Interview with Sean Sullivan

Part of our Canvas to Reality Series, we share the story of the artist that we’ve partnered with. We dive into who they are, and how they tick. What inspires them?  Our goal is share with our fan base, these emerging artists amazing works and help inspire a future generation of artist. In addition, we release a capsule collection featuring curated pieces of artwork, making it more attainable for the artist fans as well.

This Summer, we interviewed the man behind the Layer Cake x Tango Hotel collaboration, Sean Sullivan to learn more about himself, his style, and the inspiration behind the collaboration.


Tango Hotel: Thank you for chatting with us today Sean. We are big fans of your work and your story. Items have already sold out immediately after releasing of the collection.
Tango Hotel: 
When did you first become interested in art? 
Layer Cake / Sean:
I grew up in a building overlooking the 4 train in the Bronx during the 80’s. The train was always covered in graffiti. My mom grew up with masters like Tracy168, Lady Pink and other legends so I was always around the right people. My uncle was a graffiti artist and he had black books, markers, spray cans and lots of sketches from other artists. I grew up watching a lot of cool artists and was influenced by the environment I was in. My love of art spilled into my love of fashion to where everything was art for me. 
My first job as a kid was with this neighbor Kathy, she was a seamstress for Lincoln Center. She made these expensive gowns and she was an excellent artist. She drew the models and dress designs. I was lucky to always be surrounded by cool artists and hyper creatives. 
Tango Hotel: 
Why did you decide to pursue it as a career? 
Layer Cake / Sean Sullivan:
When I was around 12, a pro snowboarder from Colorado my buddy and lifelong friend Bucky, moved into my building. He owned a clothing company called FUMES that was street inspired oversized pants, baggy T-shirt’s, very grunge. During that time, around 1992, a show on MTV called “The Real World” just started airing and Bucky was sponsoring the show giving them all free clothes. He caught me coming out of the building one night and asked me to help him deliver some clothes to one of the guys from the show. 
After that I showed him some designs and we just kind of kicked it. He was always surrounded by questionable women, rock stars, famous celebs, models and drug dealers. Bucky was like 15 years older than me, but took me everywhere. He showed me fashion shows, industry events, trade shows, strip clubs and punk rock shows. It was kind of crazy - because none of my other friends were experiencing these things and I started selling the hats he was making. So, I started designing my own t-shirts and hats. I was young when I knew being a creative could get you places. 
Tango Hotel: 
How did you get your start?
Layer Cake / Sean Sullivan:
I’ve had a few good starts. I’ve had a few interesting career highlights and I’m not sure where on my timeline my start exists. I would say my art career started 5 years ago. I was on house arrest and a gallery owner in the Hamptons had a big summer show out in East Hampton and asked me to be a part of it. She had to write a letter to the judge for me to get permission to go out there. She even rented me a house with another artist and I went out there with my girl and we just hung for a few days and I ended up selling 6-8 pieces to all these collectors. Collected fat checks and that was it. My family and I moved out to the east end a few days later. Went and chased the money and went looking for it. 

Tango Hotel: 
How did you develop a distinctive style that separates you from others? How has it evolved over time?
Layer Cake / Sean Sullivan:
This famous artist, John Stango from Philly, calls me the DJ of the art world. It’s mostly because I don’t have a particular style. Its mixed media. I use all the techniques. I paint, I cut stencils, I free hand, wheat paste, silk screen, mix various photography techniques. I’m all over the place. Somehow when you see one of my pieces you can tell it’s mine. 

I’m heavily influenced by the stuff from my childhood. The pop figures, comic hero’s and women. Madness fuels me and it comes out in my work. I figure out pieces like a complicated math problem. Everything fits the right way, I guess. 
When I first started, Tracy168 taught me how to cut stencils. He showed me how to draw in the negative and taught me about canvases and compositions in paintings. This was many years before street art was a thing. I wasn’t ever trying to be a street artist. We did a lot of projects throughout the years that we used street art as a marketing plan. But I was never trying to be a street artist. So, when I started painting the only things that came out of me were heavily influenced by the streets. Not street art but the grit of the street. When you see my pieces the careful mixture of collage, stencils, and various techniques all come from the implant of the streets I grew up on. 
I’m a real 80’s baby born in the Bronx raised in Manhattan. Of course, it's going to look like some street art, but I sell in all fine art contemporary galleries. There’s really only a handful of street artists that sell in galleries. Even fewer who are in top tier galleries. So, I consider myself contemporary inspired daily by the streets. 
Tango Hotel: 
What do you hope people gain from viewing your work? 
Layer Cake / Sean Sullivan:
It depends on what piece you are looking at. If you are hanging my superheroes and comic stuff then it’s likely going to remind you of your childhood. If you are looking at the women, I paint then you are going to feel the madness and desire. 
I use a lot of Easter eggs from my childhood. the phone number you see on a lot of my pieces is my childhood number. It was one number off from a sex phone hotline for a public access stripper show, Robyn Bird. She had strippers dancing while she promoted sex phone hotlines, and her personal one was one number off from my house number. So, perverts were always calling my house by accident. 
I include familiar signage, because it brings the subject matter into the real world. I use vintage advertisements because it reminds me of simpler times. I’m just painting and creating cool shit that I would want to see on my walls.

