Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you! See all of our past Artists of the Week in our dedicated section.
Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? Do you work with different mediums?
Alexander Codd: I always loved drawing and coloring growing up. I was the type that would hard outline in coloring books and then do the light fills with the same color. It was years later, in 2011, that I discovered I was passionate about painting artistically. I discovered my love for spray paint from my daily trips up and down The Ave. It wasn't until then that my eye really picked up on all of the stickers, tags and graffiti surrounding me. My favorite building in the area was a free wall off of 50th & Roosevelt, "TUBS." (Thank you, TUBS). The art on TUB'S exterior was forever rotating and evolving, and I loved how it complimented both the neighborhood's original dingy areas, as well as the newer, inevitable gentrification that was beginning to flood in. The aesthetic range of street art, and its ability to compliment such juxtaposed neighborhoods, is what initially sparked my curiosity. To complement the spray paint, I discovered stenciling through the internet — "Youtube University," as I call it! Shepard Fairey and Banksy were the guys that really got me going on the idea.
Looking back, though, having worked for my Dad's painting company every summer since 5th grade is what really planted the "paint seed” for me - as well as the methods I would ultimately adopt years later. All of my work incorporates rather unorthodox methods and mediums, I guess in reference to "fine-art" terms. Everything I learned from painting interior and exterior jobs growing up carried over into my work. From preparation all the way through the creative process, I have always loved using painting contractor materials and preparatory methods, like house paint, varnish, caulk, Zinsser primer, wood stains, nails, screws, sandpaper, etc. For example, I prime or "gesso" every canvas using old house paint from past jobs. I love taking the DIY approach to everything. Creating something on your own from scratch, start to finish, is something I take great pride in. I believe that is what makes the artwork more special and entirely yours at the end. From cutting the stretcher bars to stretching your own canvas — all things you could find "ready" at the store, I try to avoid. Not to mention, the quality is almost always better. To tie it all together, my primary mediums are spray paint and stencils. That initial love for street art, while implementing the methods I learned growing up, all kind of bridge there.
Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
I try to break down everything I do into layers or simplified steps. Maybe that comes from me primarily using stencils, but I always try to simplify things down to their most basic form and then begin building them back up as the project progresses. Whether that be with paint or collaging techniques for texture — the end product is always thicker than when it began. Almost all of my work begins digitally. I start with a reference photo, which I then tailor using both Photoshop and Illustrator. I use these programs to alter and break down the image into my stencil layers, which are then ready to cut.
For the first five years, I cut 100% of my work by hand, using an X-acto knife. It's a slow and tedious process — especially when projects average around 12 to 20 layers each. Those thousands of hours under the knife led to the deterioration of my hands, and a year or two after college, I finally bought a laser. Today, the laser cuts 95% of my work. I can now continue to paint while the laser cuts out future projects. That said, for very special, personal projects, I like to pick the X-acto knife back up and do the cutting manually. Following cutting, I begin the painting process. Painting from darks to lights — the "layering" or build-up of paint creates the illusion of depth. With my earliest works, I lived by the stencil and never ventured outside of what I cut into the paper. As a result, my paintings were much "chunkier," and the contrast between layers were much harsher. Now, I've come to love the under-spray and imperfections that happen outside of the stencil. Not weighing down the stencils and incorporating free-hand touches in between layers allows the paintings to breathe and become much smoother and less digitized looking.
Tell us about where your inspiration for your art comes from.
Street art and the entire culture of Hip-Hop and Rock & Roll. The sense of freedom while in the act of doing it. I love that sense of rebellion. I think anyone creating in a similar form or pursuing art full-time is being rebellious in a way. What I think is the most special about street art is the artwork's finite time out in the wild. The way it naturally decays — I think that's why I've come to love the gritty and weathered aesthetic within my work. The lifespan of a piece out in the open can range from a day to sometimes several years, and I think that element of "time" is very special, where the longevity of a piece is never guaranteed. I think that shares a lot of parallels with our own lives, which again is why I really push to maintain a "street feel" and paint primarily with spray paint to this day. I see it as an ode to the culture, and that's where Apollo kind of came into existence. Being the god of light and protector of the arts, I adopted that concept as my "stamp" or "brand" when doing street art. As far as stenciling, I give all the credit to my discovery and growth within that particular medium to Shepard Fairey and Banksy – both of who I admire greatly. I think the medium of stenciling as a whole is viewed by most of the art world as something that is "simple," "easy," or "overdone." I've heard people even say it's "a cop-out" or "not the same as painting." While that has always been sort of a chip on my shoulder, it motivates me to stick to this medium primarily. I want to show that stenciling as an artform holds weight and should be respected, in addition to achieving the same things the other mediums can. Something as simple as a stencil has the ability to create something very complex if you're willing to take the time — like anything else. A mantra I've come to love is, "Stenciling didn't invent anything. But it reinvented everything."
Do you have a specific "beat" you like best – nature, food, profiles, etc.?
Portraits, I love painting portraits. I once heard the quote, "You can measure the greatness of a portrait by the way the eyes follow you around a room." I get a kick out of that. I sample from everything, from all mediums. A piece from here, a piece from there, a blues song I listened to the day before. I like taking elements from all of these things and merging them into one. Sort of like an artistic collage.
Do you have one piece of art that means more to you or is extremely special to you?
I have several. One that immediately stands out to me is a portrait of Eminem merged with Edvard Munch's "The Scream." While it can seem dark, I have those moments of self-doubt while making my art that can oftentimes be drowning. Not only am I experiencing these brief moments, but other ‘greats’ before me (past and present) whom I admire greatly have as well. In reference to this particular painting, "the past" being E.Munch, and "the present" being Eminem.
What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
Off the top, I can't think of a specific experience. As a whole, I'd have to say my family and very close friends serve as a key role. What we share, experience, and learn from each other all play into how I feel and what I try to illustrate. In some shape or form, what we all experience affects me and provides me with an opportunity for an alternative perspective — big or small.
What is next for you? Anything you’re working on right now that you’re really excited about?
I think for this year, really embracing and expanding the scale of my work is something I’m most excited to focus on, in addition to COLOR — not being intimidated by color is something I want to continue to get better at. Most importantly, I’m striving to continue painting what I want to paint — uninfluenced by what I think the public wants to see or worrying about how social media will react to it. That's been a primary focus of mine the last couple of years, and that freedom has been liberating.
Lastly, how do you take your coffee? (We ask everyone!)
Easy and simple — I like my coffee served black. However, I can’t not mention that my mom has been giving me some Vietnamese coffee concentrate recently, and I've been using a dash of that as a creamer. It’s been a jam of mine these days!