Interview: Inside an artists’ collective with Overproof founder Joseph Belk

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Joseph Belk is a founding member of the Overproof Collective, a cooperative for working artists in Northeast Minneapolis.

Why an artists’ co-op?
I guess we wanted kind of to call it a collective as opposed to a co-op. A collective-op: collective opportunity. It’s something that people in the Twin Cities always spoke of and never did. Growing up in the Cities there is a communal, like-minded atmosphere. The idea was to have this collective where everything has a place in the line of events, where no matter what end you came in on it was fully facilitated from front to back; whether it was printing, design, pretty much anything and everything, all done by people who know each other. Whereas a co-op is like, here’s a space; here’s an area; here’s materials; and you have people just coming and going as they please. There’s no continuity, and people can get somewhat irresponsible fairly quickly. I guess that’s the idea of why we wanted to start it. It’s a small dream everyone wanted to do.

Where to buy Overproof
Art Minion Incorporated, located in Northeast Minneapolis, features work by Overproof artist Deuce 7.
Design Collective, located in Minneapolis, sells Overproof printed shirts.
Head to Toe, located on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, sells Overproof fashion.
Supermarkethq.com has printed shirts with artwork by Deuce 7 and Animal Apparel.
Overproof.org has artist profiles and more.

Upcoming Overproof events
Overproof presents “Guilty Pleasures” DJ dance nights at 9:30 p.m. at Jitters in Northeast Minneapolis every Friday in June.
June 20: “Funk, Hip, Dance” with DJ Anton & DJ Espada
June 27: “Old School Funk & Soul” with Greg Buck and Rambo

When did you start it?
Overproof started as a magazine years and years ago. We were very young when starting it, [and] it kind of faded into the depths. How it reemerged today [last December] is there were a bunch of people who wanted to screenprint on apparel. We started printing shirts of our own design and more and more people wanted to be involved. After that more and more people wanted to shoot photos of them, and more and more people wanted to model them, and it turned into this onslaught of people who wanted to get involved.

People think “co-op” and they assume the participants are living together; is this the case?
No, not at all. I think it’s more convening and coming together than people living together. That’s more of a hippie thing, if you ask me. There are Overproof-ers in about seven or eight major cities in the U.S. By no means do any of us live together.

Do you share supplies?
We share supplies. We share space. We share ideas.

Have there ever been heated discussions on art?
Yes, especially when it comes to the art community; especially Minneapolis; especially the fashion people we have involved. The reason we meet with everybody before a [new] person gets involved is so we can try to figure out who works best with each other. We try to put people with other people so they can create. The only arguments that came to a head would definitely be [regarding] apparel printing; everybody wants to make a shirt, and not everyone can do that. We don’t print Overproof shirts to print shirts. Our idea is trying to use the shirt as a canvas, but having the artist develop around the shirt, around the concept, around the color of the actual garment—rather than [saying] “Here’s my design. Can we put that on a shirt?” Everything that we print is limited edition. All rights [belong] to the artists. Some of the artists even come and learn the screenprinting process themselves. With the whole process of Overproof, if you’re not learning anything, why would you do it anyway?

Tell me about the hand-painted bikes that are selling nationally.
Minneapolis is pretty much number two behind Portland [in biking, bike culture, and frame building]. I went down to One on One [Bicycle Studio] and picked out some frames. All the frames are 35 years old. We wanted to get all traveling road frames. We wanted to have one set standard so we could put together kits with them later. We had a friend sandblast them all; we coated them, and sent these bikes out to artists. These artists painted them, sent them back, and then Erik from Peacock Groove—who’s a pretty prestigious bike builder from here, a nationally recognized guy—he’s going to put together kits of these bikes.

What is your hottest seller? What is getting a lot of attention right now?
These friends of ours from Brooklyn [produced] Animal Apparel; these kids are ridiculously talented. I contacted them a while ago and the first ones [screenprinted] were this large hippo and a jellyfish. We put [Animal Apparel] in Design Collective and a couple other places around town, and they just fly off the shelves. Also, Deuce 7 gets a lot of attention [for his screenprints].

How do the artists influence each other?
It would depend. From project to project, techniques are exchanged, ideas are generated, and because everyone has a certain skill, what they are bringing to the table is going to vibe off the next person in line—immediately. You can see a couple different artists coming together with one saying, “I’ve done this before with metal,” and another guy over here saying, “I’ve pinstriped bicycles in Texas for two years.” So you’ve got this metal worker who’s talking about building bikes and this pinstriper who wants to learn more about metal. It happens pretty naturally. The artists naturally influence each other.

Melissa Slachetka contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.