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“Whatever fate throws at you, I have every confidence in your ability to take it on and lick it and turn it to your advantage.”
The words above were written to Canadian Record Producer Noah Shebib, also known as “40,” by his late granddad on May 4, 2005. This letter was written shortly after “40” discovered that he had a neurological disorder called Multiple Sclerosis. At the time of his diagnosis, “40” was only twenty-two years old. Words cannot express how an active person can manage to cope with a life changing, unpredictable autoimmune disease such as this one. I know the feeling first hand because I, too, was diagnosed with MS in my 20s.
“I think one of the biggest struggles with MS that anybody has is trying to define it to people and explain how it manifests itself,” said “40” in an interview with CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta. Two years later, his mother was also diagnosed with MS. Regardless of the odds set against him, “40” knew he would pull through and become a great example to others. His grandad had already initiated the blessing and covered “40” with his words of encouragement; it was just up to him to put those fateful words into action.
Although “40” faced this new challenge, he continued on a path of success, which started at a very young age. He was a child actor and comes from a family who was also in the limelight, but the young star didn’t settle for the family name. He created his own lane and adjusted to the twists and turns in the road. Music is his passion, and he launched his career as a DJ. Then he began developing beats, producing tracks and serving as a recording and mixing engineer.
The Toronto-native worked with local talent and eventually connected with rapper/singer Drake. The tag team has been known to birth record breaking hits that music lovers can name as soon as the instrumentals take over the speakers. Their fans know the sounds just as well as they can recite the lyrics performed by Drake. “40” has worked with Beyonce, Alicia Keys and several other well-known artists.
Just like any other artist, the producer’s work has matured over time, and he’s studied some of hip-hop’s greatest artists. “40” said back in the day he idolized the Notorious B.I.G. as an adolescent. “BIG influenced us all in ways that will last a lifetime. I used to try and make every mix sound like Hypnotize…,” said 40 on his Instagram profile @ovo40.
“40” is one of few who actually put his artists first. He understands that they have to be comfortable with what he creates. He goes hard in the paint when developing a sound, but he’s careful not to force it.
“Simplicity with authenticity at the same time is so difficult. So to make something simple but good is extremely difficult. But simple usually translates to real. Because there’s not too much. It’s not overdone,” he explains in an XXL mag interview.
Although music is his bread and butter, he still puts in work for things that he believes in, on a lower scale, like raising money and creating awareness for Multiple Sclerosis. He has an instagram handle called @_team40 dedicated to spreading the word about the disease and trying to create a future free of the disease.
“I got this disease and I’m going to live with it, and my story is going to be that much better when I get there. “ 40 has arrived but he hasn’t stopped representing for those who aren’t in the same position, he has become the voice and the face of the disabled.
His face can be seen on billboards and promotional materials for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 40’s work life never seems to end, in fact this is how he received his nickname, it was his grind that made him stand out. He got the nickname “40” because of his dedication, hard work and drive, he was originally called “40 days and 40 nights.” Noah said everyone else in the studio would eventually fall asleep and he would still be awake working on production, and that’s how his moniker came to be.
The number 40 is significant in the bible and usually symbolizes a test or some sort of probationary period. I think “40” has faced all of the above, but he is determined to move forward.
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I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Pablo Picasso when I first looked at these paintings. There’s no denying that they embody cubist aesthetics, particularly geometricity, simultaneity, and passage. What’s even more intriguing about these pieces is the array of bright colors that harken back to Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings. Observing artist Joey DeRuy’s works is like gazing into some psychedelic, disjointed dreamland. Considering that both Picasso and Kandinsky are two of his influences, there’s no wonder that his pieces resemble theirs. However, DeRuy also distinguishes himself from these preeminent artists by incorporating elements of futurism into his creations. For instance, his interpretation of how technological trends influence mass culture is surreal, insightful, and possibly prescient. DeRuy’s artwork serves as a conduit for observers to peer into the inner workings of his mind and spirit.
Michael Savoie is a fortune cookie personified. He’s not made of flour, sugar, vanilla, and sesame seed oil, but rather passion, perspective, fortitude, and naturally-cultivated creativity. I studied this man: muscular, imposing and intimidating, who appeared to be tough as the guys that hang out at pool halls and ride Harley Davidson motorcycles, hard just like a fortune cookie. In my head the preconceived notions said, “No way, this guy can’t be an artist, and if he is, he can’t be legit.”
But, again, he is a fortune cookie, and I cracked the cookie open. I learned the South Texan’s story, and found something much more valuable than what I originally perceived. Instead of a fortune and lucky numbers we are gifted his paintings that are so wonderfully detailed and cascaded in exuberant colors. And like that moment when you read the fortune inside of the cookie providing you words of wisdom, I realized how fortunate we are to have such a peerless artist dedicated to ensuring we receive the “food for thought” beyond the initial palatability.
It has been said that individuals who are well traveled tend to be more adventurous than the average, and as a result more thoughtful. Savoie spent much of his early life in Port Arthur, Texas, but like many of history’s eccentric thinkers and creators, he lived his early adult life in a nomadic-type fashion. “I’ve lived in California, Vermont, New Orleans, and everywhere else,” he said in an interview with entertainment mag undergrind.net.
“If you’re an artist they invite you into the community.” One of the many communities Savoie visited in California represented a new life that was both petrifying and exciting. The ambitious artist left Port Arthur when he was 22 years old to pursue an art career. Moving across the country with not too much more than the clothes on your back is scary enough, but as he studied fashion in school he decided it wasn’t for him and it was too technical. His time in San Francisco was spent honing his skills in the effervescent art scene of the Bay Area, where he gained his confidence as an artist, and clarity for his future. During the exploratory artist’s time of self-discovery, he made the move to Burlington, Vermont where he went to Burlington College and got his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. They say home is where the heart is, and I would imagine the harsh winters of the east coast brought Savoie back to Texas, specifically Dallas, where he settled at with his 2 children and wife. The journey to his eventual home was not an easy one, even as he arrived the seven-year process had been exactly that: a process.
