SEZE – Los Angeles
Not wanting to limit myself to seeing only a few of urban artist Carlos “SEZE” Chavez’s works, I planned to meet him at his studio/home, where he creates expressive and evocative art through spray paint, graphite, and ink. Eager to meet with the inventive artist whose work I had been following through his blog, I was able to quickly glance over at one of his pieces displayed outside — a large chilling and flawlessly painted green-eyed Cheshire cat with “Smile.” written next to it in red.
Inside blank, half-painted, and finished canvasses as well as monochromatic sculptural works inhabited and adorned empty spaces. SEZE, who was absorbedly concentrated on a new project, took some time away from work to talk to us about his enthusiasm and aspirations for his urban inspired art.
BANGSTYLE: Tell us about how your passion for art emerged.
SEZE: I’d like to think it began as a young child. While many have had the pleasures of making art during their childhood years, my journey with art went beyond the classroom. I began to strive for the ability to draw anything that I saw. I wasn’t very good at first but I just kept on drawing. I liked being the kid that could draw because it made the other kids smile, laugh, and sometimes they were even in awe. It was a good feeling and I liked it.
As I grew into my early teens, I was lucky enough to be exposed to the hip hop culture of the late 80s to the 90s. I was captured by the elements of hip hop. I tried to write rhymes, scratch records and even had a small knack with breakdancing, but for one reason or another, none of those were my thing. As for graffiti writing, well, that one just kinda fit. I began tagging whatever I could and if I was lucky enough, I got a hold of a spray can or two to practice some bombing. That was rare for me, because my private school upbringings didn’t expose me to very many graffiti writers.
I met a couple guys who had brothers from other schools that were legitimate local graffiti writers and they introduced me to the world of racking (stealing) spray cans—that’s where my fascination with the spray can began. It was the vandalism and adrenaline rush that made the spray can something more than just paint. At the same time, I still enjoyed drawing images that my classmates would appreciate, so I feel that brought some diversity to my art. As much as I loved graffiti, I still loved the idea of being able to draw whatever I could see. No matter what it is/was.
BANGSTYLE: What inspired you to want to make art with spray paint?
SEZE: The first time I heard, saw and felt the spray can, I knew this was the instrument for me. It was the paint that was different from all the other paints. My early exposure to the graffiti culture was a major influence in my choice of artistic medium. A lot of graffiti writers amazed me with their handstyles and lettering and I strived to have that ability. Whatever graffiti magazines, videos and pictures I could get my hands on were examined on a daily basis to try and see what others were creating. Obviously, this was during the days when the “Internet” was not a word in my vocabulary. The art of spraying paint has always been amazing to me. I taught myself and manipulating the spray paint ended up being something that came easily for me. I continue to express myself as best as I can with various mediums I find interest in but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of spraying paint.
BANGSTYLE: You’re working toward your MFA at Cal State LA. What is it like being an urban artist in a program that focuses on classical artwork? Do you feel that it is important to understand the fundamentals, even when pursuing urban art?
SEZE: I think it’s a struggle at times. I appreciate and enjoy much of the art that was made before my existence because it’s our history, our human roots with art. But trying to incorporate my urban inspired style with the institutional traditions and teachings of “art” has not always been understood. That’s the part I struggle with, but I’m still a student and I’m still figuring it out. I know I’ll always be a student to the arts, but many of the graffiti/urban artists that influenced and continue to influence me are not known in the institutional art world. I do feel it is important to understand the fundamentals and great artists or art that existed long before me, but I would also appreciate institutions developing a knowledge/understanding of the current graffiti/urban art culture.
BANGSTYLE: What influences your art?
SEZE: The everyday things I see and hear definitely influence my art. Many ideas come from music, television and various forms of social media as well. My life experiences, various cultural influences, and who knows what else along the way have all provided some form of influence. Other artists have also provided much inspiration and influence throughout the years.
BANGSTYLE: Which artists do you aspire to be like?
SEZE: I appreciate the works from El Mac, Aryz, Blu, Ma’Claim, Mike Giant, Shepard Fairey and Retna to name a few. I aspire to be like these artists in different ways. They all work with various mediums but are also known for using spray paint in many of their works. Some use it more often than others but I appreciate the talent, subject matter and styles in which these artists create.
BANGSTYLE: We know that you also create sculptural pieces. Which spray paint piece and sculptural piece are you most proud of?
SEZE: I recently began creating sculptural pieces that incorporate the spray can because I wanted to create pieces of art from my old spray cans. It was more of an experiment to see how I could transform the spray can into various sculptural forms. Right now, I’m most proud of the piece entitled, “The All Black Everything Spraycan” piece. I really like this piece because of the various shapes and angles that the spray cans create. I chose black because of the various symbols associated with the color, but also because it’s one of my favorite colors.
