Originally born in the streets of Paris, Seth’s characters have crossed the borders of their homeland in 2000 to go around the world. This “Globe-Painter”, author of two books on graffiti (Kapital and Extramuros), wanders through countries soaking up various cultures to nourish his humanist and contemporary works. This results in a true artistic and cultural dialogue in which traditional and foreign techniques meet with a modern aesthetic, drawing meaning from a specific context. It’s at the heart of his universe and in the eyes of the local population that the nature of Seth’s art is fully revealed. Intent on stirring the collective unconscious, Seth symbolises a hushed imaginary world that he paints with childish figures that merge dream and reality. Jacker met up with this vagabond Frenchman.
Jacker / How did your taste for graffiti first come about? What brought you to this?
Seth / It’s quite simple really, I was passionate about graffiti and the whole street-art movement and I had a strong desire to be a part of it. I think that’s how it began. Apart from that, I was studying art and design, but I never intended to become a painter, I wanted to be a graphic designer.
J / I’ve read in some of your interviews that you use the terms painter, photographer and journalist to define yourself. Is the fact that you’re multifaceted what separates you from other artists? This exploration of various mediums?
S / Seeing how my work only exists in relation to an other, I don’t believe that my paintings are very interesting in and of themselves. They become meaningful when confronted to something else, a certain environment, people... That’s why, whenever I get to paint in a foreign country, I draw inspiration from the local culture. As a result, what I do is more like contextual art.
J / Could you tell us about some of the artists that have influenced you? You mentioned european comics earlier...
S / Hugo Pratt! I was a big fan of his work. This clear line drawing style, like in Tintin, it all took place when I was a kid. To this day, I still find this style beautiful. I was a true Hugo Pratt fanatic. My passion for him extended beyond his drawing style. I loved his way of seeing and viewing the world, his way of telling stories and legends, as well as historical and realistic facts, essentially creating his own universe. I also enjoy japanese animation a lot, Miyazaki’s work for instance. He too merges imagination and reality. That’s what I’m interested in, it’s what I do in my work also. The two are always linked, it’s a way for me to open a passage to my own inner world.
J / As you mentioned, you get to travel to a number of countries. Is there one place in particular that struck you more than the rest?
S / The place that initially contributed to my current style is Brazil. I spent almost a year there. People there are not only open to graffiti, but also to many other things. They express themselves freely in the streets and there’s often a social dimension to it.
J / An openness due to country’s political context?
S / Yes, most likely. A lot of what’s happening in favelas, speaks of people’s situation and is meant for the people themselves. It doesn’t only affect the art or dance world. What takes place speaks directly to the locals, an approach which made a huge impact on me. All things considered, there are many places that inspire my paintings.
J / Do you consider yourself to be a politically active as an artist?
S / I actually don’t really know what this means. I don’t think it means much anymore these days. If you’re a singer for the “Restos du cœur”, you’re politically active, if you speak against the war in Syria, you’re politically active... I guess I can be a politically active artist in the sense that I try to do positive things, and give peope something that’ll be positive for them. I try to elevate people’s consciousness and stimulate their imagination, in a positive way.
J / Do you have an anecdote from one of your trips that you can tell us? Something that made you laugh, something weird...?
S / There is one thing that happenned to me a while ago that was nuts. Some guy showed up on the street who had a tattoo of a piece that I had done in a factory in Paris! So I go up to him and say: “How come you have this tattoo...?”. Apparently my piece had been featured in a british magazine, which someone had brought to Brazil and gifted to the guy with the tattoo. Later he got my piece tattooed on him. There are billions of human beings on the planet and for me to meet him was truly incredible. This was in 2003, and I saw this as a sign that I was doing something right and had to keep at it. That’s one anecdote, but something always happens in every country. Situations, encounters...
J / This is where you’re dreamy universe comes from and you’re use of rainbows...
S / Yes, I’ve been using rainbows a lot. It came naturally. I tend to draw my characters in monochrome with shades of grey, so adding a rainbow instantly creates a contrast which often represents the character’s imagination.
J / Do you view street-art being exhibited in galleries as a logical evolution?
S / Street-art has always been in galleries. If you’re talking about the term “Street-art”, which is both vague and complex, it was already in galleries before people started to paint in the streets. Obey was initially a graphic designer working in galleries to sell his work. In street-art, there always was the street side of things and the galleries side. It’s just that there are many more artists doing it nowadays. Graffiti however, is another story. By 1970, galleries in New York were already exhibiting pieces that came from the streets.
J / You say you’re sensitive to poetry, and you paint a lot of children. Is this a way for you to convey your emotions more easily?
S / It’s a way for me to speak to many people at once. It’s a way to speak to every adult’s inner child, to his dreams, to what allows us to disconnect from the mind-devouring world that we are offered. When you travel around you see the same things everywhere, the same restaurants, the same brands. Stirring people’s imagination through the use of children, is a way to stay within the realm of dreams while still denouncing consumerist society. I’ve often worked in desolate places that have been ravaged, chaotic landscapes where painting a child sleeping creates a stark contrast that says something about the world we live in.
J / What about your news, do you have specific projects in preparation?
S / As for the next few years, I don’t really know. I’m about to go to China, where I’ve been offered many opportunities to paint. Later, I’ll probably organize a few exhibits, paint a few canvases and tell stories as I do in the streets. It’s much harder to do in a gallery but it’s interesting work as it’s a different method.