By Jed Sanders.
Sean Dietrich is the Charles Bukowski of the art world.Â Heâ€™s a genuine soul that’s not afraid to speak his mind.Â He paints what he feels and questions the authority around him.
He is also one of the most motivated, talented, and hardest working artists I have ever met.Â In the last 11 years, he has racked over 900 art shows and live painting sessions in his art career.Â Some of his past clients have included Sony PlayStation, Asahi Beer U.S.A., and Spike and Mike’s Animation Festival.Â His artwork and illustrations have been featured in dozens of comic books and graphic novels.
We got the chance to catch up to Sean and hammer him with a few questions, right before he embarks on a crazed out 6-month, 10,000 mile, United States Art Tour.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Baltimore back in ’76 and lived in the small town of Ellicott City, MD.Â I was ‘raised’, I would say, in New Orleans 21 years later.Â The experiences I had in that town did more to open my eyes and shape my art than in any of the years prior.
What brought you out to San Diego?
I was living in New Orleans at the time with my buddy, Silas, and we were growing tired of being there.Â Too much boozing and working long hours in a hot kitchen cooking for shithead tourists, so we decided we wanted out.Â Nothing against the city, I still hold New Orleans near and dear to my heart, but it was taking it’s toll.Â Our options were to go back East, maybe New York or D.C., or come out to San Diego to live with our other buddies who had already moved out six months earlier.Â I remember saying something to the effect ofÂ â€œYou know, let’s flip a coin over it.Â We’ll never get to do this again in our lives, so let’s let chance lead our way.â€Â In the end we flipped San Diego and headed out Oct 1999.Â 41 hours on a Greyhound bus later we were here.Â When I first arrived and saw this place, it was such culture shock I wanted to murder that fucking coin.Â We survived though, and almost 12 years later I’m still here.
What made you first get interested in art?
I can’t quite remember what it was, when I was around 4, that started me down the art path.Â I know I liked it when my mother, who worked at K-Mart to support me at the time, used to bring home lots of markers, crayons and paper.Â Also, I do remember from an early age that I did really well at my schoolwork, but when I created something new out of my imagination, put that to paper and showed the other kids, it made them like me more than anything else which to a kid is immense.Â I guess that was my early age lesson in the power of art, or maybe just the power of being able to do something a majority of people can’t.Â Definitely a lesson in control.Â It was always something that I knew I was ‘supposed’ to do — not because someone told me to, but because it felt very pure and honest from the beginning.Â I remember in High School working all weekend on a piece and bringing it into school to show off on Monday.Â Everyone else was out partying and learning to get into trouble and I was at home working.Â It was a very satisfying, if not slightly sadistic, way of looking at the masses (classmates) and seeing them waste away while I progressed.Â Then when I published my first comic book at the age of 15, and did my first news interview and in-store signing at the local comic shop, I was hooked.Â I knew two things at that point: One, I wanted to continue to be published for as long as I could, and two, there was no way in hell I was going to art school.
What is a typical day like for you?
Get up and check emails.Â Make a nice, healthy smoothie for breakfast.Â Back on the computer.Â Put on some music to drown out the Wizard of Oz that my daughter is watching for the billionth time.Â Love the movie, but every time I see a rainbow now my face feels like melting off.Â Right now my days consist of planning my U.S. Live Art Tour (plug!) so I’ve been at a computer planning routes and booking clubs, store signings and festivals, making lists of lists of things we need, sending out press releases etc. and of course an occasional interview.Â I paint at night mainly.Â I’m finishing up the artwork for the kid’s book.Â I spend a ton of time inside my head thinking and pushing things around, trying to find that next painting.Â I listen to a ton of music and watch a ton of movies.Â I read on the shitter.Â Always looking for new ideas.Â Then I go to bed.
On your website, you mention the “Sad State of the San Diego Art Scene”.Â Would you care to elaborate more on that?
Yeah, I know that comment has been a point of contention for many people out here, but in the conversation it sparks I hope people realize what I’m trying to get at.Â When I talk about the sad state of the art scene in this city, I’m not just talking about the artists themselves, I’m talking about the club owners, the public, and the press as well.Â It takes more than just artists to create a thriving scene.Â When I first got to San Diego I was astounded by the amount of mass manufactured mind numbing seascapes and flower paintings, really bad abstracts and overpriced ‘art’ that I can’t even put into a category.Â I went to people’s houses that had so much artwork of fish on the wall, it was like looking at an Ichthyological porno.Â I thought there must be an underground scene, but the small one I found just told me that people get big and leave San Diego, and over the next few years I saw why.
