At this point in human history, it has become increasingly clear that styles cycle through and what was once old may one day feel brand new again. For some reason or another, you may begin to see the decade you live in start to look like a decade from the past, and the styles that made that decade unique, will return in new, vibrant forms as we enter a new phase of history. In a conversation I shared with Muzae Sesay, we talked about abstract paintings and how abstraction can sometimes speak more clearly than the figurative, and perhaps it is the era we live in that determines which style rules the day. 

As we've moved out of the 2008 recession era, and into an uncertain future , perhaps the styles of the 1920s abstract masters speak to us yet again, inviting us to deconstruct ideas of modernity and reconstruct them in a more ideal reality. Muzae's paintings invite us to do the same. As we live in an era where we're slowly beginning to shed the dead weight of bygone social ideas, Muzae reimagines and repurposes an older European style, imbuing it with a bold new life. ––Eben Benson

Eben Benson: So let's start from the beginning, where are you from, what kinds of art did you make when you were a kid? Did you have parents that encouraged and/or understood art?
Muzae Sesay: I was born in Long Beach, California and then spent a lot of my youth living in Anaheim. I created a lot as a kid using crayons, colored pencils, sometimes paint. I also loved deconstructing things, collecting their parts, and reconstructing them into new unique toys, similar to Sid from Toy Story. My mother was an artist and she and my aunt really encouraged me. I remember they would act so excited anytime I “finished a piece”. They would hang it up and tell me it was a “masterpiece”. I think I really liked being considered equal to adults, and capable to create meaningful work, at a young age. That’s something that has stuck with me my whole life. Because of that, I never acknowledged the elitism that sometimes follows art. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed and will continue to experiment with until I die. No criticism, or notions of acceptance, will ever change that. Thanks mom!

What was your progression like from when you started making art, to where you're at now?
Oh I think my progression has been very natural. From a young age, I’ve known expressing creativity to be a matter of fact and have been enjoying my personal exploration. It’s always been about the introspection of showing myself something new, always looking to the next horizon. Growing as new influences affect old ideas over and over again. It’s my progression until the end that I’m excited for.  


When did you discover your unique color pallette? Do you remember what led up to that?
At one point, I was working on paintings based on the abstract compositions that were formed from graffiti buffs. I was using a colorful yet flat and muted palette in relation to the houses of San Francisco. Once, when I was doing a mural, I went to Roberts Hardware to pick up some free mistint paint that would otherwise be collected by the city, blended together, and used to buff walls. I left with maybe 12 cans of paint; fell in love with 8, and still use some of them today. The palette is always developing, but the core has come from those random mistints. I considered it fate. 

How do you think your education in sociology affected your current work? What was college like with making work and going to school?
Studying sociology affected my understanding of the natural and constructed world. It opened up notions of fallacies within systematic framework. It affected the totality of my thoughts in general. I often think of the parallels between art and the social sciences; thought based on theories that are subject to a unique individual response. Both schools are very abstract. 

Making work in school was great. It was completely for me. I pretended I was a studio arts major and took a bunch of printmaking classes for fun. I made whatever I wanted. 

Material Jazz

What intrigues you about abstract painting? Did you ever more figurative work?
Abstraction is a broad term. I consider most of my current work to be abstract figurative due to its representation of a skewed sense of space, while incorporating spacial elements such as stairs, doorways, etc. Abstract painting in general can be more intriguing because it activates the viewer. The viewer has to form their own ideas and make their own conclusion. The role of the viewer in abstract art has always interested me. In my opinion, abstract work becomes more dynamic in its function. 

Who are some of your biggest influences in art, of any medium?
Oh such a hard question, probably because my answers always sound cliché to me. All of my friends and peers are my actual biggest influences. However, in an art historical sense, I’d say Lichtenstein, Stewart Davis, and Mondrian helped influence shape and structure, whereas Matisse, Robert Colescott, John Bankston, and Joan Brown help influence the looseness and mark-making. I also look at a lot of contemporary artists, but I try not to take them as “big” influences. 

Growing into Nostalgia

What are some goals you have for your work in the coming years? What kinds of things would you want to do if you had unlimited resources?
My goal is to keep experimenting with the subject matter I’m on now until it’s time to move on to something else. I would like to pursue more of the ideas I have in the studio. It’s always a shame to have hundreds of concepts and only have the capacity to work out a few.  

If I had unlimited resources I would create all day and push the ideas I have to their fullest form. 

What projects do you have coming up that you're excited about? any big shows?
I’m really excited to finish my residency with Facebook. After that, I’ll be focusing on making a new body of work from a solo show called Domestic Dive, which opens March 10th at Pt. 2 Gallery

*Editorial note: "Domestic Dive" was originally planned for Athen B Gallery, which has since closed. The show was moved to Pt. 2 Gallery