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Remember the ‘blood-fire’

Malta-based artist Chris de Souza Jensen (aka Seapuppy) on how music and skateboarding play an equally influential role in his creative process, and what it takes to sustain a career as a full-time artist in Malta

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
29 August 2017, 7:30am
Meeting of Styles, Copenhagen, Denmark
Meeting of Styles, Copenhagen, Denmark
Could you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to these past couple of years, and how it has all built on the kind of work you’ve done up that point?

I’ve been slowly easing into group exhibits including ones in London and Bristol, as well as taking part in street art festivals, including recently in Bristol’s ‘UpFest’ and Copenhagen’s ‘Meeting Of Styles’ last July. I’ve been transitioning from acrylics to oils the past years. I’ve spent a lot of time with oil-studying again after 18 years at the time. The process is slower than acrylics but the results are everything I wanted and needed.

"The Gifted Hangtoise". Oils and acrylic-wash. 51 x 35 inches. Print available at: www.prosimian.bigcartel.com
You seem to form part of plenty of subcultures: from illustration to street art, from skateboarding to music. What appeals to you about each of these things, and do you think there’s a connecting thread between all of them?

When it comes to illustration, I love how style and personality is key. It’s the best method to emphasise points and even inciting moments in story-telling.

With street art, what appeals to me is bringing in your own particular art-style; in my case, illustrative, to larger surfaces. Plus, it also thrusts you into a more live, local public realm.

Making music, including that of our hardcore punk band, ‘Double Standard’ (members besides myself, Costantino Oliva, Lasse Ulven, and local painter legend, James Micallef Grimaud, aka Twitchcraft) is an outlet with lyric-writing and especially with screaming guttural animal noises into a mic. Music is also generally a motivational drive which I think has played an important role in all our lives, whether we know it or not. I personally got into punk from the skateboarding.

Skateboarding, both extremely creative and bloody difficult. It’s taught me to never give up, to always look wayward to progress of oneself, to always get back up when you fall.

As far as the connection with all? It’s just all endless creativity, focus on progress, looking at the world with endless possibility and well... its EFFIN RAD! So cool in fact, that everyone seems to copy our style throughout society especially within street fashion. Within skateboarding subculture all of these things mentioned are deeply rooted and historically connected.

Chris de Souza Jensen: 'The evil emerald wasp in my new obsession'
Chris de Souza Jensen: 'The evil emerald wasp in my new obsession'
On that note, how would you say forming part of these subcultures influences your visual style, if at all?

I’d say within skateboarding, there have always been artists as myself, making board graphics and such. I’ve always had so much to look at from punk and metal records to crazy skateboard graphics when young. Within all these things, there was always so much to be in awe of and wanting to be that good. Also, probably like so many other artists, a good tune or strong lyrics gives one many ideas. This is also why working with bands is so nice. The lyrics are often times your actual brief, poetically laid out for you.

What would you say are some of the most important things that an artist living in this day and age needs to be aware of? Especially when it comes to balancing out your own passions, pursuits and ambitions and the necessities of the ‘real world’?

This is a pretty loaded question, so I’ll do my best to simplify my thoughts on it, because it would take a book to list this properly down.. If one is serious – simply-put – it’s constant willingness to practice and most importantly, an unconditional love for your chosen field. That might sound corny, but I say unconditional as you have to push through the inevitable hard times. It’s certainly not fun at times, especially when Plan Bs and Cs of commissions don’t go through because your client decides to put something on hold or they can’t meet your rate at last minute. Or you’re going through a personal soul-crushing sketch-block funk where everything you feel you do sucks when it’s paramount to do your personal things to attract the work you want.

As far as balancing out commercial commissions and my personal honest works, I try to motivate my personal things with an incentive.

This usually comes in the form of  great quality limited edition prints after a completed piece, and to be an addition to an exhibit somewhere down the future to hopefully sold for the big prize. Again though, to make time for your own work after your time-consuming, bread-winning commercial work, I’ll refer back to that unconditional love. Time needs to be sacrificed even you feel time is not there.

Time management and routine is something that must be learned. Also, the more time one makes for personal works, the more clients will seek the things that honestly represent you.

Wizard Spider-sloth, Malta
Wizard Spider-sloth, Malta
And how do you think this applies to Maltese – or Malta-based – artists in general? Do you think there are enough opportunities and avenues for local artists to ply their trade in a sustainable manner... and how have you yourself been managing on that front?

