Critically acclaimed contemporary British artist and curator, Stuart Semple, joins the podcast on the first anniversary of releasing his innovative range of art materials. Stuart reveals what started out as a bit of a joke accidentally becoming a huge E-Commerce success, driven by passion. He discusses finding himself out of his depth, how it affected him as an artist, the story behind his conflict over paint rights with Anish Kapoor, the trials involved with innovating products, production and outsourcing, scaling his enterprise and also a new kind of pigment he is working on – the likes of which the world has never seen…
The Ecommerce Uncovered Podcast is a behind-the-scenes look at what makes ecommerce a success in today’s ever-growing and continually changing online world.
The podcasts look to uncover the secrets of ecommerce success, so you can learn and apply to your own online business.
Brought you by the Co-founders of Core Fulfilment, one of the UK’s leading ecommerce fulfilment service providers, Paul Burns and Jeremy Vernon.
Jeremy Vernon: Hi, Jeremy Vernon here. Once again, thank you very much for subscribing to Ecommerce Uncovered. Today, I ventured down to Dorset to meet our next guest, who is a British artist. He’s made his name as an artist. But also, on another side, there’s more relevant to the podcast that we do, has an ecommerce interest as well.
That ecommerce business, is, selling paints. Those paints really have been innovated through his sort of art side of what he does. He wanted to share these colours with other people, and really, fell into this a little bit as, not a mistake, but more of an accidental success. It’s really interesting story. Stuart is a lovely guy. He really, really likes sharing with people. That really comes through his passion, really, comes through about letting other people have access to his paint and his colours that he’s innovated for his own work.
We also touched on a little bit of a feud, that he’s had with the artist, Anish Kapoor, which drove another product that he innovated. Actually, this is sort of very timely in the sense that this is a year anniversary since the launch of one those products. So, keep listening, coming up, Stuart Semple, the British artist. I do hope you enjoy the episode.
Welcome, Stuart Semple. Thank you very much for inviting me down to Poole, aren’t we, in your, would you call this an art studio or a production studio?
Stuart Semple: I think, this is more like the office.
Jeremy Vernon: The office.
Stuart Semple: I don’t know. But we do make the stuff.
Jeremy Vernon: It’s not a conventional office.
Stuart Semple: No, it doesn’t look like an of old office.
Jeremy Vernon: No, no. Okay. Well, thanks very much for having me down here today, and doing this. It’s an absolute privilege to be here. Just for anyone that doesn’t know who Stuart Semple is, would you mind giving a quick introduction to who you are?
Stuart Semple: Yes. So, really, I’m a contemporary artist. So, I make art for big art projects all over the world. But I happen to have kind of become a bit of sort of a colour innovator. So, I also come up with the world artiest art materials, which we disseminate to people all over the world, that use them and make cool things with them.
Jeremy Vernon: So, what drove you to innovate with products with colours, and let other people have access to those? What drove that innovation?
Stuart Semple: So, that’s a few pieces to that story. So, the first thing, in terms of inventing the colours, I have been making my own paints since I was a kid, really, trying to make things more powerful and more potent than what I keep getting from the shops.
Jeremy Vernon: In your own work?
Stuart Semple: Yeah, for my own paintings, just for my own use. As I’ve done exhibitions and shows, I’ve developed new materials, really. That got to a point where I decided it would be nice to share them with other people. Then parallel to that, there’s been this engagement, if you like with the internet since I was a teenager really, and what an online community can be, or how you can communicate with a group of people. So, those things kind of merged in the idea of how can we use the internet to really connect with real human beings, with real stuff that they can really use.
Jeremy Vernon: Okay, and why the colours? Why particularly that thing that you chose to?
Stuart Semple: Yeah, well, I’ve always been fascinated with colour. Since I was a kid, I went to see a Van Gogh exhibition when I was 8. Those colours just burned into my mind. I couldn’t find colours, that powerful on the High Street in art shops, because they didn’t exist. Because in those days, artists made their own colours. That kind of got forgotten in the 80s maybe, when stuff started to become mass produced. I wanted to go back to a time, where we had really awesome stuff. So, I was really on this quest for like, the ultimate colours.
Jeremy Vernon: How did you even begin the production of these colours? Because obviously, you did it for yourself. But obviously, doing it for yourself and putting it out as a product for people to buy online is a very, very different thing. How did you cope with the transition from making it for yourself through to making it for others?