BANGSTYLE: Tell us about your latest skeleton series and the inspiration behind it.
SEZE: This series is still in progress but my inspiration behind it stemmed from my exposure and experiences living in Southern California. Cultures such as skating, surfing, lowriders, motorcycles and racing have all provided plenty of inspiration throughout my life. Even the use of the skeleton, which can be connected to the tattoo culture, is another aspect of inspiration. Each of these cultures are different from one another but are also very similar. These drawings are made with graphite and ink, again, similar to the classic coloring of black and grey tattoos.
BANGSTYLE: Aside from working with spray paint, what other mediums do you enjoy using to create art?
SEZE: Recently, I’ve been using acrylic, clay, ink and graphite fairly regularly. I find myself using other mediums such as markers, pastels and color pencils from time to time as well but I use what I think is most appropriate for that particular piece.
BANGSTYLE: What do you hope to do after you receive your MFA?
SEZE: I hope to share my knowledge and talents through teaching. I want to share my self-taught knowledge of the spray can in hopes that others can learn and create with the spray can, but I also want to expose many local and international street, graffiti, and urban artists that are often not discussed in college level art courses. I feel there is a large gap in the art that is looked at and discussed in many institutions. I feel that art students should learn about the culture and history of graffiti and see the growth or changes it has taken. Schools often vaguely discuss this massive art movement for reasons unknown to me. Street art, graffiti, urban art, etc. is an art movement that will continue to grow and I’m hoping to provide a more in-depth understanding of this culture.
BANGSTYLE: What kind of equipment/materials do you use to create your work?
SEZE: I use a variety of mediums, but it really depends on what I’m working on and what I think would work best. Some of the materials I frequently use are spray paint, rollers, markers and inks. The surface medium also plays a role in what I would use.
BANGSTYLE: How did the name SEZE originate?
SEZE: It’s a name I came up with for a couple reasons. One, I like the way the letters are written together. Two, its pronounced as the word “seize” which means to capture. I’d like to think that I transform and capture the surfaces that I paint. And lastly, it also represents my first two initials of my first and last name (Carlos Chavez or C’s). This naming stemmed from my influences of the graffiti culture and the anonymity associated with an alias.
BANGSTYLE: Aside from art, what are your other interests?
SEZE: I love music, movies, concerts and the usual forms of entertainment, but my love for racing (cars & motorcycles) has always been in my blood. I love the adrenaline rush and the feeling of letting go and pushing my limits. Although my desire for speed has been slowed down with age, I still get the itch to jump on the motorcycle and ride.
BANGSTYLE: We know that you have a business degree and that you are a certified firefighter. What made you want to pursue art full time?
SEZE: I was an art major when I began college but, at a young age, I was disappointed to hear that few could support themselves with art. I was young and valued money so I changed to a more adaptable degree such as business. I wish I would have stuck with art and not been so concerned about making money; however, I gained a business sense that I can still utilize with my art. I don’t regret it, but I do feel like I learned from that decision.
I also found an interest in a career as a firefighter because of the culture, comradery and teamwork required. The adrenaline aspect of the job was also very appealing to me. But at that time in my life I also realized that my art was beginning to reveal itself once again and began to take priority over anything else. I guess you could say it’s something that has always been inside of me and I had to take a chance and reveal it for the world to see. I’ve experienced many different industries in my life and can say that art is more important to me now than it ever was before, so I dropped everything and dedicated my time, money and efforts to art.
BANGSTYLE: What do you think about the negative stigma that street art sometimes gets — vandalism, etc.?
SEZE: It’s natural. The law states that it is vandalism, but I see it as art. To me, that’s what matters. Vandalism exists in many forms in this world and if I see some “art in the streets” that I like, I don’t look at as being wrong, illegal or bad, I see the hand of the artist and their human expression.
BANGSTYLE: Which public spaces have you adorned with your artwork?
SEZE: I’ve painted legal and illegal walls, trains, the usual street art locations. One time, I was able to paint on the beach. I literally had the waves a couple feet from me while I was painting a small piece on a boulder. I currently try to stick to the legal walls and locations these days because I’m trying to get into more mural painting and not so much illegal painting. I like to spend time on my pieces these days and it’s not so much about my name as it is about the art I want to show people.
BANGSTYLE: You recently started selling some of your work on ETSY. How else can fans of your work purchase some of your pieces?
SEZE: I’m in the process of putting together a website so as of right now ETSY is the only real outlet. I’m trying to put together my own art show this year so hopefully that goes through. Other than that, it’s really by word of mouth right now.
BANGSTYLE: If you could go anywhere in the world, to get more inspiration for your work, where would you go?
SEZE: That’s a tough one but I’d have to say Europe. The European progression and acceptance of public art is admirable. Just being in that environment and the appreciation for public art would be an amazing experience.
Check out more photos of SEZE’s work below.