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Interview From Streets Dept Magazine, Issue #1: Sean 9 Lugo–You Don’t Need An @ Symbol

November 15, 2022

First two quick programming notes:

1) This interview was originally published in December, 2021, in Issue #1 of Streets Dept Magazine. For archival purposes, we’re now republishing it here on the blog.

2) We are thrilled to be in the middle of creating Issue #2 of Streets Dept Magazine, which you can wait to purchase in January 2023 or pre-order now by becoming a Streets Dept Patreon member at the Paper Tier or above. Not only do our Patreon members help us to create these annual magazines with their support, but they are rewarded for that support by getting their magazines mailed to them first! If you become a Streets Dept Patreon member (at the Paper Tier or above) by Monday, November 28 and plan to remain a member for a least three months, we’ll mail your magazine out this DecemberClick here to become a Streets Dept Patreon member now!

Interview and photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale

Sean 9 Lugo is a veteran Phil‌adelphia street artist who works primarily in the medium of wheatpaste. He’s also a fine artist with a number of gallery shows under his belt, as well as an art collector with diverse tastes. Making art seems to primarily serve a therapeutic role in Sean’s life, helping him find meaning, connect with people, and play with perception.

For our interview, Sean welcomed me into his home studio, which has to be the tidiest artist workspace I’ve ever seen. While making cracks about sitting on an exercise ball because he’s old, Sean walked me through the process he uses to create most of his pieces. Generally, he starts with a sketchbook, where he draws a detailed image in ballpoint pen. He then scans the drawing, enlarges it, and prints it out. Finally, he paints it with acrylic paint and pastes it up—after driving around for hours in search of the perfect spot.

Eric: You’re the type of street artist who chooses the placement of his pieces very carefully. Can you describe your approach to that and why it’s important to you?

Sean: I believe in street art, the number one thing is placement. It’s giving your piece a home. That’s probably why I stand out. I drive around for hours just to find the perfect home for a piece. At the end of the day, you don’t know if it’s gonna last a half hour, days, weeks, months; but that photo we take makes that piece a painting, in a sense, but in the street.

Eric: What’s the strangest place you’ve ever put up a piece?

Sean: Maybe not the strangest, but the most interesting to me was probably putting up wheatpastes in the Dominican Republic. It was for an art festival called Artesano, and it was interesting just to walk up to any house you wanted to, talk to the owner, and say I’ma put this on the side of your building; you cool with that? and they’re just like yeah! They live with nothing—and are happy. And we live with so much—but then cry when we’ve got spilled milk. For artists from all around the world to go into your city and say that you want to give them something—they’re very grateful. And it’s an extremely humbling experience. Like, I have a lot of shit. But at the end of the day, if it all went away and I just had the people I love, that’s all I care about.

Eric: Seven years ago, you stated in an interview that “most people are fake,” explaining that the way people project a false image of themselves inspires you. Do you still feel that way?

Sean: Yeah, that’s why my series is what it is. I think a lot of the people you meet aren’t genuine at times. I love being able to play with people’s minds by painting a portrait of something, but then putting a mask on. For instance, the Black Lives Matter posts I did. Three images; three different skin colors; everyone had black flags to represent Black Lives Matter. But the teddy bear head changed it. It made it an image that was serious-cute. So if you weren’t about the movement—which, shame on you—the teddy bear head was kind of just that mute button: you just saw a cute image. I feel like the heads untrigger you in a way.

That’s the beautiful thing about being able to play with people that way. It’s the misconception. If I paint five dudes on a corner and you see their faces, and I add certain colors, you’ll think oh, they’re gang members; oh, they’re drug dealers. If I paint those same five dudes on a corner but they got a unicorn head, a cat head, a squirrel head… People are like oh man, that’s cute! The first thought isn’t going to be oh, look at these gang members; drug dealers; delinquents. Even though they probably might be all those things. I feel like the moment you add someone’s face, you start thinking who is this person? But when you see an animal head, you don’t think who is this person?; you just say what’s going on here?

Eric: Now that you’ve had a number of gallery shows, what do you think the “traditional” art world could learn from the street art world?

Sean: For me, that question is reversed. I feel like street artists could learn from the gallery setting more, to see how someone puts together a show. If you’re putting a body of work together, you could do that same body of work and put it in the street. And removing an @ symbol would be amazing. I’ve never signed one piece of street art.

Eric: What’s with the 9?

Sean: Ok, that’s an easy one… So the number 9 came about from an acid trip experience with a bunch of good friends. We were listening to The Beatles’ Revolution 9 and they keep repeating the word 9. Number 9, number 9, number 9, I don’t know how many times it’s said over the song. So I had a marker in my hand, and I started writing it on all the signs: number 9, 9, 9, 9. I just started writing 9 everywhere, and my good friend said “9 watches over us.” I was like …sure, buddy. Months later, he fell 9 stories to his death. He was 21 years old. And for me, all my work is very personal. I like creating things that have meaning to me, especially in my gallery work. So I incorporated the 9 in my name to pay homage to him. The 9 only lives because of him. Every time I do 9, I feel like I’m keeping Theodore Joseph Ciaccia’s legacy alive.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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