Hi Sema, great to meet you. Where are you from? Where do you live ?
I was born in 1987 and I got a little girl who is now 4. My Mom was German and my Dad was from Chinese-Cambodian origins.
My Asian origins are very important to me as my parents did not transmit their cultures to me and I have always wanted to get close to my cultural ties . Thus I have been reading a lot about Chinese pictorial language, and it brought me a lot, mainly the notions of emptiness and wholeness in Chinese art and philosophy …
I was born in the little town of Limoges in the middle of France and I still live there. It’s a quiet town 🙂
Sema Lao is your artist name ?
Sêma Lao is my real name. Sêma is my first name, it is of Greek origin, and its signification is « a sign ». For example, the word « semantics » comes from the Greek word sêma. Lao is my family name, it was my Dad’s family name.
Why do you sign your artworks “UEC” ?
I sign UEC because if you read this signature on the side from left to right but as if you were reading it from top to bottom, you can see CMA, it’s a kind of abbreviation for SEMA!
How did it all start ? At school ? Later ?
I paint and draw since I was very young. I started experimenting a lot of different techniques; I tried oil paint, acrylics, watercolor, pencil, charcoals, pastel … it allowed me to develop my notions of materials, colors , proportions … but I did mainly “academic drawing”, and photorealism. And then when I grew older, I came to want more to involve my inner feelings than my desire to only draw or paint, that is to say that my work became more personal, spontaneous. I always had a great attraction for color, but without necessarily finding or learning how to apply it. I must say that I did not have any training in the arts. But by experimenting new tools, some things inside me just clicked, I saw things differently.
The moment that really made me “evolve” was the moment when I left my studies. When I was younger I had never wanted to attend a school of Fine Arts or do art studies because I did not want it to become a job. I wanted this to remain a passion and not put pressure on me, nor have constraints with something I liked to do. So I did English studies during 5 years, and I continued to paint beside regularly, especially portraits of people around me, and animals, using acrylics and also dry and oil pastels, but my work remained in a very
It was during my second and final year of master degree in English studies that I completely changed my frame of mind, I had just returned from England, where I had stayed for a year as Language Assistant in foreign languages, and on my return I realized, thanks to this immersion in the profession, that this job did not correspond to me at all …. I wanted to fulfill this desire deep inside of me, to exercise what I liked to do the most, that is to say to work in the creative domain. Therefore in 2011 I enrolled in courses of visual
communication through correspondence, which I followed in parallel with my 2nd year of master degree in English studies and I had at the same time a job in catering to finance my studies. Unfortunately I was not able to reconcile those three things so I gave everything up…
However, thanks to those studies I had the opportunity to experiment with new tools as I said earlier, such as Illustrator and Photoshop drawing software. I created several album covers because I was in an environment very involved musically in the hip hop culture.
Those are “magical” work tools that allow you to experiment with colors and materials without needing much material. It was enriching for me, I gained quite some selfconfidence and I finally “dared” to play with colors. That same year I did my first collective exhibition (at the gallery Le Huit-Sept in Limoges), which gathered a series of pastels ….
And above all, that same year I met my partner, who is a graffiti artist. He invited me to paint on the walls with him, which immediately excited me. The range of colors available is incomparable, and gives endless possibilities if you learn how to handle the spray can … since I had a good teacherI learned quickly and I rediscovered myself completely in this technique of bright and colorful painting … It is therefore thanks to this encounter that I was able to develop my passion.
I think your street artist adventure started in 2012 when the famous urban artist C215, proposed you to come and paint on the walls of Vitry-sur-Seine. Can you tell us a bit more about that ?
Indeed, in 2011 I began to devote my time to painting, on walls and also for local exhibitions … with my companion and other graffiti artists we had thus mounted a small association of wall decoration which failed, but which allowed us to begin to have visibility
in the region. I was then selected by art dealers who saw my work and had connexions with artists in Paris. Unfortunately, I did not have good experiences because I started to work with some art dealers who had offered to sell my work in the capital, but I lost a lot after that … I therefore returned to my Sunday painting.
