Buro 24/7 Middle East Exclusive Interview: eL Seed
32-year-old French-born Tunisian artist eL Seed is a man of many talents. Considering the moon as his most desirable canvas, there seems to be no limits for the talented calligraffiti artist who continues to make his mark, quite literally, across the world.
Most recently, eL Seed created a mural during Jeddah Art Week, where he worked alongside five Saudi artists. With a new book Lost Walls, and the release of his own brand in the coming months, Buro 24/7 Middle East gets to know more about the man behind calligraffiti art...
You graduated with an MA in business, how did you end up pursuing a career in art?
I've been painting and drawing since I was six and have always had an interest in animation movies. However, I was never encouraged to pursue an art career. I studied business and became a consultant, and used my weekends and nights to paint. When my daughter was born, I decided to leave my job as I felt it was not feeding my soul - and to just focus on my art. It was a big risk but thank God it has worked so far.
Your work is based on calligraffiti, a concept that fuses calligraphy and graffiti - how did you develop an interest in this specific style?
Born and raised in France, I felt that as a son of Tunisian immigrants, it was confusing to create my own identity - although I always had a strong connection to my motherland Tunisia. Around the year 2000, I felt the desire to go back to my roots, my history, and learn Arabic. I started taking night classes and this is where I discovered Arabic calligraphy. I fell in love straight away but never got the chance to take calligraphy classes. Years later, I brought graffiti into art in my own way.
You recently participated in Jeddah Art Week, what inspired the mural you created?
The city and the culture inspired me. I used a Bedouin poem 'a man who didn't leave a trace behind him, didn't have a life'. The idea was to inspire the community to create, build, and innovate for themselves and for the community. Jeddah is an amazing city. I just regret that part of the old city is totally abandoned. I hope the mural project will motivate people to keep the city beautiful and take care of their heritage.
What's your usual process for creating a piece of work, do you sketch designs beforehand or freestyle in the moment, dependent on your mood or setting?
Usually I know what I want to write. It is always relevant to the people from the place. Then I have an idea of the colours and the shape, the dynamic I want to give to the piece and everything then happens in front of the wall. It is really spontaneous.
What's your view on the art scene in the Middle East?
The scene is rich. We have so many talented artists but sometimes it doesn't seem like promoting art and culture is the priority in our world. But I still feel a strong desire to build a concrete art scene. More and more initiatives are coming; Jeddah Art Week is the perfect example.
Calligrafitti is a fairly recent concept compared to other art forms, do you ever face challenges from traditional artists - or anyone - who doesn't appreciate or understand it?
I've been criticised by traditional calligraphers but I always reply that I am not a traditional calligrapher. I am graffiti artist who paints in Arabic. I have a deep respect for traditional calligraphers and source inspiration from traditional calligraphy. It is always good to receive criticism; it helps you to challenge yourself.
You collaborated with Louis Vuitton before, how was the experience and are there any other brands you'd like to work with?
The experience with Louis Vuitton was great. They gave me a 'carte blanche' to design something. It was a real honor to collaborate with them. I don't think I will work with any other brands soon. Actually, in the coming months I'm launching my own brand. Stay tuned.
If you could choose any canvas across the world, what would you like to work with?
I would say the moon.
What aspect of your job excites you the most?
The human experience I think. The painting on the wall is just a pretext to meet people and create a discussion. From all my projects, all my walls, what I always keep in mind is the people I've met. I have a lot of amazing stories.
What other artists, both regional and international, do you look up to?
There are many artists from the street art scene such as Shuck 2, Zepha, Sundus Abdul Hadi, and Shoe.
Who has been the biggest inspiration on your work?
There are many inspirations but there is one person without who I wouldn't be here today. This is an artist called Hest. He is the one who brought me back to graffiti a couple of years ago when I left it totally. I am really grateful to him for what he did.
What has been the most prolific moment of your career so far?
I think the painting of the minaret of Jara Mosque in my hometown of Gabes, in Tunisia.
Have you got any exciting plans for 2014?
I actually have a lot of projects but I can't tell you anything yet. I am launching my first book called Lost Walls, which is focused on my last project in Tunisia. Last summer, I spent one month in Tunisia, travelling from north to south, east to west, stopping in small cities, meeting people and painting walls that tells the story of those people. Through Lost Walls, I hope to show another image of Tunisia. Since the revolution people now only link the country to politics. There has been governmental change of course, but the culture and history is still there, and the focus should be on all of this beauty instead. I want to bring people back to Tunisia to discover the heritage that is left and lost there, just like the Lost Walls.
Can you offer tips for anyone interested in pursuing a career in art.
Stay true to yourself. Dream big. Don't let people pull you down. Be proud of your heritage, culture and history. Inspire and get inspired.