Tango Hotel: 
Tell us about the major influences behind your work. Which artists do you admire?
Layer Cake / Sean Sullivan:
I’ve had so many dope influences in my life. Tracy168 will always be influential to me. Pro skaters, movie makers, writers, producers of all sorts, musicians, ballerinas, gangsters and designers. Everyone both positive and not so positive played a role of influence. 
I’ve been blessed with the interesting set of characters around me. It took me while to figure out what side of the creative role I wanted to be in. Did I want to be a designer, restauranteur, hustler, photographer, band manager whatever. Who knew, I was all over the place. It wasn’t till I sold my first painting that I decided I didn’t want to do anything else with my life. 
I gave everything else up and focused 100% of my attention on canvases. After I got into a few galleries I fell in love with the process of artists working. 
I partnered up with some very interesting artists. Bradley Theodore, Jenna Krypell, Gumshoe, Whisbe, CDRE, Jason Ackerman and lots of others. All of these guys are top of their game, especially my boy Bradley. 
This dude has so much creative juice flowing through him. He’s always making sure I’m straight. Honestly anyone I work with pretty much makes sure I’m straight. I’ve also been working with some amazing interior designers. I work with some of the biggest names in the interior design world. My two homies who gave me my start, Michele Gerson and Melanie Morris, showed me some fly stuff. Michele has taken me under her wing interior design wise, but sometimes it’s the other way around - but that’s the balance. It’s also how you grow and build out, being open to new avenues of art. She’s next level and shows me ultra-lux. 
Not all artists get that type of influence unless they come from highbrow. I’m getting a complete education from her. Her whole life is about exclusive cool shit and blue-chip clients. I bothered her for months poking her like an annoying cheerleader. Then she realized I wasn’t going away so now she’s stuck with me. She buys a lot of art for her clients. I get to see stuff first hand…and that’s important for staying ahead of the curve. 
Tango Hotel: 
Describe your creative process from start to finish.                     
Layer Cake / Sean Sullivan:
It just really depends on what I’m doing or what piece I’m doing. Sometimes I’m mapping assets on the iPad, or my computer. It always leads to me spending countless hours drawing multiple layers of stencils. My stencils are puzzles for mentally insane surgeons. Some of the lines are so small and intricate that you have to be a madman to sit there like that and draw and cut every single line. The pain my fingers are in after cutting all day is excruciating. But I get lost in myself, music and documentaries while I’m sitting there in one of my studios cutting and drawing. I think the creative process is more my life daily schedule. Finding the right paper because I repurpose old paper as backgrounds. Finding the right paint. I support a few mom and pop stores, so when I travel I always re-up on paint. Some distributors only have certain colors. So, it's a process of my daily, I guess. I have a few styles to match my capabilities but it’s always a creative journey about the soul of it all. 
Social media seems to play an important role in your work, as it makes your art more accessible to a larger audience. What are your thoughts on social media and how it influences the way you create? Do you feel as if you have to adhere to a certain persona?
 I came from social media. I started hustling designs, t-shirts, music, promoted events and built platforms on Myspace. So whatever space I was in social media was always going to play a part of it. But then Instagram became a thing. When it first started it was an Apple device only AP. I was a blackberry guy, but changed over quickly when Instagram became a thing. I owned a famous food truck in Manhattan at the time and only used it to promote specials and show the truck. Once we were on a Food Network show and we became famous overnight and I used social media to interact with the customers. Our Facebook page had more features so that kind of became the platform for us. Instagram became more relevant for me when I started selling paintings and going to art shows. I figured out my collectors wanted to have some sort of emotional connection to me like my customers for the food trucks and my restaurant Daps Feltman. So, the Layercake persona started. It wasn’t meant for me to be named LayerCake. I never actually wanted to be labeled LayerCake. My name is Sean Sullivan. But the gallery owners started calling me Layercake. I guess Sean Sullivan wasn’t lustrous enough. Then when people would see me out in the world and gallery openings, they would say Hey Layercake and it’s kind of just became a thing. But the idea of Layercake was just to build a brand. So, we started LayerCake Studios and LayerCake Films. Because I always wanted it to be an art concept not just me. So now the name Layercake is more affiliated with me building dope projects. 
