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Eric "Prospect" Davis, Basil Kincaid, Damon "LooseScrewz" Davis and Robert Powell. Below:Kincaid's layered painting of St. Louis buildings on discarded wood; and his mixed media piece about seeing the city multiple ways, represented by the multiple eyes of the figures. Photography by Britany Ruess.
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As driftwood brushed up on the California ocean shore, Robert Powell grabbed the wood with purpose. In 1973, Powell was stationed in California with the military, and would create art from the driftwood. It was the beginning of his career as an artist and, he says, creating positive motivation.
“Artists are the difference makers, the dreamers,” Powell, founder of Portfolio Gallery in the Delmar Loop says. “Artists are the ones who take blank canvases and create something. It’s like magic.”
So when Powell heard about Basil Kincaid and the Reclamation Project, he brought the artwork into his space. Kincaid, 26, of St. Louis, along with Eric “Prospect” White, 27, and Damon “LooseScrewz” Davis, 27, created the multimedia project based on St. Louis buildings and the stories of those buildings. “Reclamation” is a fusion of visual artwork, written word and song. Kincaid found disposed pieces of wood and layered images of various buildings in the St. Louis area, such as north St. Louis, Cherokee Street, the Art Museum and Clayton. Crumbling buildings are imposed inside of strong-standing ones.
“It’s a metaphor for how, in environments, you think things are all bad, there are still can be life thriving and loving homes,” Kincaid says.
The artwork and White’s song lyrics fed off of each other during their creative process. Some lyrics were based off of the artwork and vice versa. Davis brought the two together with music. “Reclamation” will premiere at the Portfolio Gallery on Saturday, February 9.
“That’s a metaphor for how things get stronger when you come together,” Kincaid says. “This is just three of us, so imagine if everybody was coming together on something positive. That’s beyond my imagination. At that point, you could do anything.”
“When you try to make the masses think outside the box, you find something inside yourself,” White says.
Kincaid lives in South St. Louis City, and says he felt when he looked at his environment much was overlooked.
“Imagine everything fully restored, it would look like a theme park. Everything would look so nice,” Kincaid says. “So, I guess [‘Reclamation’] was motivated by that imagination.”
Davis says their motivation went beyond imagination, to what they saw. He compared the current art movement in South St. Louis City to the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.
“I think there’s a lot of creativity and community builders and a lot of renaissance going on that nobody pays attention to,” Davis says.
Kincaid says his artwork includes the environment’s natural visuals as meaningful symbols, such as a “Share the Road” biking sign.
“It’s not just a biking sign,” Kincaid says. “But it’s more of a sign of let’s all share these streets together.”
For the three artists, the project was an opportunity to give old buildings or seemingly ugly spaces, a new purpose.
“It’s a call for a greater empathy when you view not only your surroundings but also the people that make up those buildings,” Kincaid says.
“So, it’s not just reclamation of identity and self-awareness,” Davis added. “Reexamining who we are and what we’re doing in this society.”
Davis says at the foundation of the project is the message of appreciation. He grew up in East St. Louis, where broken buildings surrounded him, but he says he still recognized the spaces.
“I grew up around disarranged buildings, and it wasn’t very ugly to me for the fact that you could throw paint at it, you could break all the windows out but it’s still standing. It’s not going anywhere,” Davis says. “That’s what I see when I look at people like my family and people that I come from. They don’t know how not to be beat up. When someone tries to give them something or help them out, they think there’s an ulterior motive. There’s strength in that. There’s strength in being able to turn a bad situation into good. And that’s what this is, a bad situation. Things have been thrown out and disregarded by society but we turn it into good things.”
The Portfolio Gallery is located on 3514 Delmar. Portfolio is open from 7 to 9 p.m. for the premiere of “Reclamation” on Saturday, February 9. For more information, call 314-533-3323, or go to portfoliogallerystl.org.