By KELLY QUINTANA January, 2020
One of the first things we do when introducing ourselves is share our names. It is a way of identifying ourselves with the world and claiming a spot in it. Artists want to make their marks on the world, earn a spot alongside the greats. At the age of fifteen, Seek One claimed his tag name by graffitiing buildings in Philadelphia, and so he began to claim his spot in the world. He chose Seek One because he enjoys the aesthetic of it. There was something about the arrangement of the letters that appealed to him intuitively. Just like he felt a pull to his tag, he felt a pull towards street art, which now informs his current art practice in mixed media work that leaves an energetic mark.
As a kid, Seek One grew up skateboarding along streets covered in the impressive artwork of street artists. “I wasn’t going to any galleries or art collections,” says Seek One. “This was the art that I was around every day.” There is a magic to the art that Seek One was attracted to, the kind to which he pays homage in his own work. There was a level of skill and a sense of mystery that he wanted to reach immersed in the streets of Philadelphia.
Seek One grew up in a Victorian home outside the city, but he tended to skate away from the suburban fantasy. He needed to be around the energy of an urban landscape. The noise of endless human activity, of the artwork he found under bridges, behind fences, on billboards, this all fed his urge to create. He has lived in Philadelphia ever since. “It’s good for me,” he says, “it keeps my mind going.”
Seek One’s first dive into graffiti was tagging in bubble letters, which were easy to create in a short time frame. The idea was to get in and get out. The quickness and ease with which he tagged Philadelphia would eventually transition onto the canvas. He wanted his art to evolve, to grow into something that could reach people’s homes, not just the streets.
There was a period in Seek One’s life when art was put on hold. As with so many artists, he attempted the route that was most followed. He stopped creating, instead attending business school and later working in a job he found boring and unfulfilling. He attempted to do what was expected and not what he truly wanted to do. He was afraid to pursue art, since so many artists are haunted by the notion that they will starve. Seek One faced his fear of failure and sought out to work towards his goals despite that notion. Finding old sketchbooks after returning home from work, he started creating long into the night, often into the earliest parts of morning, before he would have to return to work again. Eventually, Seek One began to upload images of his nighttime creations on Instagram and was met with a surprising response: people not only liked his work, they wanted to buy it as well. There was a revived spark within him that set him on a journey he couldn’t have anticipated. In fact, Quavo, from Migos, was one of the first to reach out and encourage his work. Since then, Seek One has garnered other commissions from figures across different industries and entertainment fields.
“Working on canvas was an important moment for me,” says Seek One. “It led me down a different path from working on the streets to working towards developing fine art and bringing [graffiti] into people’s homes and galleries.”
Alongside learning to work on canvas, Seek One has also gained an additional skill: photography. “I grew up doing photography as well as graffiti.” He studied famous photographers who photographed celebrities in black and white. He was enamored with the techniques he saw and the images being captured. There was a sense of otherworldliness to black and white photographs that imbued them with life. Beginning with stencil work and Photoshop, Seek One began to blend his photography with the hand painting that was second nature to him.
“Blending it all together is like my niche,” says Seek One. It is not only a niche, one might say it is one of the most interesting takes on nostalgia for a generation that grew up with these sorts of icons told from the memories of others.
Urban and pop culture play an enormous role within Seek One’s work. From a young age, his parents exposed him to icons like Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, and The Beatles. He used these figures and images to create a unique art style for himself which combines the timelessness of the past with the exciting trends of the present. He uses pop culture but creates work that is true to his urban background. “Street art, which has never been considered fine art before, is breaking the norm,” says Seek One. He takes icons of the past and their histories and makes them into pieces viewers can connect with in modern times.
When working on a particular painting, Seek One falls into what he explains is an autopilot-like trance, focusing on the abstraction of the paint and on highlighting the history of the icon he is working with. Every material he uses, from the wooden panels used for the base of his paintings to the magazines and newspaper clippings that often run along the sides, are used to create the story of the icon he is representing. He works towards creating a feeling of nostalgia that we all long for because it takes an individual back to a place of familiarity while still providing a new perspective. With this new perspective his work can be seen as challenging contemporary commercialism. But he is also creating a kind of updated mythos for his peers who may have seen these icons before but not through the lens that is uniquely Seek One’s.
Seek One carries himself with a passion and optimism that stems from his entrepreneurial streak. He tends to use subjects that are considered icons as they have withstood the test of time and have storied histories. His work with legends like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Mon
roe is about their history in his life and the marks that they’ve made in his journey that he can still connect with today. He grew up listening to Frank Sinatra and watching actresses like Marilyn Monre. Now he channels such figures’ past fame into the present, connecting them not only with audiences but with the likes of basketball players Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons, reality TV personality “Foodgod” Jonathan Chabon, jeweler Richie Rich, actress Kaley Cuoco, and others, all of whom have commissioned or collected his work, a testament to Seek One having his fingers on the pulse of hype culture.
“I think I’m a good example of starting from scratch and doing something most people would never think to do,” says Seek One. Taking the risk of leaving a reliable income and career to transition to the ever-changing landscape of the artworld was no small feat, but Seek One’s entrepreneurial tenacity, his authenticity, and his hybrid aesthetic have all lent themselves to an exciting and innovative artist who is looking to tag the walls of our contemporary moment. Seek One believes in his art, he creates from his soul and lets it guides him through the art world. When coming across one of his pieces, it is easy to see the work that went into them. The icons who are preserved on the wooden panels are artists who also transformed the times and societies they were a part of. Likewise, Seek One hopes to transform the times in which he lives, to push the boundaries of what can make art authentic and cool, made for the moment while also outlasting it. WM
For more on Seek One, visit his website: http://seekoneart.com
Kelly Quintana is an undergrad BFA writing student attending Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta. She is a fiction and non fiction writer whose work centers around diversity and social issues. She is finishing up her first novel and is working on query agents.
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