The thing with “blood-fire” is a universal must. If one is that committed, patient, self-disciplined, humble, good things inevitably come to them through that constant and steady progression that only comes with that. Malta has pros and cons for the figurative artist.

Malta is tiny, which means that the small circle of influence can get your name to swirl around fast (granted you work hard, consistently and present yourself well) and so quickly establishing a reputation and a good amount of commissions. The circle is so small, one sometimes needs to only socialise at a pub and chances are you are talking and showing your work off a phone to someone who might need your skill-set privately or the company they work for. There are also very few full-time artists in Malta, so a lack of competition is in one’s favour.

As much as a tiny place can be great for business of a full-time few,  there is a sense of quality understanding which is often lost here. As much as there are real amazing artists here (to a few I will safely say shall become proud exports of Malta), Malta is not really up to par as far this and very few are taking it as high as they can. Art overall has been culturally-lacking for a very long time, to only somewhat recently it seems the whole notion of creativity seems to be this new revolutionary concept.

One needs to set themselves up to a global standard of things. If not, and your standard is based on a small local level of a tiny pebble in the sea, including FB likes from friends and family. This inevitably will make one’s progress halt or go extremely slow. This also ultimately means you might be at a competitive disadvantage at one stage. So, in light of that, at least think of a global standard of things, and work for the challenge to reach your deepest potential in relation to the talent on this planet.

As for myself... I’d honestly say, “Okay, I always know I can do better and that pursuit is never-ending”. There is the usual non-existent, monthly-scheduled pay cheques as a freelance artist, which keeps you on your toes. Some months during the year really suck for work, and some months are overwhelmingly flooded with jobs. Anticipation within seasons is always needed. I go through bad procrastination once in a while, which is mega lame. Usually some silly fear of something that’s not within my control. Naturally, you realise that finishing a piece is the only ticket out and getting back to a schedule.

Every year I’m looking for ways to improve skill-wise, self-manage and motivate and financially up my game. It’s all the reality of the way it goes. I try to keep a level head by knowing what I do is difficult on all fronts, and keeping in mind that a difficult path is best rewarded through constant hard work and a positive attitude.

I have to be real about that: hopefully it helps a few to relate and know what they are potentially getting into. It’s not for everyone, and I certainly understand why most creatives locally don’t follow this path.

Upfest, Bristol, UK
Upfest, Bristol, UK
What are some of your favourite things to draw, paint or illustrate? Do you have any ‘obsessions’ and if so, why do you think it’s these particular things that you obsess about?

It’s all about story-telling for me, and with that comes infinite possibility. On more simpler pieces, the goal is to make characters as incredibly rich as something Tarantino would write. I also love to pretend I’m a mad-scientist and make up mutant creatures. Obsessions? On top of my head now, the emerald wasp. The emerald wasp is a relatively small evil creature. It finds a victim, take for example a cockroach (which is double its size), bites and injects a neurotoxin which renders its prey into a zombie to do its bidding. It basically mind-controls its victim to a warm safe place while the cockroach’s body serves as a host to the wasp’s larvae. The maggots eat the cockroach from the inside until they breach out.

Oh yeah, the cockroach is alive during a lot of this wondrous time. Its a true zombie story. I obsess a lot about things biology and science related. Biology, as I feel everything is dying and how long until any organism lasts on Earth these days? Science, it’s the only thing we have that’s rational , a method free from belief-systems that arrogantly and selfishly speak about “truth” of all things.

What have been some of the most recent events you’ve formed part of, and what has that experience been like?

Lately, Meeting of Styles in Copenhagen and Upfest in Bristol. Both were incredibly positive, and it’s fun to partake with fellow artists powering through murals with hangovers. You meet all these people who do what you do, with whom you can relate to... A nerd fest celebrating different approaches to one’s work. It’s fun to work large surfaces with new people and see how we can connect things when we share a wall or a series of ply wood/walls. I’m incredibly grateful to be able to travel with my work and passion every once in a while.

What are you looking forward to for the latter half of 2017?

More oil paintings with better depth, medium efficiency, meaning and story-telling. More festivals, hopefully more work within things I love as far as awesome bands and skateboard companies go. I’m hoping to have a good amount of quality work to go toward a solo somewhere abroad after 2017. Eat better, exercise regularly, skate more.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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