This nevertheless permitted my work to be seen by the well known artist C215, who invited me at the end of the year 2012 to paint in Vitry-sur-Seine. This gave me a lot of support and allowed me to expand my professional network and exhibit collectively in Paris. Since then, I have had several proposals for projects thanks to C215, and I am very grateful to him …
Are you only painting Murals ? What is or are your source(s) of inspiration ?
I paint on various medium, but mainly on walls and canvas. The bigger the support, the more I am enthusiastic to paint of course, but I have lots of demand for commissions on canvas. It’s a kind of challenge because I have to work on many more details when working on canvas. I paint mostly portraits, animals also sometimes … I paint many portraits of children because childhood is a period that can not be forgotten, which forges us and it is also such a sensitive period, which can either construct, or destroy a person. Childhood symbolizes innocence because they are “becoming” beings, we have all been children, and sometimes I have the impression that so few remember them, with all the horrors we see every day …
As Kant said, “There is something splendid about innocence; but what is bad about it, in turn, is that it cannot protect itself very well and is easily seduced.” … maybe my approach is thus an attempt to immortalize this innocence … I try to grasp this raw and spontaneous sensibility of living beings, man or animal, which one can catch in the gaze. I wish one could give our attention, for a moment, to all those children who may never have a future, and I also try to convey a message of hope, claim benevolence and compassion and reveal joy through all these colors.
Childhood is a theme that is close to my heart because education requires a great perpetual questioning of ourselves, our own education, our own roots. A child’s look is strong, it speaks to everyone, to the child in each of us. It is up to us to see and imagine what he is trying to tell us …
Did you collaborate with other artists?
I mainly collaborate with my partner, who is a writer graffiti artist. I have never really collaborated with other artists except when I just started painting on walls, I used to paint some funny cartoon characters with my partner and several other graffiti artists, and which were part of a whole scenery. But I would love to collaborate one day with other artists 🙂
Have you had any gallery exhibitions in the past ?
I have exhibited in several galleries in the past. No real solo exhibitions yet but collective exhibitions in France with the Nunc gallery and the De Médicis gallery in Paris, the Bartoux Galleries all over France, the Emmanuelle Rousse gallery in Saint-Savin, the Huit-Sept gallery in the town where I live. And also collective exhibitions in Italy thanks to the Memorie Urbane festival.
Do you have an ideal dream location (city, country, building, … ) you would like to paint on ?
My dream is to participate to the meeting of styles one day…… and I would love so much to paint in London. Otherwise I would love also to paint in south america, and in lost places like mountains or villages far away …
Where can we discover your artworks ? Your Murals ?
Most of my murals are recovered some time after, but we can see permanent murals in the town where I live, in La Rochelle in the west of France, in Vitry-sur-Seine next to Paris, and in Italy, in the towns of Mondragone, Fondi, Gaeta and Terracina …
Do you have any particular artistic projects in the future ? Exhibitions ? Art fests ?
In September I will be working on a project in the town of Blois in France. I will realize several murals, which will represent well known feminist people.
Who are your favorite artists ?
Well known street artists whose work I really love are Blu, Os Gemeos, Inti, Flying Fortress, Etam Cruz, Jace, Roa, their work is outstanding… but I admire lots of other artists too, writers like Utah and Ether, MadC,…also artists that are less well known, but the list would be too long…
Do you want to tell us something else about you ?
My work is very colorful. People often compare my work to that of artists such as Françoise Nielly or David Walker, however when I started painting on walls I did not yet know their colorful work. This may seem odd but I was much influenced in my painting by graffiti artists such as Nash from the Love Letters, with his crazy characters… It was while flipping through graffiti magazines that I had a great admiration for his color scheme on the faces and his work of shadow and light.
Thank’s a lot Sema . I hope we’ll see your artworks soon in London and all around UK.
Sema LAO Street Art Gallery: