowski (kicker) and Gunner Olszewski (receiver and punt returner), and my sister threw the canvas to Gunner and he caught it and brought it back to the locker room and confirmed it too. He put it on Instagram and said, "great work, it's hanging in my house,". And I was blown away, man, it was cool as sh*t. That was also the only game Antonio Brown played this year so maybe he saw that piece, never know.
SHOTCA: What would you say to a creator who's trying to make a name for themselves? What advice would you give someone looking to expand their network?
MOK: I've been networking through Miami a lot lately. But I definitely started local, man. West Palm Beach is my home and I've talked to some people down there who know the art scene and know how to make it and do end up making it. The whole "starving artist" thing is a myth, you can make it and be an artist. I hate hearing that. You just have to have faith, have a drive-a goal. Just go for it. Some people do put their energy towards another job, this-and-that, and it takes away the energy to go forward with your passion, so if you're trying to go for it-then go for it, 100%. That right there is my push, that's why I want to keep going, go bigger. It's about levels, you know, I started in West Palm, Lantana, Boca, and now I've reached Miami, so I'm trying to grow. I've seen myself rising, it's a slow process but I'm just happy it's going up. It's my strive to be better. I do it for my son and I want to show him that you don't have to starve to do what you love. Your passion is everything, your talent is everything. If your talent isn't your job, then you're not pushing yourself hard enough. Once you have that talent as your job, you've made it.
SHOTCA: What ways, if any, has having children changed your career? What role do they play for you in all of this? Do they push you to strive for more, to work harder?
MOK: Man for sure, my son is everything to me, man. Without him, I wouldn't be here, like 100% wouldn't be. I haven't said this yet, but I'm Epileptic. And for those that don't know, Epilepsy disrupts nerve cells in your brain which cause seizures and I developed this when I was 26, I've had it for five years now and it sucks living with it. I can't be alone, I can't drive but I'm not giving up. I haven't had a seizure in around 5 months, and that's how it's been going, I haven't been able to hit that 6-month mark. Once I’ve been seizure-free for at least one year, I’m going to get back in the driver seat. It usually happens in my sleep but like waking up in the hospital, it's not fun man, it's not. I've been in two comas and I'm just over it, man, it sucks. My girl is there for me every day, man, and I’m blessed for that.
Speaking with MOK was an absolute pleasure. His grind and perseverance despite the many setbacks he has encountered are extremely admirable and worthy of mirroring. Please, take the time to follow MOK on Instagram to stay up to date on all of his latest projects and look out for more of his spectacular works on SHOTCA. Stay tuned for more to come from MOK.