Devin ‘Cypher’ Dennis
REAL RECOGNIZES REAL
By TERRENCE SANDERS-SMITH September, 2019
Devin ‘Cypher’ Dennis is a visual artist and emcee from New Orleans. When he’s not touring with rapper G-Eazy he’s working on his current body of work. His art practice was brought to my attention by my close friend and collector Mario Madero. I recently visited ‘Cypher’ at his studio in NOLA to introduce myself and take a closer examination.
Terrence Sanders-Smith –How do you navigate between creating music and painting?
Devin ‘Cypher’ Dennis – It’s a weird balance but I never force it, I let them both flow whenever the inspiration presents itself.
TSS – How long have you been a visual artist?
DCD - I’ve been creating since I was around 6 or 7 years of age.
TSS – What made you step into the arena so to speak of painting? Was there someone or something that encouraged you to give this form of expression an attempt?
DCD – In 2015, on some downtime from the music, I was spending a lot of time with an old friend who was venturing into art and creating paintings. So while hanging with him and not recording music, I experienced the creative process and practice of painting and drawing. I found myself becoming inspired to create my own visual dialogue.
TSS – Can you name three artists or art movements that have influenced you and your distinct style?
DCD – Visually Francis Bacon, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Musically the Civil Rights & Jazz movements including but not limited to Louie Armstrong and Lee Morgan to name a few.
TSS – One reoccurring theme I see in your visual dialogue is faces. Be it figurative, fragmented or abstracted. Is there a reason you are so drawn to document three of the head’s sense organs, the eyes, nose and mouth?
DCD - In recent years, I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people touring with G-Eazy. Remembering faces is very important to me because names for me don’t stick. So the constant reoccurring theme of faces inspires, intrigues and captivates me.
TSS – For the person that views your work for the first time, what do you want them know about you, your practice and process?
DCD – I want them to know that my work has layers and levels. Each work of art has a growth process of give, take, and sacrifices.
TSS – Did you attend an art school or are you self taught?
DCD – Academics would categorize me as self taught because I never attended art school but I was raised by my Grandmother & Uncle who we’re both visual artists and learned early on collectively from them. Watching them create something from nothing was my first art education.
TSS - In your personal opinion do you see any advantages of being a self taught artist over an artist that has acquired a BFA and or MFA?
DCD - I’m not sure honestly. The only advantage arguably is that self taught artist has no rules and or boundaries, no limits. The self taught artist taps into experiences, the subconscious and conscious, and gut feelings. The educated artist is usually working within the parameters of art history.
TSS – What does being an artist mean to you on a personal and or spiritual level?
DCD – First and foremost is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Second is being raw. Viewers that examine and experience my paintings will walk away feeling like they can relate and identify. Or they will be indifferent, but never nothing and or emptiness.
TSS – Are there any similarities and or connective tissue between the art of rapping and painting?
DCD – Freedom of speech, being able to do whatever, say whatever you want. In both mediums you also have the choice to constantly reinvent yourself.
TSS – If you had to choose between being a visual artist or an emcee what would you choose?
DCD – The best part of living and working in the 21st century as an artist is you don’t have to choose. For me personally, I don’t think I could ever choose between music and art. I’ve been doing them both for so long. I love them both passionately and for very different reasons.
TSS – What has been the response to your work on both sides of the fence? What has been the positive and negative takes on your art?
DCD – Sometimes people don’t understand how to read and or view a painting, arguably they lack the vernacular to articulate their feelings so they walk away dissatisfied because it’s easier to say what they don’t like than the reasons why they do like. For the most part my experience thus far has been pretty positive and informative.
TSS – If you were to translate your visual dialog into the spoken word what would your paintings say to the viewer?
DCD – I would want them to speak of life’s ups and downs! The rap audiences Ooh’s & Ahh’s. All my paintings articulate pain, passion, and fearlessness.
TSS – Thank you for taking the time and it was a pleasure speaking with you.
DCD – Thank you. WM
Terrence Sanders-Smith has contributed to the landscape of contemporary art as an artist, gallerist, curator, and publisher & editor-in-chief of Artvoices Magazine and Artvoices Art Books. Sanders-Smith’s mission as Editor-In-Chief of Artvoices Magazine (2008-2018) was to create a platform for emerging, neglected and under-recognized artists who were producing important and relevant works. In New Orleans Sanders-Smith created a memorial engraving of 1,800 names on the “Saratoga Building” (212 Loyola Avenue) dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The memorial's a welcoming gesture of forgiveness and unity for the city of New Orleans.view all articles from this author