I first discovered Seth Thompson through his artist profile on Instagram. I was immediately drawn to his style of art, bold lines, heavy neon colour and it wasn't long before I had contacted him and had commissioned my first piece of his art. It was then I knew that I wanted BilldaButcher to be the first person we featured in our Expression Series.
Early October 2016 and it's 5.00am. We are on the road to London to meet Seth Thompson. He is over in England from his home town of Tustin, Orange County CA, and we take the opportunity to sit down with him at London's iconic Bike Shed in the East of the City.
Sitting amongst the bare brick walls adorned with motorcycle inspired art, on a vintage leather Chesterfield sofa surrounded by some beautiful bikes, this is a unique venue that operates on a multi faceted level in order to create an overall experience. It's the perfect venue therefore to meet Seth, who in himself carries many different personae with equal poise.
A husband, father, high school teacher, artist, motorcycle rider and model.
There is a lot to talk about ...................................................
" I grew up in North County, San Diego, I was at the beach all the time surrounded by the beach culture and as I came through high school, and more when I went to college, I didn't have a plan of what I wanted to do. I had thought I'd end up in business, and be a marketing guy, and when I got into college I realised my brain doesn't fire like that, and that's when the art thing came to the forefront"
"My heart told me this is what I wanted to do and ended up getting my degree in Art and a minor in Art History"
His college girlfriend, who later became his first wife, was a teacher in Science. Being surrounded by both friends and family who were all teachers, Seth took the natural pathway laid out before him and took his teaching credential.
That was 15 years ago. Teaching at the same school for that period of time, seeing the landscape of personal, economic, and social environment change around him, the evolution of his character, his appearance, a major contributing factor in his divorce from his first wife, the increase in his artistic profile and becoming a successful model, the one consistent element has been his teaching. Something he is incredibly proud of.
Being able to maintain his day job whilst fulfilling all other commitments is a true insight into Seth's character.
"I need to make sure........see I've got mouths to feed, I have two kids, and I am with my wife now, I can't be a slackjob, I've got to make sure I'm covering everything, part of me would love to take everything by the balls, jump into it and see what happens, I can't risk all the other stuff I got going on"
The person we see in front of us is not your "typical" looking teacher. Normative conformity is not something that concerns Seth within his teaching roll.
"Teaching the age range of 14-18 in a high school, from 1st year art students up to the most advanced students we have, they can potentially be with me for 4 years, which is different from a lot of other teachers on campus, as I am the only painting and drawing teacher on campus they're stuck with my ass!"
Seth sees this regular contact as the perfect opportunity to build a strong rapport
" It's always funny when they come through the door in the beginning, and they don't know me, they take a look at me and what I am and how I conduct myself. I've been called an anomaly and an enigma by my administration because I'm sort of that weird freak in the corner of the school who pops in and out. I have been given the title of the biggest rebel on campus because I am always messing around and joking with people"
It is this approach that has given Seth such success with his students, continued support from parents and understanding from his administration, the development of Seth's persona on campus has evolved over the 15 years he has taught there. When he first began teaching there, he didn't have a single tattoo.
"I started getting tattooed 13 years ago, and they were stuff I could cover up easily, a lot of rib work, eventually the arms started filling up more and more" He found acceptance from colleagues and students alike and his tattoos were seen as an expression and development of his character.
This viewpoint was not shared by his first wife.
" I won't attribute my divorce directly to tattoos, tattoos were the outer peel of the onion, then when you got underneath you could really smell all the problems of the onion"
" She absolutely hates tattoos, for her, she was one of those people who was raised in a family where tattoos and tattoo culture was for deviants and scumbags"
The realisation that he was not being himself with her dawned and no longer comfortable with fitting into a box for her approval, began to push back with tattoos and even with his art, bringing a lot of disfunction to their relationship. As his two boys grew up this process of developing his art and immersing himself in the culture of tattoos subconsciously brought the notion that something needed to change.
The first tattoo he had quickly followed by a second one to balance the other, keeping them hidden from his wife and always fearing that he'd had his last time in the tattoo chair.
Confined to always covering up with a shirt in order not to perpetuate the painful reminder of the lack of compromise and his failing to put her first, his reasoning became clear
"This is for me, this is an expression of me, I'm sorry you don't agree with it, but I got to be me, it's time to pull myself out of the ditch"
With the reluctant acceptance of his two tattoos from his then wife firmly logged in his mind, and unable to prevent the suffocating feeling of continuing the lie that there would be no more tattoos, Seth went onto have a number of late night "secret" tattoo sessions with his tattoo artist, and in 9 short months was well covered.