I remember going to my first Little Italy Art Walk, and wow, I almost hopped back on that Greyhound when I saw hundreds of booths of the same thing over and over.Â It was as if a boutique gallery exploded and all the pieces landed in Little Italy — then they put tents over it.Â Now don’t get me wrong, I like all kinds of art, but this was absolutely boring, and so were the artists selling it!Â Most looked comatose and if I said â€˜hiâ€™ to them, they might freak out, cut through the back of the tent with a knife and go screaming off towards the bay with a small child in their teeth.Â I saw maybe 3 or 4 booths of edgy art, or art that seemed to have some thought put into it.Â After about an hour of wading through seascapes and Shamu artwork, I could only wonder why people would want art in their homes that represented what they could open the door and see.Â It was sad to see such a limited representation of ‘underground’, or ‘unique’ artwork represented, and it was sad to realize that the art also represented the limited culture the buying public possessed.
The art ‘buying’ public is no different.Â I’ve been all over the U.S., and I have made a living in San Diego, but it’s like pulling teeth to get people to commit.Â I can’t tell you how many times that people flake on purchases, or come up with some excuse as to why they can’t buy, but only 12 hours earlier they were willing to soberly give you their first born for the painting.Â Anywhere else I go I can rely on the people to come through most of the time, and it’s not just me, it’s all the artists I’ve worked with.Â I’ve seen many of them going through the same thing.Â Maybe it’s just because I live here and I deal with more volume than in any other city.
As far as the artists go, the lack of thought that goes on is astounding, as well as how they carry themselves at a public showing.Â Most need a business course, not art school.Â Grab a book and learn to read.Â Study a subject matter until you know more than you should.Â Put some soul into your art, and when you present yourself in public, make sure you offer a unique experience.
When I started live art in this town 11 years ago, I was one of maybe 5 artists that were doing it and it was special; now there’s so many copycats that are putting on half assed events that even my wife is pissed that she can’t go into a club without some sort of ‘vendor’ sitting in the corner, looking more like an accountant ready to do your taxes than an artist — someone we associate with passion and freedom and free thinking.Â The detachment of the elements that make up a thriving art scene in this town is sad.Â The clubs that look upon the art as an annoyance as opposed to something they could nurture into an event that could make them a good amount of money, the artists that look scared even when receiving a compliment, the press that is comfortable reporting on the same old shit because they are afraid that offering something newsworthy and edgy might drive the 80 yr olds who donate to their annual charity to run away, and of course the public that thinks it makes them cool to just ‘talk’ about buying a piece of art, as opposed to actually doing it, is why I look at this scene with shock and sadness.Â There’s a lot of talent in San Diego, it’s just not being nurtured properly.
What do you feel might make things better with the local art scene?
Well first and foremost, get a work ethic.Â This ‘every week is a four day weekend and I’ll use Monday to recover, then do some work Tuesday, and then oh my it’s Wednesday so it’s time to start drinking at the beach again’ Southern California work ethic doesn’t fly.Â We get 300 days of sunshine on average, you aren’t going to miss out on it.Â I started my art career not knowing what the hell I was doing, and I missed a few deadlines,Â lost some big projects over it, and made some enemies and to this day I feel guilty about each and every one of those projects.Â I learned real quick that it doesn’t matter what my artwork’s message was if I was unable to answer my own phone messages, or communicate in a timely manner.Â Show up at an event on time and stay until the end.Â There’s nothing more tacky than packing up and leaving in the middle of a packed house because, if you stay until the end, you might only get a few hours of sleep before you go sling crappy drinks at Starbucks in the morning.
Secondly, I would love to see more thought put into the events that artists do, and to see the galleries take more responsibility for the sale of the art that they represent.Â One thing I hate more than anything is to have some gallery throw down for some bare minimum art opening, not promote the art effectively, allow some ‘rep’ sell my art for a shit piece of the pie and expect me to give up 30 – 50% of my art sales.Â For that kind of commission I want to be able to flog the gallery owner while he walks up and down the sidewalk with a sandwich board advertising my art.Â It’s the old work as little as possible for as much money, but that is doing nothing but killing the art scene with boring gallery openings, which they themselves, will kill the allure of the artwork.Â For example there’s an art event coming up as well that is charging a booth fee AND taking a commission — talk about supporting your wallet first and the arts last.
