Meet Ontask, Oakland’s Gritty Art Collective
In a small bedroom in West Oakland some of America’s most talented fine artists congregate, repping what they dub the “grittier side of life and art.” Its namesake, JusOntask—to the Ontask family what RZA was to Wu-Tang—carries his computer around for an e-tour of where they’re at: four yellow walls adorned with creative partner Jewsh’s trippy, cerebral doodling.
The Ontask family, a cool art collective umbrella under which artists like JusOntask and Jewsh put out ideas, is one of several collectives in the small yet thriving artistic hub of The Bay. Their work is set apart by its rawness and spiritual quality, which peaks when all of the group members are together.
JusOntask explains how another creative partner, Ahyve, left for New York recently to pursue photography/videography. The other members—Rob the kid (“makes music mostly and illustrative tree drawings from time to time”), Marcelous (“draws, and life of the party”), Jerm (“does photography mostly and makes colorful pencil illustrations”), Lady Hawk (“illustrates”) and Veeejzilla (“photography king”)—are scattered across the Bay Area.
JusOntask made the name (literally, to “be on task”) at Oakland School for the Arts, messing around with video editing and skateboarding with his friends. He was always into art (his grandma painted a lot) and he used to trace Dragon Ball Z comics, something he and Jewsh have in common. The other thing is they went to the same school, California College of the Arts.
“I didn’t even want to go to that school,” admits Jewsh. “I wanted to go to College for Creative Studies for design. I wanted to make sneakers for Nike. But then I met these guys and was like, ‘I don’t think I want to transfer.’”
Jewsh, whose name is a spin-off of the movie Juice, grew up in Philly to a mother that used to throw tantrums when she would paint on the walls. Her father would send her meticulously decorated letters from prison. She decided to go where the scholarship money was right, in California.
At CCA, she was influenced by teachers such as Raymond Saunders who went to school with Andy Warhol and mentored Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“We used to go to class and he would just take us to like expensive restaurants and get us food we wouldn’t be able to afford,” says Jewsh. “He showed us the finer things and told us about life, that we can breathe and be easy.”
After meeting JusOntask and vibing in an emotional dorm room session, during which they confessed their artistic goals, the two started to hang out more. Both aimed to inspire through their work, and in turn be inspired by their fans.
“We’ve all grown with each other spiritually, as well as our art,” says Jewsh. “These are people I can grow with and be open with and be expressive.”