Despite a well rehearsed method of staying covered the extent of Seth's tattoos was finally discovered when she inadvertently walked in on him showering. And life changed in an instant. The impending sense of demise of family life became apparent and the guilt for the impact this would have upon his children flooded through him.
The first place they ended up after the enormity of her reaction had settled was Church. An accepted, if not entirely comfortable aspect of his life with his first wife, and the counselling sessions began.
"I grew up in a really shitty scene with religion, got out of it but when I was with my ex I got into it again, as she was in to it, and at times I felt like I was getting along ok with it, ultimately for me I get much more of a sense of religion from a surf session, sitting in the grandeur of the ocean feeling the power, being in the moment and being present. I didn't find the process of Church edifying to me"
After three and a half years of counselling Seth finally came to the point of realisation, he had to cauterise the wound, acknowledge his numerous fears, except the concept of being a failure in her eyes, and release himself from the suffocation he felt whilst attempting to resolve their differences.
" It wasn't working. I needed to be me, I needed to have my art, I needed to do all the stuff she constantly kept shutting down"
The hardest decision was that of his children's future. The option of leaving a life considered to be the American Dream, or staying in a relationship which may prove destructive to the development of his two boys encapsulated in a "shell of a relationship"
"I can start over, on my own, even if it is on my own, I can work with my sons, and teach them what it is to be loved by a women and what it is to love a women"
After a period of reflection, being able to peruse the unrestricted path Seth had sought, brought a new found focus, energy and an opportunity to take his life into a whole new direction.
Using tattoos as a cathartic process, Seth began to develop a sketch book of ideas and designs that he would work with with his tattoo artist, some needed working on to take them from a good piece of art to a good piece of tattoo art, and Seth learnt a lot about what it is to release some of the restraint he had previously placed on his tattoo artist when designing his tattoos.
"When you go in and you give the artist that license to do what they're good at, you get a way better result"
In taking a different direction with his life, Seth has re married, a meeting of two people brought about by his art, and the peace and comfort in which he describes the manner in which they met is evident that he feels the right decision was made during the tough times.
"We just clicked from the start, in every way. She is amazing , inspiring, happy, accepting me for all the shit show I am. She lives out loud in full colour and I love her deeply"
A BUTCHER IS BORN
Derived from one of his favourite movie characters, Bill The Butcher from Gangs of New York, Seth at the time, donning a curly tache, chops and a gentleman's parting, looked the part. He wanted a handle to present his artistic profile and enter into Instagram with. @billdabutcher was created.
In a time where social media plays a huge part in modern society, and with the line between social media profile and real life becoming an ever increasingly blurred vision, an alter ego allows Seth to maintain a clear definition.
"Once I started putting that out, with the work that I was putting on there at the time, I started to build a following. People started recognising me as BilldaButcher, they didn't know that I was Seth Thompson in any way shape or form"
"I wanted the freedom to be able to post whatever I wanted on my art side and not have it linked to anything to do with my school stuff"
Previously focused on a lot of pin ups, landscapes, concept based paintings, drawings and realism, an existing client introduced Seth to Chief Keef, a rapper from Chicago, Illinois.
Seth was asked to do a piece to put in the studio where Chief Keef was going to be based whilst in OC. He set about doing a high contrast Black and White portrait on a drum head to create a light to cover to go in the studio. Instantly falling in love with it Keef asked for more artwork based on the Glo Gang Glo Man. Set out on a false brickwall a giant Glo Man emoji of Chief Keef opened the door for BilldaButcher to fill the rappers home with his artwork.
"When he moved out to LA that's when everything hit, in the first four months I knew him it was very much him directing the artwork "
The exact time when he fully understood and developed the style for Chief Keef, and the continuation of that style synonymous to BilldaButcher can be pinpointed to a demonstration in abstract ways of drawing a skull given to his students.
The street art looking, rugged, rough, ragged, gnarled looking skull provoked a reaction that was to be the basis of a whole new concept which incorporated the vibrant neon colours seen throughout a large part of BilldaButcher's work.
"I have now done about 75 to 80 pieces for him at 8' x 4' to 3' x 4' it's been a hilarious ride"
Seth cites around 90% of the commissions he has had in the last couple of years have been directly linked to the work completed for Chief Keef. Now developing that style further to supply the fan base of Chief Keef with more work, has led to completing an art show with him in LA and a feature book of the artwork.
An independent fan base has now developed who appreciate the style and use of colour without necessarily knowing or linking the style back to that period of work with Chief Keef.
"I know it so well, it's such an ingrained style, but now I want to balance and infuse a little more of the classic style I did with that"
CAPTURED ON FILM
Whilst extremely happy in the new life Seth had developed for himself, continuing his teaching, developing his artwork, enjoying the relationship he so clearly cherishes with his kids, it was his current wife who saw Seth in the new, inspired light.
