Evolve or Dissolve - the Ongoing Evolution of Desmond Mason

Splurge Magazine, March 1st, 2015

Desmond Mason

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The Ongoing Evolution of Desmond Mason and Why 2015 Will be His Year

“I’ve always been the outsider,” Desmond Mason said, his tall, NBA-sized frame squashed in the small metal coffee shop chair. “I’m an outsider in the art world. I was an outsider in the basketball world. In college, all the art students wore black clothes and eyeliner, and I showed up in the Oklahoma State jersey. When I was in the NBA, I was one of the only artists there. I’m okay with being an outsider.”

Mason isn’t an outsider anymore. Dressed in a black hat he designed and wearing a “#beDifferent” T-shirt from his own clothing line, Mason is quickly becoming the new star of abstract art, fashion, design and business.

These days, people don’t see him as an NBA player; they may recognize him, but that light of recognition will spark in their eyes and they say, “You’re that artist.”

That’s the way Mason wants it.

In the past 12 months, Mason has gone from emerging as a nationally-recognized artist and Oklahoma City celebrity to rubbing elbows with celebrities, meeting with fashion designers like Mossimo, hosting his own shows in Cabo and traveling the world.

In the next 12 months, Mason wants to get bigger. The groundwork has been laid, and now it’s about the hustle and the strategy. Progression is the play of the day, and 2015 is the year that Mason plans to become a household name.

“It’s all a process and an ongoing thing that never stops,” he says about his art and his business. “I gotta be better. I gotta keep up. But if you love what you are doing, you can set that challenge and succeed. Right now, I feel like every shot I throw goes in. I can’t miss right now. Now’s the time to push it.

“Evolve or dissolve,” Mason said. “If you can’t go forward, then you go backwards.”

The Rise Of Mason

In addition to spending 10 years in professional basketball, Mason has always had the heart of an artist. While violence and drugs marred his childhood neighborhood in Waxahachie, Texas, Desmond started drawing. He drew on skateboards, on books, on folders and with friends.

Mason discovered magic with his hands. In ceramics class, those big hands created delicate bowls and pots, and Mason found sculpture to be an easy medium for him.

He made a huge jump in art technique when he hit high school. He also made a huge jump into athletics, specifically basketball. After being accepted to Oklahoma State University, Mason moved to the state that eventually would become his home base.

Mason was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2000, and he proved himself by becoming the first Seattle player in that franchise’s history to win the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

He also found his true passion in art while proving himself on the courts. Moving to Seattle to play for the SuperSonics opened his eyes to a new art world, new styles of painting that transcended the realism style he was used to.

Mason spent 10 years in the NBA before he chose Oklahoma City as the place to raise his family and continue his journey into art. He had his pick of anywhere, but while playing for the Seattle SuperSonics, the New Orleans Hornets, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Sacramento Kings, Oklahoma City seemed like the place to be.

“Oklahoma City fit for us,” Mason said. “We wanted someplace that had values and morals in the forefront. So we took a road trip from Sacramento to Portland, made calls, loaded up everything we could and made a road trip from Portland to Oklahoma City.”

Mason and his wife opened Barre3 in Oklahoma City, while Mason searched for studio space to create his paintings. A friend told him about a contest for free storefront space in Oklahoma City’s budding Midtown District. He won the contest.

Ongoing Evolution

In the years since, Mason is now more famous as an artist than as a former NBA star. His works adorn the collections of celebrities like George Clooney, supermodel Cindy Crawford, sportscaster Joe Buck, Rande Gerber and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

“My first art show was in Seattle, and this past year, I did a show there again after 10 years,” Mason said. “It was good. Howard Schultz, who started Starbucks, bought one of my paintings. That was big for me. He’s a collector, and having him buy one of my paintings is a big deal.”

Mason’s signature abstract works have spanned the globe. He is returning to Art Basel in Miami, and in February, he debuted in New York for the first time in the Athletes for Art Renaissance show in Chelsea. He has shown in Singapore and Mexico and was recently featured in Mexico Vogue and the New York Post.

During Mason’s solo show in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, his famous neighbors began buying his art. He was invited back last year as the only North American artist out of six artists-in-residence to set his wild imagination free at the newly-built resort, El Ganzo, in Cabo.

“They gave me free rein to paint anything I wanted anywhere in the hotel and outside the hotel,” said Mason. Having talent like his inspires that kind of blind trust.

He’s also moving in bigger circles. He has deep conversations about art with celebrities like Matt Damon, who promises to come to any show Mason is in when he’s able.

“I’ve wanted to paint all my life,” Mason said. “Basketball was a significant part of my life, but I was never just an athlete only. I had so much more depth than that, and I wanted to show that.”

From Art To Fashion

These days, Mason is turning that creative power into clothing design. He has his own hipster gear clothing line under DMason Art, and works with established brands like Gold Sheep, Mini and Maximus, Supra, Krew and more.

“I want to take real paintings, not computer-generated images, and put them on a garment so you can see the brush strokes,” he said. “I think I can be successful with fashion. If you do it where it’s legit, the fashion world will accept you. But you gotta stay ahead of the curve.”

Every step from this point on is to grow what he’s accomplished by tenfold.

“My goal is to make it bigger, to be more aggressive with media, to be more social, to take it to the next level,” said Mason.

A big part of that plan is to be featured in a show in Italy, an art landscape that remains traditional and old-school.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “One, I’d stand out, being an African-American abstract artist in old-world Italy. If all the stars align, I’d love to do that.”

Still, throughout his rising fame, Mason plans to remain in Oklahoma. When the big wigs and the celebrities question why he chooses the Sooner State as his home, he tells them about how laid back the scene is, how the morals and values resonate with him and how Oklahoma City is a solid place to raise a family.

Like his T-shirt says, Mason is different. He’s not your typical artist. He’s not your typical athlete. He’s not your typical fashion designer. He doesn’t evolve typically either.

“I just keep pushing it,” he said. “I’m going to keep shooting while I can.”