Sebastien is eloquent. He speaks rhythmically and purposefully—like a metronome. When we show up at The Seventh Letter offices, he is drawing a character in a book while those sitting adjacent to him watch intently. I tap him on the shoulder a few times to introduce myself, but he’s in his element and doesn’t even notice. Willie T. finally gets his attention and he jolts back to reality with a big smile on his face, reaching out his hand to greet me. I was told from the get-go that if we came to L.A., we had to interview Sebastien—and he did not disappoint!
Q | Dope Magazine: You were raised by artists. How did they pave the path for your artistic endeavors?
Sebastien Walker: Both of my parents are artists. My dad is an opera singer and my mom is a pianist. I was raised in a ‘not regular’ household because of that. They always pushed my sister and I to go either direction we chose—creative or not. My sister ended up writing and I ended up drawing, so I guess we found our own way of expression, which wasn’t music . . . My parents always pushed us to whatever endeavor we desired, sports or whatever. They wanted us to do what made us happy.
Q | Your work is heavily influenced by Franco-Belgian comic books. Fluide Glacial and Heavy Metal, for example. Much of your work is entrenched in the storytelling process that inspires you.
A: Yeah, most of my work is really heavily influenced by Franco-Belgian comics. It’s more than just comics, to me it is a whole subculture that is for the connoisseur, people that are educated about it. It wasn’t like the ‘cool teenager’ thing to know about. Then it basically wrapped around the storytelling you can find in my work. I think more than storytelling, my work is about quick, humoristic puns and making something that looks like it’s made for children but speaks to adults.
Q | You received your first comic by a gentleman you were sitting next to on a plane. You had been peeking at it and he handed it to you as a gift. Do you think your trajectory would have been different if you hadn’t had this chance encounter with a stranger?
A: I don’t think it wouldn’t have turned out differently, ‘cause I would have been exposed, eventually, to that magazine. [That stranger] started it earlier. I met some friends who were really into comics later and [they] educated me further. What’s funny is that I distinctly remember the name of the [magazine]. The magazines are a compilation of a lot of cartoonists. One is called Édika, a guy known for drawing really big-chested women. It’s really an innocent drawing looking at it, but not innocent at all. I think I would’ve ended up guided in that direction—I would’ve ended up being exposed to those comics.
Q | You just wrapped up an exhibit at The Seventh Letter in April of 2017. It took you quite some time to put this collection together. A decade?
A: I did my first solo show this year and I have been in L.A. for a decade, but I haven’t been painting on canvas for a decade. I haven’t been committing fully for a decade at all. For quite a few years now I’ve been committed. Initially I was working ad agencies and doing graphic and t-shirt design—which wasn’t pleasant to me. Slowly I took up painting because I was scared of the canvas at first. It took me awhile to get to the brushes and start painting at home. Not even to show it at the beginning—as a personal, satisfying meditative thing. Then slowly I took it really seriously and gave it my everything. [My] first solo show [is] long overdue, but not really. I really did want to do it in the right setting, which is here at TSL, with the right people. Showing the right amount of work and not just having a party. It’s easy to have an opening and show a few paintings, but I wanted to make a statement.
Q | Out of all the places where you could live and work, why L.A.? Why is this the place you call home?
A: It took me a few years to accept that L.A. is home, but for what I am doing, it’s where it’s happening. I don’t think there is anywhere else where it’s happening quite like this, except maybe N.Y., San Fran, Miami. To me, I live in L.A. because when I moved to America it was here or N.Y. New York which felt too much like France, too much like Paris. I needed to be in something really different. I see people in France who I used to admire as a teenager—artists—who are still struggling and still at the same point. The audience is bigger here. Maybe more open-minded as well. I didn’t really choose L.A., but I couldn’t have chosen better.
Q | Detroit pops up a lot when you research graffiti. In the past, the communities there have been really accepting of graffiti. They find graffiti to be beautifying their city. What are your feelings on Detroit?
A: Of course, I’ve heard about Detroit in the graffiti world. It was a destination to go to—‘cause you could paint anywhere at some point. I don’t think that’s so true anymore, because of what’s happening in the communities. A French dude got shot there years ago, he was painting and they found his body two years later in a factory. His name was Zoo Project. I know that Detroit is a city that was great for artists because of cheap rent and destroyed places that you could take advantage of. I think that now it’s more complicated, and at some point I wanted to go, but I am not too sure about it now. Of course, it sounded like a painter’s fantasy—stopping on the corner and painting anybody’s house—I just don’t think that’s the case anymore.
Q | The first person that you met from TSL was DAME. How did you two meet? Has he been a mentor?
A | The first person I met from TSL was DAME MSK / AWR. We slowly became friends. We met painting at an event—he was looking at me from afar and judging my work in a positive way. We ended up speaking and we had a lot of values in common, and then we ended up grabbing a beer and going to one of his friend’s concerts. We slowly began hanging out and painting again. Through that I ended up meeting some other TSL dudes and going through some openings and meeting everybody. Then I went to [the Electric Daisy Carnival] in 2013 with everybody, and that’s where I felt acceptance by the family. DAME has always been one of my best friends in L.A. He’s a really interesting dude with a great sense of humor. A good one.
“WHEN YOU PAINT, YOU WATCH PAINT DRY A LOT, AND POT DOES WELL TO FORGET ABOUT TIME—AND ART IS ABOUT FORGETTING ABOUT TIME.” – SEBASTIEN WALKER OF TSL
Q | What is your relationship to cannabis?
A: I’ve been smoking cannabis—I started with hash—for 20 years every day, pretty much. I am 35. I smoked my first joint when I was 15. It is something, to me, that is part of my daily life. I don’t think it’s an incredible thing—it’s another substance. Some bodies respond well, some don’t. My body is well used to it and I think in my process with art, cannabis became part of my creative process. Not that I need it, but I smoke cigarettes as well. It’s part of a rewarding little break. When you paint, you watch paint dry a lot, and pot does well to forget about time—and art is about forgetting about time. Pot is great for that!
Q | You create both large murals and small logo designs. How do you approach these different scale of projects? What’s the work through and the prep work like?
A: I do a lot of different projects. Murals, big scale paintings, large canvases, small canvases, also logo design—I got my hand in a little bit of everything. I am also trying to do some toy design at the moment. I think everything takes the same amount of preparation. Of course I try to leave myself some pleasure time—painting with no purpose, because that’s really something that is important to do even if you have a lot of commission work. You should still paint for pleasure. But it takes the same amount of prep to work for something very small even if it’s black and white than something that is a big wall. It all comes down to being a matter of time—to execute—with the details. I can spend days on something really small also. I choose where I want to spend my time.