"Six months into our relationship she started saying she had seen a lot of bearded tattooed guys out there and they say they are models. If they can do it you can do it"
"I was like are you crazy!! A: NO B: I'm awkward as hell in front of a camera and C: it seems very pretentious, very egotistical, very stuck on yourself, I would not be cool with coming across as this arrogant bastard. Nobody has the right to be arrogant"
A period of three months passed with gentle pressure from her, finely he conceded, but "it's on you, if that's what you want to do, you handle it, you create it, you take the pictures and tell me what I have to do"
Incorporating his middle name, and his silver beard, @sir_ndrewsilver was created. Initially it was kept quiet as they were unsure how it would go, taking shots on her iPhone. Everything changed when they got together with a photographer, and went to Newport Beach, California.
"I had no idea, I brought a few different shirts, I don't know what the hell you want from me, hopefully I don't look like a complete knob doing this"
During the shoot, focusing on Seth's tattoos and his distinctive style, the killer shot came out, it was sent off to various different companies and the reaction was huge. "It's gone pretty crazy I was like what just happened? That was the only photo shoot we ever paid for"
Test shoots developed into various avenues and opportunities, but it took a little while for Seth to become fully comfortable with it all.
"I understand what I need to do now, I have a persona I know I need to switch on and I know what people want from me"
"I honestly have no idea where it is going, it could be done tomorrow, and if it is done tomorrow, great I had a great ride!"
ITS BETTER IN THE WIND
Seth's humble nature and approach to his modelling work is indicative of his character, the least pretentious man you're likely to meet, with his warmth and open nature, our conversation flows with such ease we all forget that Seth has a long journey ahead of him back up North before he catches his flight back to LA first thing in the morning.
We can't leave Seth without asking him about his latest new found passion, motorcycles.
Taking on a 1981 Yamaha XS 400 hardtail bobber as your first bike is no mean feat. Drawn to bikes from an early age, growing up his Dad had a bike, and enthused by his stories of all the wonders two wheels bring to the soul, finally Seth decided he had to begin riding.
Having seen the Yamaha posted on Instagram, he contacted the seller and bought the bike without having a motorbike license at the time. The moving truck hired, he rolled up, paid his money and had the bike wheeled up the ramp and began the journey home, knowing he had just made a purchase that is more than metal and two wheels, he was on the path to joining the biggest inclusive gang there is. Once a motorcycle rider…….......
Back home in his garage, the bike nestled in her new home, he began to figure out his next step, "how do I ride this thing"
"I Googled how to ride a motorcycle. I sat and watched all these clips of a shit tonne of dudes eating shit, just to see what not to do!"
When he was ready, he threw his leg over and cruised around his neighbourhood, teaching himself how to ride. Continuing his development Seth passed his motorcycle test and set about really learning what it is to feel life in the wind, being thrust along by his 4 stroke, air cooled, overhead cam, straight twin engine.
"The nice thing about it is, it's a small enough bike that I can throw it around, and I'm not fighting a beast, great start a bike for me"
Running into the inevitable mechanical issues that owning a 35-year-old machine brings, Seth ran the bike down to the auto shop that is on his campus. Along with the auto teacher, and a couple of students, they set about taking the whole bike apart.
"We rebuilt the top end of the bike, adjusted the carbs, a bunch of other stuff and put the whole thing back together"
"What was really cool was the couple of students who worked on the bike were so fired up to be working on a bike. And literally the last day of school last year, we put it all back together, fired it up, and it went right for it"
Seth talks about motorcycles with the same passion and dedication that he displays when talking about his previous trials and tribulations, his teaching, his family, kids, art, tattoos and his modelling work. It's clear this man is on a journey of which he is in control, yet enjoys the undefined route that journey will take, and its ultimate destination, searching his character, his heart, and what it is that guides you in your life, and what is the motivating factor for people behaving and living as they do.
It's been a wonderful insight into Seth Thompson and a real pleasure getting to know the man behind his numerous social media profiles, and for us not only have we got a greater appreciation for him as an artist, but we have made a new friend. This is what our expression series is all about. Meeting the person behind the profile, and gaining an understanding of exactly what it was about them that inspired us to develop our passion; Clique Customs
And after reading about the man, you'll find you're buying more than just a T-shirt.
Our BilldaButcher collection is available here
You can buy or commission your own piece of BilldaButcher art by contacting Seth through @billdabutcher on Instagram.
For commercial bookings contact can be made through @sir_ndrewsilver on Instagram or alternatively via @email@example.com