Like many other Sean Mundy’s followers, I bumped into his artwork on social media. Sean’s works have more than once frozen my fingertips when I was insouciantly scrolling down Instagram feeds. His visual art struck people without making them uncomfortable, as it’s bizarre and surreal enough that you know it’s not real-life, yet it is thought-provoking enough to draw you in.
The disruptive power of Sean’s visual art has made its way to semi-viral on the over-saturated social media. And the millennial artist also had his work exhibited in galleries around the world. As an emerging photographer and digital artist, Sean probes at ideas/concepts from isolation, collectivism/individualism to contemporary social/political issues, but he is reluctant to give any of his work a well-defined narrative — he prefer to let the audience to interact with and reflect to his creations however relevant.
I had the fortune to get in touch with Sean in the early October and had him shared some thoughts and opinions on his creation process, the social environment, and how his art will engage with the audience.
Q: To start with, let’s talk about your recent work 『Conduit』, you created the work during the quarantine time in Canada, how did the pandemic impact on you as a visual artist?
I work alone for the majority of my work, using a tripod and a programmable remote, so quarantine/staying alone in my apartment wasn’t too much of an issue or a change of pace for me. Sometimes for larger scale projects I will require a few friends/assistants to help with an image, so those types of images were put off until later, but for “Conduit” other than having my girlfriend help wrap the wires around me for some of the image the rest was done entirely alone. I’ve wanted to create something with a power line for a while and aimed to create something to probe at themes of power, humans’ relationship with power, and to use a bit of religious iconography as well at the same time. I typically like to leave my images open ended to allow viewers to project their own subjective associations on an image as opposed to having 1 set “narrative” for an image.
Q: How did you started creating surreal artworks through digital manipulation? What inspired your concept at the beginning?
I think it was finding artists on Flickr and DeviantArt a long time ago who were making images with clones of themselves, and from then on out I realized how much you could do alone with a tripod and just using the self timer on your camera, but a few years ago I purchased a programmable remote for more accuracy to use so I don’t have to run back and forth to my camera. I also had many ideas that I knew I wouldn’t be able to completely create in real life and would require digital manipulation, so it was mostly out of necessity than anything.
Q: The human figures in your works are more like a means to achieve conceptual expression. In this sense, do you think you are more of a Digital Artist than a Photographer?
I definitely think of my work as Digital art more than “pure” photography, so in a way, yes. I use photographs as the inputs to my final output, ie. the final digital composite. I do aim to create images with as little digital manipulation as possible at times, opting to use real fire and setting myself on fire and wrapping myself in chains/stunts like this, but with the majority of my released works there is a good amount of compositing going on so I’d say I’m fairly balanced between digital art and photography, I simply wouldn’t feel comfortable just referring to myself as a “photographer” when I spend countless hours compositing images together in a way that most photographers don’t really do.
Q: You mentioned Storm Thorgerson as one of your favourite artists. If you can choose anyone on earth, who would be your dream client to design the album cover for?
Probably Thrice, City and Colour, or The Weeknd.
Q: The『Barriers II』(2018) and the more recent『Penitence』both pictured a paradox condition -- a man was on fire when surrounded by plenty of water. What inspired you to create these striking scenes?
The original use of this paradox (in Barriers II) springs from the fire half of the Barriers series; 1 half of the images in it are fire based, pertaining to internal conflict, the other half are smoke based, pertaining to external conflict. Showing a figure isolated with nowhere to go but the water, but standing firmly and suffering was my attempt to showcase how certain people will ruin and destroy themselves instead of seeking help when it is readily available. My images are often surreal but I attempt to have them rooted in reality in one way or another.
Q: It seems the recent 『Ruin』 I, II, and III invited more violent elements in them, why is that?
I’ve always been drawn to dystopic imagery and RUIN is an attempt at creating works probing at the crumbling of society/social order and such in a dark surreal way. Still have other ideas for that series that need to be created.
Q: In July, you had an exhibition in Hong Kong, how’s the audience reflection from there?
The work seemed very well received thankfully, although the timing of the exhibition was a bit unfortunate as it was right when the federal government began cracking down on Hong Kongers and their rights. There are definitely anti-authoritation themes in my work and often images showcasing isolation/solitude and conflict, so I think for any people dealing with conflicts from an outside force like this they can resonate with the work.
Q: Some of your works are made in earlier years, like 『Nescience 』(2015), 『Sigil』 (2014), and 『Untitled (Black Flag)』 (2016), but they echo our current social conditions as if they were created lately. What do you think about these coincidences?
I think it unfortunately shows that these issues are timeless and that conflicting societal issues are likely to continue to be cyclical through time, unless serious changes occur to the underpinnings of how our world operates, which at the moment seems to be the rise of right-wing populism, imperialism, and unhinged/unregulated capitalism.
Q: What kind of role you’d like your arts to play in our tumultuous world?
Ideally I’d like my work to be a way for people to simultaneously reflect on the state of affairs in our world but also to escape it through the surreal elements of the images since they are removed from reality enough to be able to probe at very real issues without seeming too convoluted, in my opinion of course. That being said, sometimes it is just nice to create art with no specific purpose in mind other than to create something beautiful to (hopefully) be appreciated by others; there are many reasons to be sad / anxious about the state of the world but also very many good and beautiful things, and I think art is something that should be cherished and supported however possible.