Fabian Washington p.k.a. Occasional Superstar is not an Atlanta native or a big sports fan for that matter, yet his art has helped shape the creativity of one of the country’s last bastions of blackness. One of his latest and most prominent pieces—a mural of activist and former NFL player Colin Kaepernick caught the attention of the masses due largely to social media attention.
The advertising industry veteran turned full time artist has been making meaningful pieces for years now in an effort to bring positive narratives to the neighborhoods he selects, but the Kaepernick mural holds special meaning that goes beyond anything Williams could have expected.
During our conversation, Williams shared that when he found the spot to paint Kaep, he had no idea that the building–which is located in Atlanta’s historic West End neighborhood—is across the street from Morehouse College and sits on Atlanta Student Movement Blvd. Without even knowing it, Williams highlighted a current movement on the same soil that Lonnie King, Julian Bond and Joseph Lowery fought injustice on. Although this would seem like luck, it is not at all. Williams says he takes a spiritual approach to creating that plays a role in where he paints and what he paints.
We met up with Williams in Atlanta to discuss the origin of the mural as well as the unexpected attention it has garnered for him. Here’s what he had to say.
Proday: What initially made you want to put Kaep in a Falcons jersey?
Occasional Superstar: I’m kind of a news junky, so observing what was happening in the news concerning race and civil rights, from my perspective what Kaep was doing aligns with the civil rights movement in Atlanta. So, I was like since none of the teams are really fucking with him, why doesn’t he come to Atlanta?
What are some of the nuances in the painting that people may miss?
Well you probably notice I didn’t put his tats up there, and not because I don’t think they are relevant, but I didn’t really need to and I’m thinking about eventually coming back and putting his tattoos on there. I’m also playing around with the idea of putting something else on his arms. If the Falcons don’t pick him up or he goes to another team, I’m thinking about changing the jersey to the Kings, the Atlanta Kings. Shoutout to MLK. If there are sports teams reading this interview, it would be great to have a team called the Kings. How many youth football teams we got here, how man bird mascots and shit like that. I think we need to be big in the history because it does benefit us.
What about the colors?
There is always symbolism with whatever colors I use when I’m speaking on a particular subject, I can’t say that I’m conscious of it. The color, red sort of repeats itself in my work, I don’t know what it is exactly. I’m sure someone will figure it out. A lot of what I do is out feeling. That’s why I sprayed his arms gold, because I feel like he’s valuable. Usually when I paint black people I paint them gold, because that’s what we are.
Were you surprised by the positive reaction?
I didn’t know it was gonna be received like this. I told my friends for months that I was gonna do this piece. If you look on my timeline, that sketch is 3 months old.
You didn’t know that the location was historic when you selected it. How did you decide to put it here?
I was driving by and saw a hole in the roof. My logic was that no one is gonna mess with me on this. That’s the motive right now: if I see a fucked-up building in the West End or East Atlanta, I’m gonna paint it and I’m gonna put something that uplifting for black folk. Or it might be an opinion, but more than likely it is going to be an opinion for uplifting black folk, cuz we need it. Like mostly these kids walking around here need to walk around and see something larger than themselves because it’s beautiful. It’s just important to the mental state.
Have Kaep’s people reached out to you?
His organization reposted it, but they haven’t personally talked to me about it – I know they know about the mural.
Obviously, you are on Kaep’s side, but how do you personally feel about the controversy?
The protest was about police brutality and basic injustice, and now they’re talking about the flag and the military and it don’t got a motherfuckin’ thing to do with that. Trump will steer his flock away from the actual issues and make it about the flag because they don’t want to stop police brutality. They want the police to be harassing black folk. They want us in a second position, and those days are over. And that’s why they’re having such a hard time convincing people we’re second class citizens.
Now that you’ve gotten all of this media attention what is next for you?
I plan on walking like I talk it. I’m not trying to be out here making inspirational speeches, when I say some shit I’m going to do it. During Hurricane Irma, when the power was out I was burning this gigantic candle and on a couple pieces of paper I wrote a manifesto, I called it my plan for Atlanta. “Bloom” is actually what it is called. What I’m doing is beautifying the West End by painting picture of the people that live there and also tying in the civil rights legacy and putting that on the walls. I will also use technology to enrich the lives of people living on or below the poverty line because you need dignity. Lack of dignity is the cause of a lot of strife in our community. Finally, my plan for art is to bring engineers scientists and artists together in the same place because I believe they feed off each other. We have to stop thinking about art like it’s some hobby shit. Without art, you wouldn’t have this church, this car, these tires. Everything has to be functional but it must have an aesthetic quality. That’s art. Atlanta gets it but doesn’t get it. The people in Atlanta get it but the people in the structure of the city…not so much.
Learn more about Occasional Superstar and his phenomenal work at occasionalsuperstar.com.