Today's Man Maker, Seth Damm of Neon Zinn, is a long time favorite artist of mine. I have been spying into the hypercolor world of knotted wonder by Seth for a few years now. Ropes are his medium and the ombré landscapes he paints with dyes takes one on a colorful kaleidoscope ride. He's taking the nautical technicality of knotting to a new level and sculpted his way into runway shows and galleries alike. His work suits performers and everyday fashionistas quite well, garnering attention from all eyes around. I've found much resonance within his interview and his approach to slow, thoughtful fashion and art. His jewelry makes quite a statement and I hope many of my followers, both male and female, find the right piece to adorn themselves with. Below is his interview.
What is your brand/name:
What is your heritage:
Danish, British, Irish, French
What are 3 reference points of inspiration for your work: (philosophy/culture):
I named Neon Zinn after Howard Zinn. I think his book “A People’s History of the United States” should be taught critically in every high school, in fact the Texas and Arkansas legislatures recently were trying to keep that very thing from happening. “We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” This quote from Howard Zinn has helped me move forward past fear as I continue to explore my talents and think about how I can make a difference. The hardest thing many times is being overwhelmed with the enormity of changes you hope to see in the world. But no one person is going to do it alone. Everyone has a part to play from dishwasher to CEO. The worst thing is to become despondent and shut down your talents because you fear it doesn’t matter anyway. The message of millions of small acts, helped me make an important step towards being a full-time artist.
Growing up in Seattle, this was my first taste of a community of people sharing their sound/their art outside the notice of mainstream culture (that would happen later). Basement shows. Back room mosh pits. Word of mouth. Handmade posters and zines and album covers. Kids weren’t just carrying around cameras in their pockets so there was more participation in the musical moment, and then you had those photographers, who were also just kids, capturing the moment. (See Alice Wheeler’s photos for reference). I never joined a band, but I got a first hand glimpse of rebellion and angst and art made for it’s own sake. You didn’t have to be a trained musician to participate and that attitude has informed the way I approach my own art. It’s by putting yourself out there that you find what you are made of.
New Orleans is a place of mythological proportions. It’s full of so many contradictions, so much joy and pain mixed up together. I am eternally grateful to the people of this city who have lived for generations and kept the culture alive and churning even through some of the darkest periods in our collective history. There is a lineage here. There are songs passed on that everyone knows. Recipes that are passed down. And it’s a place that reminds me of my privilege. I was sitting around a table at a backyard party and started talking to a generational New Orleanian. And I was commenting on how much I enjoyed exploring City Park and how he must have had so many good memories playing there as a kid. He told me that actually he, as a black child, was not allowed in the park. It wasn’t meant as a slap in my face, but it was, and it reminded me of the assumptions I make and how a place holds these stories.
So while I sit on my back porch in New Orleans and dye my rope and work on designs I meditate with a lot on my mind.
What are 3 skills you've learned in representing yourself as an artist:
1. Learning that taking a break is sometimes as productive as slamming forward and wearing yourself down. Even if that break lasts for weeks, you are still an artist, don’t worry
2. Figuring out what you think your time and efforts are worth and standing by that amount even when it would be easy to continually discount.
3. This is the weirdest most difficult skill for me still, but splitting myself into parts, the person who eats, sleeps, pays bills, and the artist. They are both housed in my body of course but it can be helpful for a sense of sanity to not always be the raw, emotional artist. This one is still up for grabs, in terms of efficacy, but I do think it can be helpful when trying to move past the stereotype of the constantly suffering artist into a more healthy, long-term
What are 3 skills you believe are a necessity to be an independent artist/designer?
Persistence, Faith, Stubbornness. There are so many options for what you can be in life. I came to a point where I knew I had certain talents that I wanted to develop and maybe other aspirations that should be shelved. You’ll hear many opinions coming from parents, friends, advertisements, articles, etc. about the best path to take and
how to get to your goal. In some ways I don’t believe in goals, ha. I live very much in a
take-things-as-they-come sort of way, which runs counter to a culture that tries to control and maximize every possible outcome. All those skills I listed come to the forefront, when I start to doubt my path, or call out my own shit, or lose sight of the day in front of me.
What moved you to make with your hands:
I was studying printmaking in college (The Evergreen State) at the time when there was a big shift to computer graphics and new technology. It’s not an either or situation, but back then it felt like I had to decide where my focus would be. I loved the physical quality of preparing a lithography stone, and soaking paper for the press, and prepping ink. I found my imagination was more engaged when my hands were handling materials. My mother is an incredible intuitive cook and gardener and people person, so I have her hand skills and my father is a carpenter so there were always raw materials and tools nearby in his workshed. I’m sure they played a part in my development, as parents do. Plus, I’m not one to look for efficiency and short cuts when developing an idea, so the pace of working with my hands fits the way my brain solves problems.
If you could travel anywhere today, where would you travel and why:
Turkey and Greece. I love densely populated cities, so wandering in a place as old as Istanbul, a place that has been a cultural crossroads for so long, would be an unforgettable experience. I’d need to get some advice on where to visit outside of Istanbul. And since Greece is right next door, it would be a dream to see that Mediterranean Blue, island hop, and explore.
3 Favorite songs at the moment:
PJ Harvey “Dollar Dollar” from Hope Six Demolition Project
T Rex “Mambo Sun” from Electric Warrior
Perfume Genius “Fool” from Too Bright
What advice would you offer your fellow female makers? What business advice?
Trust your instincts. Don’t feel like you have to start with the perfect most complete business plan. It’s more than ok to figure some things out while in the process. Sometimes that’s the best way to deal with unexpected twists and turns. Don’t stifle your wildest ideas in the name of marketability. We need more wild ideas to inspire. Entertain those, give them room to breathe and find a way to show them to the world in your own way. When I started Neon Zinn I allowed myself the freedom to make outrageous, big, colorful pieces that weren’t the easiest to market but pushed me forward creatively and inspired people to keep watching what I was doing.
What advice would your 65 year old self give to you today?
What change would you most like to see in the world?
Shrink the wealth gap. Living wages. Change the perception/illusion that you can just pick yourself up by your bootstraps and succeed, as if it’s just a matter of hard work and will power. Plenty of hard working people are making below living wages. Give people a fighting chance to live healthy, fulfilling lives without needing to work 2-3 jobs at a time.
Any additional thoughts on the importance of artisanal/handmade goods in a fast pace Western World?
A handmade object, by it’s nature, is born from a slower more methodical practice. The only intermediary between the hand and the mind is the heart. So in the process of making a cup from clay, or painting on canvas, weaving on a loom, dyeing a rope necklace, that artist is settled in a place and a period of time long enough to bring an idea into form. That object then becomes an artifact of a very specific moment. It’s a beautiful thing, the way that moment of focus and intention can then be shared and exchanged. If nothing else, handmade goods and the people behind them are important to this fast paced time for the fact that they provide an alternative personal approach to frantic consumption. The difference is between looking someone in the eye, exchanging a smile, a word (even a paragraph, god forbid), or just keeping your head down, taking care of your own, no time for empathy, no time to be at rest, no time for introspection.