When he was first asked to do a mural after years of drawing, teaching art, and exhibiting paintings in galleries, Nate Dee said “No man I don’t do murals! The truth is I was intimidated.”
The curator persisted and he painted a medium size painting on the wall space he was given and it was “not technically a mural” he laughs.
Flash forward ten years later and Dee has made dozens of murals in cities all over the US, been featured in magazines, and listed as one of the 10 Miami artists to follow on Instagram. In 2013 he was given an Honorable mention by the magazine for their 2013 Miami Masterminds awards.
A native Floridian, artist Nathan Delinois (his real name) knew he wanted to be an artist at a young age when his babysitter, an illustrator for the Sun-Sentinel, let him watch him draw. Soon the babysitter gave him paper and Nate took off drawing. From there he kept at it, attending the Broward Art Guild, then landing a job teaching art.
“As I got more certifications, I realized I was not doing art just teaching it. As I was pursuing my masters I started painting more and applying for shows. I got in slowly, a few group shows in Broward and Miami. I went to Wynwood early – it was all warehouses, a pretty rough hood. But I found out from a local art zine in the 90s featured me about Wynwood becoming an art area and I was seeing more muralists living there. My work didn’t fit in with Broward art shows – it was all sunset landscapes and flamingos, mine was more urban so Miami was a more viable place for me. I realized I had to show more there. The first show singled me out as the only good work in the show, then I was just doing paintings.”
“Soon after I was approached to do a mural and I said hey I don’t do murals! I wanted to be a fine artist, had not done or been taught about large scale paintings and I was actually intimidated. Had never done one, I was focused on staying safe and comfortable, getting my education, teaching. But they persisted and said ‘now you do’ around 2007. The first one I did was a small painting size on the wall, not a real mural! But it came out good and the interaction with people as I was doing it was so great and different than working in isolation in my studio here, then I was hooked. I would stop to talk to people, engage with the community, get comments, I just loved all of it – being on a lift, that’s what got me into it. Each one I did got me more exposure and led to the next one.”
As for actually living in the belly of the art beast, Nate said no to that.
“But I still want to live in Broward, Miami is crazy. I don’t want to live in the crazy, I’ll live where is peaceful and drive to the crazy. I like having the studio in my house, when I had a separate space I didn’t like driving over every day, I preferred to have it right here so I could work and be comfortable. I’m not doing large scale work in my studio so it makes more sense to have at home. It’s addictive now, murals and work is getting bigger and bigger, I apply to do a lot out of state and get invited to a lot now. I’m still traveling to do murals, twice during the pandemic so far. I’m still teaching, working on projects for next year, and a piece for South Beach.”
His process goes like this: “I have an idea,” he says in his studio which is part of his house he shares with a large golden Bearded Dragon in a tank. “Then I sketch on an iPad first, then paint it as a mural, then maybe to canvas depending on if I like it enough. Sometimes it’s just on canvas if it’s a collaboration or a commission.”
Dee’s work has become recognizable by his images of people with a mask or headdress of an animal. Tigers, foxes, and birds are the favored creature, some are more illustrative.
“It’s always animals,” he says. “They represent a physical ideal, imbued with symbolism. A person in an animal mask is channeling that animal spirit – I call it a mask but it’s not necessarily a mask, it’s very metaphysical. My work has a cultural focus, mostly Afro Latin culture. The rooster is very popular in the Caribbean culture so I keep on this lane, it’s my path.”
His influences also come from his Haitian background, the graffiti of Marc Ecko, Tat’s cru, and the Inkheads. He admires the design quality of the Art Nouveau movement, African art, and the drama of Greek art from the Hellenistic period. His studio is stacked with work in various states of doneness. One painting is a companion to a spoken word track on an album, another has a blue tiger perching on a boy’s head.
“I’ve been playing with different colors that are not natural, it captures different emotions and I like the cool colors against warm colors – blues against reds. This group of kids in masks are spirits of nature –they are children but some are scary, they have a lot of power. The kids are forest spirits kneeling by a circle on the ground, I use symbols from alchemy with triangles, circles.”
“The faces are based on people I know, pictures I take, or a combination of different faces to make it original. Photographer friends give me images they took, I don’t know them but am just attracted to their look that will work for what I’m trying to project. Sometimes a face will stick in my mind and come out years later, a fluid memory but I realize it was something I saw a year ago, putting together from different memories.”
He points to some work with just outlines, the beginnings of new work. Splatter shapes become energy across the canvas.
“Some I come back to, if I see something wrong in them that’s all I see.”
Dee has been exhibited countless times now, won a slew of awards, and had his artwork selected for the American & Russian Art Exchange. He’s also been involved with the Broward Art Guild, Purple Sunday Artgroup, and Bakehouse, and featured in DUO Magazine, Delve Magazine, WeMerge, Making Waves, and more.
The joy of his work comes across in a ritual he has after finishing a piece – he films himself dancing across the front of it, a reward, and a celebration for this gift to the world.
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Nate Dee: Spirit Animals and Bearded Dragons