If you’ve been in Freeport recently, you might have noticed some sweater-wrapped trees or crocheted animals in public spaces. It’s part of a street art movement called yarn bombing. One of the people behind it, Sebastian Meade, looks like he himself has been yarn bombed – he’s wrapped in a huge, colorful scarf, his hands hidden in bright knitted mittens. Under his arm is a wearable monster head made of yarn. The yarn bombing is just part of Sebastian’s fascination with public art. He’s been making guerrilla art, and documenting it on social media, as part of a project called Acts of Random Art.
HOW DID YOUR PROJECT, “ACTS OF RANDOM ART” BEGIN?
My initial idea was to strictly be a Twitter-related project. It was just to randomly find any form of public art – whether it’s a statue or graffiti– and post it. But then I quickly started a Facebook page for it to get other people to follow, and then it grew from there and it turned into a blog about public art.
IS IT PUBLIC ART YOU’VE CREATED OR THAT YOU’VE FOUND?
A combination. Growing up in Freeport, I didn’t get into doing graffiti, only because I knew I’d be found out. Someone might say, “I know who does that, that’s familiar!” But then, after I was getting more into posting stuff, I would use chalk on the street and then I got in trouble for it. Which is funny, because cops waited for a while until someone complained, so they said, “You’ve got to stop.” Initially, I was drawing on trash cans in town and using the opening as the mouth of a monster. What’s funny is that when the trash cans had drawings on them, more of the trash cans got cleaned up (their paint was peeling) and more people were putting the trash in the trash cans rather than on top. They kind of wanted to feed the monster! People loved them, and tourists would walk into stores laughing, talking, taking pictures of them. It was a funny thing to be told not to do. Then when I had gone to the town hall to see if I could get official permission, they didn’t really give me an answer, because it’s a funny grey area.
But then, ecomaine has their solar bullets, their large recycling bins, that they call out for six artists and art groups each year to decorate, so I did one! It floats wherever it wants to go. They rotate it as they’re picking up so you never know where it is. But I get reports of it. People say, “I saw your bin!” Sometimes friends or family say, “I recognize those monsters, they’re totally Sebastian’s monsters!”
WHY DO YOU THINK YOU LIKE CREATING MONSTERS SO MUCH?
I always liked making monsters and robots. To me, it’s making things fun. I’ve gotten in trouble with academics, because they say I’m not serious enough. I listen to comedians and other people who aren’t comedians talk about humor as an approach to the world. Dramatic actors usually say, ”comedy is way harder.” I find that using art as a punch line is a way to attract the general public into the art.
DOES IT FEEL LIKE THERE’S A BIG GAP BETWEEN THE PEOPLE WHO ARE MAKING ART AND THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ABLE TO ENJOY IT?
If someone says, “I don’t understand your work,” I don’t get mad at them, I just ask, “How can I help you understand it?” Or to me, if someone comes up with a completely different answer to understand what I make, I don’t get mad at them, sometimes it’s better! Sometimes I go, “Oh wow, I’m going to use that!” When I was a student at Ripon College in Wisconsin, I made these robot revolution flags. I put them all over campus for my senior project that year. A friend of mine said, “I love it,” and she started going on about how it’s about how the robots represent how we’re all going to end up in cubicles, etc. And I’m looking at her and all of a sudden she stops and goes, “Did I get it wrong?” I said, “No, that’s really good!” For me there’s no wrong answer. And it frustrates me when the art world that says there is an answer, that there is a certain way. I approach art with humor.
TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOUR MEDICAL HISTORY INFLUENCES OR DID NOT INFLUENCE THE WAY YOU MAKE ART
I had a stroke at 13. Heading a soccer ball is what triggered it. I can’t remember what the name of it is but there was a nest of veins in my head that were a time bomb and were going to go off at some point and that’s when they went. On Halloween. Still one of my favorite holidays! I don’t feel the need to express the hardship of it but just to celebrate life and have fun with it. I could sit there and make art that says,“Here’s depressing stuff of dealing with blindness in half my eyes and not being able to drive or learning disability stuff.” I could play off that, but I don’t feel like it’s me. I figure I’ll make art fun for myself but also for other people. It’s more enjoyable for me.
WHEN YOU SAY YOU LOST YOUR EYESIGHT IN HALF YOUR EYES, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
The best way to explain it is if I looked directly at the center of someone’s face, I only see the left half. So sometimes I get people saying, “You don’t wave back at me.” And I say, “I didn’t see you! I can’t see you over there! I’m not blowing you off!”
