After a short hiatus, I’m so happy to finally announce the return of the installation series. NEST HQ was created with the intention of being a platform aimed at promoting and encouraging the growth of artists of all genres and mediums. While we’ve worked mostly within music up to this point, we are expanding on a new content series that will showcase multimedia artists of various backgrounds including painters, graphic designers, architects, and others of the sort; this is installation. Every two weeks, we’ll post hand-selected pieces from our featured artists via our Instagram @nesthq, along with excerpts from the full interviews.
This week’s installation features the interdisciplinary and spectacularly talented Alexandre Souêtre.
NHQ: We always start off with the same question, I think it’s one of the most important. Tell me about your introduction to art, photography, and creative direction.
Alex: It seems like any easy one, but it’s not always as you want it to be because art is so fleeting. The first time I realized I wanted to do something artistic was when I was 9 years old. I was staying at my dad’s place in Belgium and he found a collection of DVDs that covered the work of several important music video directors. There was one on Spike Jonze, the Michel Gondry, and Chris Cunningham. He bought all of these and, for some reason, he felt compelled to show me the Chris Cunnigham one. I sat down and just watched all of Chris Cunningham’s work. First of all, ethically, this was wildly inappropriate for a 9 year old, but my dad had no filter and I’m glad he didn’t. I was blown away not only because his work was incredible, but also because it was the first time in my life that I had seen something that someone had made that tapped into a part of my brain that had never been tapped into.
That DVD of Chris Cunningham really opened my eyes to the whole idea of creating art. Not because it was inspiring me to do the same thing, but because I realized if there are people out there that are creating things that have never been done before; then why not do it myself. Obviously, I didn’t have that thought process at 9 years old; it was really in hindsight. Looking back at it, I realize how much that had an impact on me.
NHQ: So after seeing his work, did you fall into video first?
Alex: It all started with skateboarding. I think I was a very normal kid. I’ve always been very attracted to comic books, and I’ve always drawn. I was doing a lot of drawing and painting with my dad, but also on my own. I didn’t feel like it was something I was going to pursue, I just loved drawing. I was drawing all day every day. Until then I hadn’t picked up anything that was more technical like video or photo, but around the time I was 14 my friends and I started rollerblading. We shortly switched to skateboarding and, as every skate crew does, when you start really getting into it you want to film stuff. There’s always that one kid who always ends up being the artsy kid who is drawn to the idea of filming, and that was me. I started filming skateboarding and then I started filming other stuff and I realized I loved it. I really got into art this way. Afterwards, I wanted to make animations so I started applying my animations to the computer. It wasn’t until college that I actually made the decision that I was going to pursue art as a career.
NHQ: Even unintentionally, it’s insane to hear how many people I interview say “it started from skateboarding.” It’s absolutely wild – I feel like half of the people I’ve interviewed have mentioned how skateboarding lead them into their profession in one way or another. For me, I’ll never forget when I got my first skateboard. I would only ride it around, and then the first time I saw a video of someone doing tricks, I had a similar experience where I went, “what? you can do those things?” The creation possibility just turned on.
Alex: I think a lot of artists have gravitated toward it because skateboarding is not a sport. It’s never been and never will be. It’s performance art. It needs to be captured otherwise it doesn’t exist. There’s many ways of capturing that and it’s fascinating. So many mediums collide.
NHQ: Exactly. Speaking of, how did you end up in LA and come together with the SOVRN crew?
Alex: So first off, I’d never worked in skateboarding until a couple years ago. As much as I grew up skateboarding and always felt attached to it, I had nothing to do with the industry until about 2 years ago. I went to school in Boston for Business, but on the side I pursued graphic design. Then I went back to my hometown, Paris, and lived there for a couple years. I worked mainly in advertising and freelance branding. I did a lot of album covers and stuff like that but I was still looking for what I wanted to. Advertising was way too pragmatic for me, I wanted to do something a little more artistic. I also really missed the West; I went to college there and had so many connections and friends. I had one friend in college who I made a few short films with and we won a couple of awards, which really gave us a confidence boost. He moved to LA to pursue the dream of making movies and he kept hitting up saying “come to LA, let’s produce movies together.” I thought he was joking, but kind of out of the blue I just got a one way ticket to LA. I came out here, worked in movies for a few months, learned a lot, but realized I didn’t like the traditional film industry. It got to a point where I had a few months of savings to decide if I would stay or move, and right around that time while applying for jobs I got introduced to a secretive new project through some people investing in skateboarding. I met with them and they said they were starting a skateboard brand. They had most of the infrastructure in place but needed an art director. That sounded like a dream to me. All they told me was that they wanted it to be very artsy, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do with skateboarding. So I got hired to restart that brand from scratch. Now I’m the creative director and photographer for them. I’ve been working with SOVRN for almost three years now.
