Sebastian Coolidge moved to St Pete about nine to 10 years ago and has had a solid run as a mural artist and beyond-surreal painter since then. Here is an excerpt of our conversation for Creative Pinellas. We asked him to give advice to younger artists, and look back at his artistic career.
“I slacked off for the first couple of years,” he confessed, “but I was trying to find out a thing or two about myself, you know feeling art, pursuing art, at that point It wasn’t even in my radar.
I was a 19-20 years old kid from Kansas City. KC is doing its thing. It has kind of a Portland type of vibe. Walt Disney is from KC. I want to do that type of thing, making people happy, making life exciting, bringing artistic and innovative types together to create. I don’t know — livable installations type cities — I think that’s where Disney was heading. I want to take were he left off and build beautiful livable communities instead of theme parks. I think it is what Epcot was supposed to be at one point. The city of the future.
That’s what I’m doing, I’m designing everything. Trying to make a whole lifestyle. Clothes is what you’ve seen so far that I’ve done but I’m going to be designing furniture, houses, interiors, exteriors, the whole experience must match together. I’m really going to try to push it globally.
Spraying walls taught me how to do oils, so now I love oils, It taught me this whole layering process, how to do it in an easier manner. Spray painting is such a direct medium, you just need a can and you spray it an is instantly on the wall. No brushes to clean or much to prep really, you just spray it on the wall, and there’s that! Done! I love painting but it seems like a huge process, setting it up and so on. It’s a lot to think about. So I mainly draw in pencils and pens.
I remember working at the Vans Store and Starbucks, and a smoke shop all at the same time so I can try and do my thing, try to paint on the side while hustling these three jobs. I didn’t have a car I was biking downtown from around Tyrone Mall where I lived, almost every night so I can do live paintings downtown and bike back every night while carrying all my supplies with me.
I remember specifically being in Starbucks, I was sitting there, and I literally felt it, like dude I’m about to go crazy, I’m about to flip out. But you must make that mental jump in order to quit, is going to be super scary to do what you want to do, and that was the hardest part. I’ll just pack my bag with my arts supplies and I’ll just be homeless and make as much art as I possibly can, so I did that for one whole day, and one of my homies let me crash in his couch. But I was still technically homeless, I was living off the good nature of my friends and people that believed in me. If you don’t have a solid backing or somebody taking care of you, it is difficult to delve in fully onto art. Most people have a part-time job or something to fall back on.
I said this before in a talk on Creative Mornings/St. Pete, you must make this uncomfortable feeling your nature, to be uncomfortable and to walk into the unknown all the time and not know what’s going to happen, because if you are always comfortable you may miss out or may not see a lot of the opportunities. That’s the hardest part. I never had anyone tell me that. I only had my family and friends be like what the bleep are you doing trying to not have a job and painting huge murals for free, that was all I was trying to do, was just whoever would let me paint like The Bends, Freshly Squeezed all these first pieces I was doing, I was just doing them, no pay, I would get free paint and just scrape together some money for like brushes and just go and paint for free. My family and everyone where like, ‘Dude what are you doing?’ You are not getting money what a horrible idea. That’s not right. I just had to fight all that in my head and be like nah I got to keep doing this even though everyone was telling me not to do it. All the ones that love you more are going to hate on you. Doesn’t make any sense but you just love doing it. So you follow your heart.
But it is easier maybe if you have someone that is there for you to tell you that you must walk into the unknown. When it seems that is about to get scary or is about to get scary is not the wrong path just because everyone is against that idea, you still might be right, you might be wrong too (laughs). I dunno what you are getting into, what kind of art or whatever, but I like to say follow your heart, feel it out on the inside. It’s hard to define art, it is so abstract: What is this thing?
I just knew for a fact that people were not going to hire me to do large-scale murals if I didn’t have anything to show for it. I was, like, I have to have something so they know I could do it. I had to prove it to myself too.
Coolidge has approximately 40-50 exterior murals without counting indoor pieces. All photos below by Daniel Veintimilla.