WHAT’S THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RANDOMNESS ASPECT FOR YOU?
Street art is random. You don’t know where you’re going to find it. In Portland, near the public library, there was some graffiti art called stikman on the sidewalk, which is this huge deal in the graffiti and street art world. It’s somebody who travels all over the place and makes this art. Some things you have to look at differently, looking upwards or downwards.
TELL ME ABOUT THE YARN BOMBING
Yarn bombing is wrapping outdoor objects – like trees – in colorful knitted yarn, like it’s in a sweater. I had decided to learn crochet because crocheting is easier to use towards sculpture than knitting. I had known a little bit about yarn bombing, but another person had mentioned it. I liked the idea of just kind of putting art out there. It’s kind of a graffiti but it’s not a permanent thing. And that’s why I got into the chalk, too. Both are not permanent things so the idea of causing trouble is art. For someone to be like, “Well, I don’t like it,” well then, cut off the yarn, wipe the chalk off with a wet towel. It’s okay.
WHAT HAVE RESPONSES BEEN LIKE TO YOUR ART IN GENERAL?
In general I tend to find people like it, with exceptions. I have had difficulties with theorists, heavy theorist folks, who say it’s not serious enough. Well, that’s their opinion! I don’t write a whole bunch of theory around my stuff because I don’t think people need to read my own personal thoughts to what it is. But the general public tends to like it, which is my goal, and I try to find other people to introduce it to.
HERE IN FREEPORT, WE’RE SITTING ACROSS THE STREET FROM TOMMY HILFIGER AND J. CREW AND YOU’RE PUTTING ORGANIC ART IN THE MIDDLE OF ALL THOSE MAJOR MONOLITHIC, CONSUMERIST ENTITIES. IS THAT A CONSCIOUS DECISION FOR YOU?
Oh, definitely. I get people all the time asking me why don’t I just move to Portland. All the Maine communities, including Portland, are too small to focus only in one area and so I’m trying to help Freeport build up. I had a gallery for a few years with my mom, we were doing well, but the economy crashed. The art went first and it’s still having a hard time coming back. We had super contemporary work to very traditional. Both were selling. Maine has a strong art history, a lot of artists have worked here, a lot of artists are here now. When my friends and I started yarn bombing, we consciously decided to focus Freeport because it wasn’t really happening in Portland and we’re trying to make that as part of Freeport history.
TELL ME ABOUT Me.S.S., THE MAINE STREET STITCHERS. TELL ME MORE ABOUT THEM, WHAT’S THAT GROUP LIKE?
It grows and shrinks. We have basically five or six members. There are three of us that do more in it than others. We made a big series of conscious decisions focusing on yarn bombing in Freeport. When you look up yarn bombing online, a lot of times it’s about wrapping trees, wrapping this, wrapping that. We work a little smaller. We do more monsters, more creatures. It’s made us stand out from other yarn bombers. There are people following us from all over the world now. There is some wrapping that happens occasionally, but that’s not our focus. This last International Yarn Bombing Day in June our theme was Under the Sea, and so a friend of mine made a bunch of jellyfish. There’s still a bunch hanging on a tree.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I tend to find that it’s just trying to make stuff that makes people smile or laugh or whatever because there’s a lot of serious stuff that goes on and every now and then people need a break from reality. Don’t get me wrong, I know that reality is there, but every now and then it’s good to get away from it for a moment, even if it’s just looking at art.
WHAT IS A LESSON YOU’RE LEARNING IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW OR HAVE LEARNED RECENTLY?
Probably a lesson I’ve learned over time was really just keep on doing what you want to do. I’ve worked with enough people or heard enough people say, “Oh I wish I was an artist,” or “Now that I’ve retired, I can do art.” But why did you stop when you feel like doing it? Why stop? Why do that to yourself?
WHAT IS THE GREATEST GIFT OR BLESSING IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?
Gift or blessing. That’s a good question. I don’t know. Probably that I get to do what I’m doing. Not many people can.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST STRUGGLE IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?
Doing what I like to do! It’s kind of a back and forth. Right now I’m still stuck in the Catch-22 of the art world, which is I don’t have enough shows, but I also don’t have enough sales to do shows. I want to have art shows, I don’t want to just do street art because I don’t make any money off of it.
IF YOU HAD A MOTTO OR A MANTRA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Just keep on doing it. People can knock it but you’ve just got to keep on doing it.
WHAT’S THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
The best moment of the average day is usually when I’m watching my dogs do something! It’s usually the puppy attacks the older dog! That’s kind of the daily pleasure.