NHQ: That’s amazing. I feel like there are certain stigmas about LA, or any of those cities where you tell people, “I’m moving to chase a dream.” It might sound cliché, but these are the types of things that happen in this city.
NHQ: You move out here, and if you work hard and are a good person, you end up really organically finding other like minded and genuinely collaborative people quite easily. You mentioned earlier the music side of your work – not only the album artworks, which are really amazing, but your music videos as well. How does music tie into all of this, and is it something that you plan on expanding?
Alex: To be honest, the more I’m growing into what I’m doing, the more I’m realizing I don’t want to put limits on it. I feel like when I went to school, the general consensus was that you had to find what you were good at and then just do that. Back then, I just kept going between graphic design, video, photo, and drawing. Artists around me where like, “you gotta pick something, you can’t just do it all.” I got to the point where I was like, “Fuck that, I want to do it all.” I love going between all of it.” Music has always been a really important part because I got introduced to the art scene through music in music videos. When I was at school in Boston, my girlfriend at the time was going to Berkeley College of Music, so I got to meet a lot of musicians and they were my first clients. To this day they are some of my favorite clients. Ryan, who is the filmer for SOVRN, and I shared a passion for movie making beyond skateboarding. We shared the same idea of injecting that in to skateboarding. It has been done before, but we wanted to do it in our own way – that really cinematic look to skateboarding. We started really putting more effort into our videos, and we started talking about doing production stuff because people were hitting us up about that. So we started a little production company making music videos and commercials and it’s been really fun. This was also my first time directing. I had production experience, and Ryan is a DP, that’s what he’s really good at and focuses on. When we were deciding what rolls to fill for director, Ryan was the one telling me, “why not you?”
NHQ: I think the future of artists has to be interdisciplinary. You can’t just be a painter anymore, you can’t just be a photographer anymore. Growing up, I would constantly hear, “It’s better to be 100% proficient at one thing, than 70% at ten things.” I feel like now, with the technology we have access to, and the amount of information that can ingest, we can really achieve a 100% level of proficiency at a bunch of things.
Alex: Very often I feel like we have to, and by doing that you end up feeling more fulfilled artistically, and that has a good impact on each project.
NHQ: I feel like the artists I know who have developed the most over time are the ones that are effecting their creativity in multiple ways. For me, and for other artists I know, outletting through different mediums has become a huge source of re-inspiration. What else is in the pipeline for 2018 that you can talk about?
Alex: SOVRN has a lot of good stuff coming up in 2018 that I’m excited about. We are doing a hard cover art book, it will have a lot of our work, but also the work of people we’ve collaborated with. We want to make it very LA themed because those are our roots. I’m also the creative director for this skin care company called Salt & Stone, and it’s been picking up steam so I’m excited to see that grow. I’m really excited for this music video that we are in the last bits of post production for. It should be out in the next month or so. I’m excited for the next potential music video.
I have been working with Jesse Draxler here and there for the past few weeks. I met him through SOVRN a couple years ago. He recently reached out to me asking if he could work off of my photos. We have recently decided to take to the next step and collaborate a bit more. I shoot specifically for him on occasion and he works off of what I capture. He is now working on large scale pieces and will feature some of our collaborative work in his upcoming art book. Additionally, we are working on designing a few pieces together for SOVRN. This will come out in the spring. It is an amazing experience for me as his work speaks so much to me. The emotions he creates with his collages and paintings feel very in tune with what I like to capture when I shoot people; on top of the fact that he is an inspiration to me, and a great person altogether. I am looking forward to see where this goes.
I have started pre production, still in conceptual phase, for a couple of documentaries. One is still vague but will probably touch on gender and sexual identity, specifically in rapidly morphing cultures such as skateboarding.
The other is an idea that was brought up by a friend. I will play more of an assisting role in this process. He would like to shed a “new” light on and show a real side of the Native American community, as he is part of it. I am very grateful to be a part of this project.
A friend of mine is a very talented director and he just made a experimental short film. He hired me to be a designer for it and it involves an “alien” language. I got very nerdy and created a whole alphabet and wave communication. I’m working with a motion graphic artist that is animating this in the short film, which is really cool.