Tango Hotel:
What project are you working on now? 
I’m excited to release the TANGO HOTEL collection I did with Kevin Leon / Yellow Kid Slanty. Kevin has always been a huge inspiration to me and we’ve been kicking it over 20 years at this point. He’s beyond talented and an inspiration not only with work, but he’s a family man and that to me shows me he has a good soul. 
I’m also working on a documentary about The Pink Panthers. They are a famous crew of diamond thieves. I have long family ties to the crew and all the older men threads of the organization gave me permission to tell their stories from the beginning. It's been an adventure. Imagine trying to explain to 80-year-old International gangsters that it's a good idea to do a documentary. 
I partnered with Pavle Stanimirovic aka PUNCH to tell the correct truthful story. Punch spent over 23 years in Prison for stealing Billions in diamonds with his Mother Branka and father Mr. Stan and a crew of sophisticated genius safe crackers. It’s based in NYC 47th street. They are worldwide but it's a NYC story. It's important to me to tell this story and other NY stories. I put together a film production company with Bokeh Collection and we're in the middle of putting together deals for a network.
Tango Hotel:
What projects are you the proudest of? 
Layer Cake / Sean Sullivan:
I curated a project for Silverstein Properties at the World Trade Center. They gave me the entire 69th floor and allowed me to bring in artists from all over the world and it was such a success that they brought me in as a resident artist and gave me a studio. 
We did something with NBC and ended up winning an Emmy for it. I’ve had a lot of great projects. I curated First City Project. 
We took a 700-year-old mansion on Long Island and invited hundreds of amazing artists from all over the world to paint in it. It's the biggest art project in America. Show me another project like that one. 
I curated it with Harris Lobel and this guy who owns an exotic car company. It was his house and he let us rock. We had a huge event and thousands of people came and the fire department was freaked out. But the mayor was even there and all the rich and famous rubbing elbows with Graffiti artists and street artists. It was crazy a lot came of it. 
I also did the Drip Project with Harris at my studio, The MesHall. A 90,000 square foot complex with recording studios, band space, art studios and photography studios. Again, we brought in hundreds of artists and had some of the dopest murals in America. I don’t think anyone has curated projects as big as I did with Harris and the rest of my team. 
Last year, I did a project with Guggenheim Contemporary and I showcased a young artist, Hope Buzzelli. That project recently won an Emmy for NBC. So, two out of 4 of my art projects I curated and produced & won Emmys. I don’t know how many artists in NYC can say that. 
Tango Hotel: 
What advice would you give those who want to pursue their passion in art and develop it into a career?
Layer Cake / Sean Sullivan:
I give everyone the same advice when they ask me. If you can’t drop everything else you are doing and only do art and forget everything else that matters you won’t become a successful artist. I don’t know any successful part time ones. The starving artists are the ones who have regular jobs. I’m not starving. I work on this 20 hour a day. 
Tango Hotel: 
Tell us about the Layer Cake x Tango Hotel collaboration. Why is your objective, why did you want to partner with them? 
Layer Cake / Sean Sullivan:
I have always had a desire to do fashion. I’ve been designing garments since I was 12. Tango Hotel just had the right vibe. I liked their approach on telling the artists stories and making them apart of the Tango world. You guys have a lot going on. You work with a lot of interesting people and I liked the energy. Working with Kevin is a no brainer. Just to be around his creative energy was a gift. I appreciated working with you guys. 

Tango Hotel: 
What message are you trying to get across with the paintings from the collab?

Layer Cake / Sean Sullivan:
I love the casual look and highly detailed manufacturing Tango does. So, we just kept it light and casual. Brought in some easy to look at graphics and kept the aesthetics about the art. Tango Hotel has focused so much of their key ideas behind artists creating dope pieces. You had Al Baser kill it with his collection. You had Mr. Cartoon with his classic West Coast vibes and I know some of the other artists you have on the line up are all killers. 
I’m just happy to always be amongst great artists. Anytime I showcase anything I just want people to be able to relate to it in whatever way it makes them comfortable.

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