Third, I would like to see the promoters work WITH the artists, not book them and then try to tell us what is creative.Â Let’s face it, you are a promoter because you have no talent but want to reap the benefits and the lifestyle that an artist attracts.Â 99% of the promoters I’ve worked with have absolutely no professional talent other than scaring off girls, and making club owners roll their eyes at the mediocre way that they have put together a show.Â Get your shit together and leave the creativeness to us.Â Sit down with the artists and brainstorm ideas, don’t just think â€œOh, if I throw 50 artists in a room I’ll have an event because they will all invite 10 friendsâ€.Â No, that is not an event, that is an Alabama family reunion.
Who knows where this art scene will go.Â There’s a ton of new artists coming into the town, and I’ve actually met a few that are really good including Kelcey Fisher, who on the drop of a dime, will do events in L.A. and San Diego, no questions asked as long as it pushes his career in the right direction.Â Artists like him have the dedication, and the drive, and can easily swoop in and take what they deserve while some old timers will just sit back and bitch.Â Time will tell if these new artists actually get the recognition they deserve.
How do you define success with your work?
When I find the balance between being happy with what I produce, and am bringing in enough money to support my family I find my success.Â If the art feels too much like a job, or life doesn’t feel challenging enough, then success is slipping.Â When I get up in the morning and make my daughter pancakes and watch cartoons while everyone else is stuck in a car racing to work at 8am, I’m successful.Â It’s definitely more of an emotional tug than a bank account filler.Â At times, sure, I’m concentrating on the money aspect, but that is a part of life and I’ve got certain goals I want to achieve, like making sure my little girl doesn’t have to go to the shitty public school system that California offer — and that takes cash.Â And obviously the lonelier I get around other artists the more successful I know I’m getting.Â Sometimes you want to hang with the artists that were there from the beginning, you just don’t want to hang your artwork with them anymore.
What do you do for fun?
Outside of the art, I love going to the movies and playing croquet with the in-laws.Â I also started this past January working out with kettlebells which has opened up a whole new world of actually being alert and functioning like a normal, healthy human should.Â Far cry from my booze soaked days of not knowing of nutrition and fitness.Â I enjoy driving since I just got my license 3 months ago.Â I love to be outside which is why we are living in a camper for the entire U.S. Tour.Â Hiking, fishing, magnifying ants to death, and relaxing by day and live art shows at night.
What made you get involved with illustrating a children’s book and how did that come about?
I’ve actually illustrated several children’s books for a major publisher, Stone Arch Books, over the last few years.Â They’ve included a ghost story called ‘Hunter’s Moon’, and remakes the old classics ‘Hansel and Gretel’, and ‘Sleeping Beauty’.Â They are available on Amazon.Â I’ve always enjoyed working on the children’s books in that they allow me to explore the more fun side of my art.Â I can’t do the death and destruction all the time.Â At the time I did my first children’s book I had 3 small cousins but couldn’t show them much of my artwork, so it was nice to have those books come out and allow the under 18 side of my family to have something to enjoy.Â ‘The Fruits of Our Labor’, written by Rachel Dietrich and Lexi Sadler, came about when the girls approached me with the concept.Â I was hooked from the beginning of the freshness and the multitude of ways the book could help children, and allow them to creatively think while teaching them of healthy food.Â It’s a nice compliment to what I normally draw.
In regards to your work, what is the greatest compliment you have ever received?
The greatest compliment I have ever received was when my father told me how proud he was of my art.Â We didn’t always see eye to eye on the art thing, but when he did finally see that I might just be crazy enough to pull this off or die trying, his compliment was something that won’t ever be topped.
What has been the greatest insult?
I would say the greatest insult to my artwork has been when I’ve given up.Â Rushed projects where the art isn’t the best it could be yet I allowed it to go out into the world anyways.Â Yeah, that really is a shitty insult.Â Also, there was the guy who hated his sketch at the comic con because he said I drew him looking like a bulldog — well, sorry, I can’t fix ugly.
Are there any interesting stories that you would like to share about any of your past art shows?
