Creation and self-expression with artist Gwenn Seemel

Artist Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel is thrilled to release her alphabet book, "Baby Sees ABC." The feminist and queer artist has lived her life inundated with not only art itself but the learning of art. With a style both earthy and electrifying

Out Artist

Gwenn Seemel is a French-American artist. The uncopyrighting activist lives on Long Beach Island, by way of France. Exploring her nature as an artist, Seemel is thrilled to release her alphabet book, Baby Sees ABC in June. A feminist and queer artist, Seemel has lived her life inundated with not only art itself but the learning of art. With a style both earthy and electrifying, Seemel is able to transcend beauty within the meaning of life.

“Everything—even the most solid thing—is moving, everything is dancing molecules, everything is constantly changing”

Discussing her art style, Seemel unravels her inspiration by French philosopher Michel de Montaigne and his saying, “Life is but movement.” She feels movement is life but that life itself comprises the beauty that movement is, rewriting the thought provoking phrase as, “life is but beautiful movement.”

“Everything—even the most solid thing—is moving, everything is dancing molecules, everything is constantly changing. I like painting that energy,” Seemel said. “This is why my work looks as it does.”

Seemel had been in art classes since a very young age. By the time she was 14 years old, Seemel’s parents signed her up for a printmaking class. Printmaking is the act of transferring an image to other material, then creating print editions. For Seemel, it was a journey to discovering style and technique, though at first disliking the intensity before she would make it a concentration.

One of the new works of New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel
One of the new works of New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel

“I would make these electrifying, busy lines,” said Seemel about her transforming printmaking.

Much of Seemel’s professional work embraces painting contemporary portraits. “Portraits are my thing. I paint people for commission, but I also paint groups of people for the purpose of exploring a particular issue.”

“I know I am a communicator,” said Seemel. The moment the artist self-expressed anger, people began distancing themselves from Seemel and her work. In the processing of self-expression, Seemel plunged herself into community and into communication. “I want to build community with people who care about my art. I most recently finished the letter T,” Seemel said in reference to her alphabet book.

Communication has persisted in Seemel’s world from the start of her career. In wanting to maintain her French roots as a part of her professional life, Seemel keeps her work geared toward France and America.

In 2014 Seemel was invited to speak about uncopyrighting as a French and American artist at TedxGeneva. Unlicensed work, as Seemel believes, gives flow in communication and translation of her work into other’s work. “I think it’s normal for people to be protected by copyright. Consent is valuable to work,” Seemel said. More than anything, Seemel has interest in educating on copyright for differing perspectives.

In her Ted Talk, Seemel gives mention to ownership and that as a portraitist, her work tends to be as much her subject’s as it is hers, another kind of communication. In her book, Crimes Against Nature: A More Accurate Telling of What’s Natural there lives an unfolding of nature and the variances and intersections within nature. The book, uncopyrighted, has since bridged worlds.

The letter "T" is one of the new works of New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel
The letter “T” is one of the new works of New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel

Vivian Lin, at the time a university student and artist from Hong Kong, translated, Crimes Against Nature into Chinese. “The work [Vivian] did not only makes this book accessible to a whole new audience, it also proves the power of free culture,” Seemel said to her Geneva audience. Seemel added that if her work was cloaked in copyright symbols, Vivian may have never felt entitled enough to explore translations of “Crimes Against Nature.”

These days, Seemel has begun painting animals, crowdfunding a particular animal ABC book. The animals picked for her ABC book deviates from typical gender and sex norms or stereotypes. For example, letter D in Baby Sees ABC is for Dumbo Octopus, a gelatinous species of octopi that resembles Dumbo the Elephant. The male octopi give sperm to the more gelatinous females that then allow the sperm to interact with their eggs based on their environment. There is no parenting stage for the dumbo since offspring are ready for life as soon as they hatch.

“Queer culture is acknowledging that a person doesn’t happen on the spot which questions the whole idea of the heteronormative,” Seemel continued, sharing that in queerness the birth of a person is happening each moment after conception. In this way, Seemel feels that parenthood moves beyond genetics. “I feel a part of parenthood, helping to raise this next generation through my art.”

Seemel addresses a time where anger boiled her blood away from communication and more toward her self-expression. Since Donald Trump’s election Seemel has felt an overwhelming shift in her energy, finding anger in her work.

The letter "F" is one of the new works of New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel
The letter “F” is one of the new works of New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel

The artist’s French mother and American father are a little older and she describes their sense of parenting and viewing of a woman as old fashioned. Seemel shared that her parents raised her as a “good girl”. Angry with the binary way of society, Seemel continued to question how she could express her feelings after Trump moved into the White House.

In 2019, a piece of Seemel’s work titled “Fear and Love” was taken down at a Studio Montclair exhibit in the Montclair Public Library, triggering a lot of press attention. This would invigorate Seemel’s mission. The piece was titled, “Hello Shitty, Available in a White House Near You!” The painting shows Donald Trump holding up a needle. His hat reads ‘Make America White Again’ and behind him fan bunches of Hello Kitty ribbons actually reading “Hello Shitty.” The bright pink fan of Hello Shitty ribbons sits in a green golf bag which holds a rifle as well as golf clubs. The particulars swirl into a vortex placed outside a background of burning money. It was said to be taken down due to curse words within the painting; however, the Montclair Public Library hasn’t had any strict rules against art. Thus, the piece was put back up as soon as it was taken down.

Suddenly this anger transformed into a new desire to create from the negative repercussions. The anger Seemel showed in “Hello Shitty, Available in a White House Near You!” evolved into a conversation about science and animals. As a result, Seemel began to create the aforementioned Baby Sees ABC. Each of the 26 letters is crowd funded, and each piece is chosen and paid for by the community. You can buy a letter between the price ranges of $50-300.

With this the inspiring artist discusses the difference of self-expressive art and art wich means to communicate. Building connections between each, it is both self-expression and communication that exhibit how a work may interact with people. For example, art for the sake of self-expression may be made without care for how it translates to the observer but may also lose touch with the observer. However, art for the sake of communication may build solidarity in people but may focus too much on appeasement.

Seemel’s art is not only consistent in its vibrancy, but also holds consistency in productive communication as well as self-expression.
Instagram: gwennpaints

Lana Leonard
Lana Leonard (they/them) is a graduate from The College of New Jersey with a degree in journalism and professional writing. They work at the GLAAD Media institute and freelance for publications like LGBTQ Nation while working on their journalistic theory of change project: Late Nights with Lana, a talk show based out of 10PRL film studios in Long Branch, NJ. Lana's mission, in all their work, is to focus on people, their collective truths and how those truths form a community of knowledge towards change.