Savoie is probably best known for his work being featured on the hit Fox TV series Empire. “It’s a big deal,” the artist told the newspaper Beaumont Enterprise. “I’m featured next to some of these artists I admire and studied when I was on my journey of making a name and a brand for myself.” The opportunity presented itself as Savoie began building a bit of a rapport with the Academy-Award nominated show producer Lee Daniels by painting work for him prior to the show. When the time came for the pilot episode of Empire, Daniels sought-after the up-and-coming artist, and requested to lease 3 of Savoie’s pieces for the show, and two were actually featured on the first episode.
What really seems to catch your eye with the splendid work of Savoie is the warm colors he seems to use in all of his paintings; yellows, deep pinks, and oranges. However, these are not the only colors that he uses, as you are liable to see all the primary colors on the spectrum in the work, but they all seem to be very vibrant and thoughtfully placed within the backdrop of a woman or man of prominence, such as his amazing painting of rapper Kanye West. He seems to be specifically describing Kanye directly on his website as he explains his work, “My art speaks with a certain [air] of dignity in all of my pieces; I tend to connect with figures that are flawed but beautiful in their own respects.” The color palettes seem to fit like puzzle pieces on the canvas, and the vibrant hues contrast the black hair or facial features of each character in the paintings well. As versatile of an artist Savoie is, he particularly hangs his hat on his two collections, Blind Ambition and Expensive Waste.
One of Savoie’s signatures is the blindfolds he places over the eyes of people depicted in his Blind Ambition collection, and as thoughtful as the artist is his explanation for undergrind.net for the blindfolds is on the simpler side: “The blindfolds in the portraits came about because I found people love the work, but they don’t necessarily know if they can live with someone on their wall.” As silly as the explanation may seem I think many people that have art in their home can agree, especially walking around the house at night. Savoie went on to explain that the Blind Ambition is truly about putting the blinders on self-doubt, and things that you might not feel the most confident about in order to become successful. I believe the pieces in the collection reflect that quite well; for instance, the piece “Young & Reckless” resembles the singer and actress Jordin Sparks, and she is holding her hair in a very bad ass fashion with her breast exposed in a leather jacket in an apparent show of rebellion and liberating femininity. Another painting is “Slave to The Passion,” and it also shows a young woman exposed and shirtless with her hands above her head, left wrist over right wrist as if her hands are cuffed. What sticks out to me in particular about this piece is how her long hair drapes over her breast that goes along with the blindfolded eyes creating an heir of tantalization and provocativeness.
Expensive Waste is art at the highest degree, and it says on savoiegalley.com, “Expensive Waste is a study in humanity at its core.” Not only is the collection creative, I feel like it was extremely brave for the innovative artist to seek out these homeless people in his community of Dallas to create a stark contrast and fusion of the worlds of poverty and luxury. High fashion brands such as Versace, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent are displayed along with real homeless people in the city of Dallas, creating awareness of the calamity of homelessness in the country, and a paradigm shift as our mind quickly disassociates these luxury brands with opulent living. The artist profiles the collection on several episodes on YouTube, and on episode two of the series Savoie and Mrs. Savoie converse about the implications of the collection as she says, “The collection relates to us on a personal level, because in a way… Everything is on the line.” He then reveals, “I could easily do something commercial that’s gonna sell some paintings, that’s gonna appeal to everybody, but is that gonna make me happy at this time?” In watching the genuine concern and contemplation in the eyes of the couple I gained a profound amount of respect for Savoie as an artist and a man. In episode four, the introspective artist profiles the man from the YSL painting, and explains that he has been homeless for over 30 years. Many of us do not have a clue about the life of the homeless and what they endure, but through his collection Savoie was able to demystify the perils of being homeless. He explained that the YSL man would hallucinate as a result of his mental illness, and the medicine he took made him feel like a zombie. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. For even just the slightest moment we feel connected to their pain, and it shines a light on a problem this country has swept under the rug for decades now. He closes by saying “You never know how strong you are until you’re put into a certain situation.” Savoie is immensely strong for allowing his work to go to that level of consciousness and creativity.
“The beautiful and scary thing about being an artist is that you create your energy, vision, and destiny,” Savoie theorizes with undergrind.net. “Art rules the world, and it dictates the way you think.” Mind.Blown. This statement made me feel like Neo after taking the red pill in The Matrix. Honestly, Michael Savoie’s talent and thoughts transcend visual art and also teaches through his interpretation of the world we live in and the sociological implications. When you observe his artwork you are symbolically sitting in his life classroom; he writes on the chalkboard in big letters for the whole classroom to see, “Who makes up these rules?” All of us do, or at least have the power to as individuals seeking to find our purpose and voice in this world every day. Just as any great teacher does, Savoie challenges us to look at his art, and as a result, look at the world in a different way. We have the power to perceive the world’s largest art exhibit, life, the way we so choose: with or without the blindfold. Will you choose the red pill or the blue?
-Terrence D. Burruss
With one look, the first thing that stands out about Olori Swank is her stunning blue hair. Take that away and what you see next is a girl who’s got clear talent. She picks the right accessories for the right clothes and has the track record to prove it. From music videos, to fashion spreads in your favorite magazines, Olori Swank has quite the portfolio.