I was up at an event with my wife in Hollywood last year, and a guy came up to the table and asked my wife if she was the artist, even though I was standing right next to her painting on the canvas.Â I turned and told him he needed to come up with a much better line if he wanted to steal her away.Â He just kind of stood there and drooled on himself.
Is there anything from your childhood that you see come up a lot in your work?
Teddy bears.Â I was given a teddy bear the day I was born and have always had a fascination with them. My first main character was Ernie the half hallucinated/half real, drug addict, loud mouth bear.Â He appeared in my ‘industriacide’ book, which was my first comic ever professionally published, but his real start was an adaptation of the story of Elliot Ness and Al Capone I did for my 10th grade English class in comic form.
What question do you hate being constantly asked about your work?
Probably when someone walks up and says â€œHey, GREAT painting, but you know what you should have done…â€.Â Everyone thinks that they know best, and most of the time they are dead wrong.
Would you continue to create art if you didn’t have an audience?
Of course I would, but it’s a trick question, because I am my own greatest audience.Â I paint for me every time I pick up the brush whether there’s ten million people watching or just me.Â But if the people were not in the equation, of course I would still paint.Â I never was intending to paint for an audience in the beginning, I was painting because I was 4 and it was cool to push crayons around on paper, the audience factor was simply an evolutionary step in my art.
What are you working towards currently and where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years time?
Currently I’m planning my U.S. Live Art Tour which will kick off with the San Diego Comic Con. I’ll be in the SMALL PRESS section BOOTH P9, and will be there for the promotion of the new kid’s book I illustrated ‘The Fruits of Our Labor’ and my new art book ‘I Brought the Gutter’.Â I’m excited to get out on the road and meet hundreds of thousands of new people and show them what live art is all about.Â We are working with kid’s charities as well, doing in store signings at comic stores, night club events and all of this is anchored by about 7 comic cons.
On the darker side of things I’m also working on a huge book with legendary award winning author Richard A. Webster, called ‘The Nazi and the Rabbit’.Â This book is almost too weird to describe other than it will be one hell of a trip with a cast of characters including Pol Pot the Clown, Santa Man the cotton candy cart driver, and Momma Man the 7ft tall transvestite that takes in a rabbit that has fallen from grace and is ousted from the briar, making his way to New Orleans, freshly destroyed by Katrina.
In 10 years, who knows where I’ll be, but I would love to start working on some films.Â Not just crappy adaptations of my comics, but something with a bit of meat and grit.Â Something with an actual story unlike most movies today.Â I’ve got several books that have been written but not illustrated, including my book ‘Heart Murmur’ which was written almost 9 years ago.Â I also would like to have a permanent studio from which to work by then.Â Something I can call my own.
Thank you for taking the time to answer all of our questions. Good luck and be safe on the road with your 10,000 mile Art Tour!
To see more of Sean Dietrich’s Art and to help support him on his cross country tour of art, visit www.Industriacide.com
2011 Industriacide U.S. Art Tour
5/31 – Poster Show @ Bar Basic (San Diego)
6/3 – Dragonfly (Hollywood, CA)6/4 – Boys/Girls Club of Linda Vista painting demo (San Diego, CA)
6/5 – Happenin’ Harry’s Hell Hole @ The Cat Club (Hollywood, CA)
6/23 – NOHO Studios Show (North Hollywood, CA)
6/24 – Beer and Sake Festival (San Diego, CA)625 – BOOGIE @ Kadan (San Diego, CA)
7/19 – Poems, Rhymes and Tales @ Bar Basic (San Diego, CA)
7/21 – 24th – San Diego Comic Con (San Diego, CA) SMALL PRESS section BOOTH P9
7/21 – Samurais and Schoolgirls comic con after party @ 10th St. Theatre (San Diego, CA)
8/11 – 8/14 – Wizard World Chicago (Chicago, IL)
8/20 – 8/21 – Baltimore Comic Con (Baltimore, MD)
9/24 – Jet City Comic Con (Seattle, WA)
10/01 – 1-/02 – A.P.E. Con (San Francisco, CA)
10/29 – 10/30 – Long Beach Comic Con (Long Beach, CA)
11/11 – 11/13 – Wizard World Austin (Austin, TX)
1/28 – 1/29 – Wizard World New Orleans (New Orleans, LA)