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The Fantastic World of
Jeff & Dale Ocasio

by CINDY-JO DIETZ

TOYS TYPICALLY REPRESENT our childhood. A world of fantasy and imagination where anything is possible. In the Ocasiocasa Gallery this love of whimsy still exists even here in a more adult world. Looking around, I was taken back to creatures I could quite possibly imagine coming out of a movie like Dark Crystal or Where the Wild Things Are. The work doesn’t stop at toys. Ocasiocasa has books, paintings, bamboo walking sticks and much more. The weird and wonderful live and play on the shelves of Ocasiocasa, putting a smile on every visitors face.

Dale and Jeff Ocasio got their start working from home as many artists do. They explained the inspiration behind the name of their gallery, Ocasiocasa. “We’ve always dabbled in making stuff, but once our kids came, they really inspired Jeff and I to get creative with the things we had on hand, to recycle, upcycle, redesign and modify things. When they were little, we would make toys for them. I used to sew soft sculptured dolls. Then as they got older we did hand-made paper and book binding.

Recently opening their gallery in downtown Fort Myers, Dale Ocasio describes their work as a real tag-team effort. “Jeff does the sculpting, and I do a lot of painting and taking pictures of the things we make. I also create illustrations through the use of those photos.

“We knew this was going to be an investment, but it was good for us in many ways,’ she continues. “We needed that interaction. It really helps keep you going. If people like your work, you’re very inspired. To see and talk with people, and then have them buy something you made. There’s so much to learn from that face-to-face interaction. The feedback has been good.” She then adds, “One thing I hear more than anything else is, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this’

The body of work displayed at Ocasiocasa has been created through years of marriage, raising children, and now owning a gallery. I speculated that sort of marital/working relationship would require an element of compromise. I asked Dale how they’ve worked this out, how they differ from one another, and if she’s seen a metamorphosis over the years as far as their style is concerned. “I’m very minimalistic and subdued. I like subtle color and design,’ she explains. “Jeff likes things bold and a bit wild. If we can’t come to an agreement on a project we set it aside and come back to it later. It has to be something we both like.

“We’ve made a lot of dolls, and just recently we brought in toys: a Jack-in-the-Box, Etch-a-Scketches, multiple organic looking robots, and flowers.

She continues, “Jeff’s refined his sculpting during the last few years. He’s created his own style, primarily sculpting with masking tape on recycled items. We get them at thrift stores, garage sales, or people will give things to us.”

An example of one of their earlier collections include sculpted bottles. “I like wine,” says Dale. “I wasn’t throwing the bottles out. I just kept putting them in our back yard in a kind of wall. I knew Jeff would do something with them eventually.”

In other projects the duo used wire reclaimed from Hurricane Charley. She says, “It knocked over all the power lines. When everything got reconnected and the yard cleared, we had all these lines still in our yard. We just wound it up and used it.

One of the Ocasio’s favorite new projects is sculpting on books. “He sculpts right on the covers. They’re still readable.”

Not everything at the gallery is made from recycled material. The Ocasio’s occasionally fashion their creations entirely freehand. Dale continues, “Jeff sometimes makes things completely from tape, like the fish.”

Each item in Ocasiocasa is unique and individual, clearly lovingly made. Dale points out, “It takes time. If you look closely you can see the layers. He’ll wad up masking tape to fill it. If it’s big, like the fish, then he stuffs it with newspaper. Afterwards, we apply layers of water based professional glue, then acrylic paint and varnish.” Unlike toys you may buy for your kids, these toys are made for display, not play. “Normal handling is fine,’ she affirms. “But this is artist paint, varnish – they move. They’re durable, but it’s exactly why I take so many pictures and paint so many pictures of them.” She adds, “We don’t say they’re intended for kids, but I guess that’s up to the people that buy them.”

When coming up with new characters the Ocasios generally bounce ideas off one another. Dale tells me, “I once suggested he try making mushrooms. He made them, but I didn’t tell him how they should look. So, he put their faces on the little tops instead of the stem. But they’re really cute.”

She adds, “Everything’s completely out our heads. Jeff gets ideas all the time. He’s constantly observing and trying new things.”

I asked Dale if they ever work on commissioned pieces. “Sometimes people will have a journal or book they want to give as a gift,” she says. “They’ll ask us to do a cover for them. Or they’ll see something and ask ‘Can it be this way instead?’ ‘Can it be a boy instead of a girl?’”

Tending to focus on their displays in-house, they do participate in the random outside event. Dale notes, “I had a piece in Howl Gallery for their November show. The theme being The Day of the Dead, Mexican Holiday. We made aliens for this year’s Zombiecon. They were on display in the convention center.”

The Ocasios choose a new theme each month for their display, intended to coincide with Art Walk. “We typically talk about it the weekend of Art Walk. That’s a Friday. So, Saturday and Sunday we try to finalize what the next month will be, she says, adding “We toss things around, but I like to change my mind.”

December’s theme will be centered around fish and called ‘Age of Aquarium.’ Dale explains, “Jeff started making fish because it was something he could do on a plane while he travels. He would also make fish at family gatherings to show our nieces and nephews. The collection just naturally formed, and we hadn’t done anything with them yet.”

Beyond that, the team at Ocasio is still working on ideas, but as Dale tells me, there are a few front runners. She confesses, “I’ve always wanted to do the bottles more as if they were a collection, a grouping of them where we could display them as almost still life.” She notes, “We’re not on anybody else’s timeline. I guess we have that luxury.”

Dale adds, “I like that we are putting out a new small collection every month and creating short, sort of animated, videos and prints that go along with each collection. Just doing that right now is enough. There are a few things I would like to do myself. I want to illustrate a children’s book with the doll pieces.”

So, who buys wacky dolls, robots with a painted faces, and creatures from another world?

She answers, “People who want something really different in their homes. But they have to get it. On the other hand, people will meander in and are like, “I’m not leaving here until I buy something.” •


OCASIOCASA STUDIO GALLERY
1540 Broadway • Fort Myers
691-8292
ocasiocasa.com
Tuesday-Saturday 11a-5p ¶ Fridays 11a-7p
first Friday of month 11a-10p


January-February 2013



Jeff & Dale Ocasio










“We don't say they're
intended for kids,
but I guess that's
up to the people
that buy them."


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