‘This is going to be fun’: Double Decker Arts Festival official artist finds support in Oxford, beauty in Mississippi

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OXFORD – When she woke up the morning of Nov. 19, 2018, Vicki Stevens hurried to Rebel Bookstore located on Oxford’s bustling Jackson Avenue. She was in search of pink and yellow acrylic paints — colors she knew would help bring her vision of a Double Decker fantasy piece to life. Her deadline: the next day — Nov. 20.

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Vicki Stevens’ art materials

“That’s why it was acrylics — because it had to dry,” Stevens giggled as she recalled the moment she finally decided to apply to be the official artwork artist for the 24th annual Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford.

After missing the first deadline, the mother of three would have been remiss if she didn’t take advantage of the extension.

“I always tell my children, ‘you should definitely apply because you can’t win if you don’t apply,'” Stevens said. “And I thought I should listen to that too.”

With a thin sheet laid about half-way across her living room floor and her easel propped up next to an end table covered with art supplies, Stevens spent the night before and the morning of deadline day finishing her submission.

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Vicki Stevens holds one of the pieces of art that will be displayed during the Learn moreFeedback Double Decker Arts Festival.

According to Stevens, her experience painting the double-decker bus and other Oxford scenes over the years allowed her to paint the piece fairly quickly.

“There were years of preparation and hard work that went into completing the painting even before I decided to enter,” said Stevens, who was selected to create this year’s Double Decker Art Festival artwork. “Plus, as with any contest, I was lucky.”

As the festival’s official artwork artist, Stevens’ acrylic painting of the double-decker bus is featured on promotional posters and T-shirts. She was even prized with her own artist’s booth, which will be located across from Nielson’s on the college town’s historic downtown square. Stevens is a member of the Oxford Artists’ Guild and has previously shared booths with other members, but this will be her first time having her own. The award-winning festival began Friday and the art vendors open at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Vicki Stevens discusses the upcoming Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford, Miss. and shows some of her small pieces of artwork that will be on sale at her booth.

In between working in an elementary school office and completing art commissions, Stevens has been painting about 40 art pieces that will be available for purchase at her booth. Looking past the time she was “really stressed” about only having a few months to prepare for the festival, Stevens is now looking forward to reaping the benefits of her hard work.

“I’ve just made up my mind; this is going to be fun,” she said. “It’s so overwhelming, but in a good way. People have been so positive back towards me about the artwork. Sometimes when you put a piece of yourself into the artwork, it’s hard to just put it out there. I’ve had a lot of support and good comments. I appreciate that people have responded so well.”

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Artist Vicki Stevens talks about her painting style and techniques while in her home in Oxford.

The Houston, Texas native turned Ole Miss alumna describes her creative style as “very loose and colorful.” She knew she wanted to maintain the same aesthetic when it came time to paint her unique interpretation of the double-decker bus.

“When I paint the double-decker bus I think I tend to give it a personality as if it were a person instead of just an object,” she said. “I use a lot of color. I’ve had several people say to me, ‘… that looks alive.'”

Vicki Steven’s poster art for the 24th annual Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford.

Primary colors red and blue are the colors that may initially come to mind when one imagines a scene of Oxford, the Ole Miss campus or the Double Decker Arts Festival. Take one look at Steven’s painting, and you will find a traditionally red double-decker bus brushed with unexpected yet pleasant strokes of pink and yellow. Occupying almost half of the canvas is a whimsical swirl of alternating shades of the same colors, reminiscent of a circus tent.

When it comes to creating art, Stevens is usually achieving someone else’s vision through a commissioned piece. Sometimes, she finds herself “stuck in a rut” and not creating art at all. But this time, Stevens was able to take complete ownership of her creativity.

“One reason the Double Decker piece was so fun is because I didn’t have to meet anybody else’s expectations,” she said. “I didn’t have to think about what anybody else wanted. If I was doing a commission for somebody, I sit down and I talk to them about what they see coming out of the piece. It’s really fun, and I love to work with people. But I really enjoy just being able to do my own thing sometimes too. That’s how you grow and explore.”

Originally from Texas, Stevens moved to Oxford in 1987 to pursue an art degree. After graduating in 1991, she stayed in town because she was dating her future husband. She also continued her education and attained a Master of Business Administration the following year.

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Vicki Stevens shows pieces of her artwork.

Stevens has remained in Mississippi ever since. She’s passionate about the state and says its creative community, culture and landscape have inspired her artwork and have given her the resources to fulfill her passion.

“I think Mississippi is just such a creative place,” she said. “You meet the most creative people here. Oxford has a very supportive community of artists. Some of the groups I’m in have helped me to grow and have helped me to learn things that I wouldn’t have. Even the landscape is so pretty. It’s one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen. And Oxford to me is just so beautiful.”

To learn more about this year’s Double Decker Arts Festival click here.