Stuart Semple: Okay. So, that’s a big question. So, some of the colours were more developed than others. The pink was kind of ready and safe. I knew its ingredients were good. So, when I made the leap into sharing that, that wasn’t, because I wanted to sell loads of paint. So, I think an important thing to understand, is that the, whole ecommerce thing that happen, and the success of these colours was a complete fluke. So, it wasn’t something that I intended to happen. So, I put the pink paint on the internet as a joke, because I thought my community and my followers would find it funny. I wasn’t actually expecting anybody to kind of add it to cart. I certainly wasn’t expecting thousands and thousands and thousands of people to add it to the cart, which is where you guys kind of came in. Because I remember, I think, ringing Paul and going, holy cow, I need your help. I don’t know what to do. My mom’s house is covered in pink paint now.
Jeremy Vernon: I remember the conversation, yeah.
Stuart Semple: Yeah. We don’t know what we’re doing.
Jeremy Vernon: So, this is an accidental success in some ways.
Stuart Semple: Yeah, totally.
Jeremy Vernon: Why do you think that was?
Stuart Semple: I think, if we would have tried to do it, it wouldn’t have worked. Because I think, we would have overcomplicated it. Looking at it now, I can see the ingredients that made it work. I think it’s, not to kind of belittle anybody, but the things we made were really good things. I think, because they are really good things, people want to talk about them and they want to use them. So, I think as it’s called, the actual thing is good. I think that’s helped. I think the other thing, is that, the community we have of artists around the world that are connected on the internet and can communicate in a way that they couldn’t before, were ready to support another artist making something for them. I think for a very long time, they’ve kind of been underserved. They have been sold bad stuff. I think the other thing, is that, there’s a story behind the materials. There’s a reason why we released it. It makes a point. It’s almost a piece of art in its own right. I think people kind of get that. There’s a community that have engaged with that.
Jeremy Vernon: Has this success through providing these materials in effect and the colours for others, affected your success as an artist? Has it helped? Have you seen any difference in your personal profile as a result?
Stuart Semple: Well, there’s been a few things. So, yes and no. So, it has helped and it has hindered. Because where it’s hindered, is, I haven’t had as much time with my work as I used to. A lot of people know me as the black paint guy.
Jeremy Vernon: We’ll come onto that.
Stuart Semple: Which we’ll come onto. So, rather than the artist, because like I’ve been making my art for a long time. I’ve done okay in the art world as well. It’s just the mainstream bloke on the street now knows about this. So, it’s a burden, but a burden I’m happy with.
Jeremy Vernon: Okay, great. We touched on black. We might as well go into that. Because I think this is a fascinating story, and again, probably accidental success as a result, driven by passion is obvious that’s the case. Obviously, Anish Kapoor invented black. Would you like to just explain a little?
Stuart Semple: So, I’ll explain the scenario of that. So, there was a lab, a science lab called, Surrey NanoSystems. They invented the world’s blackest back material. This stuff absorbs 99.8 percent of light. So, you can paint it on something. For those listening, imagine you paint a sculpture in it. That thing now looks like a black hole. It absorbs light. It’s like, a cut out in the universe. That’s awesome, and everybody loves that. So, the artist Anish Kapoor, for those that don’t know, really big, really famous, really powerful artist, secured the exclusive rights to use it for arts. So, no other artist could use this stuff to make art. I thought that was really mean. Most of the art community thought, that was really mean. I then decided I’d released the pink and ban him from using it. So, at the checkout on the web store, you had to agree, that you weren’t Anish Kapoor, you weren’t buying it for Anish Kapoor. You weren’t shut…
Jeremy Vernon: Has he bought it to your knowledge?
Stuart Semple: He bought it, yeah.
Jeremy Vernon: He did?
Stuart Semple: Yeah.
Jeremy Vernon: I never heard that.
Stuart Semple: So, his gallery bought it. He acquired the pink, and then he put a post on his Instagram of him dipping his middle finger in it. He said, up yours pink. At that point, the art community went absolutely bananas about it, because they then really turned on him. They really hated it. They thought it was like the meanest, worst thing ever. Then they started lobbying me as to what I was going to do about the fact, that he’d got our pink, which we kind of distributed for what it costs us to make it in the first place. It was never like a money thing. Everyone was really upset that he had it.
They started lobbying me to make a black, a black as good as his black that they could use and he couldn’t use. I didn’t really know how to do it. So, I made a version of black, the best I could with what we had. I think we distributed it to that thousand artists as a sort of beta version. We asked for their feedback. Let’s us know how we can make it better, and how we can change it, and what you would like us to do. Sure enough, they started writing suggestions in. We put all that information together as a community, and we made Black 2, which is our super black, that I think something like, I don’t know the numbers. So, we’re getting on for at least, tens and tens of thousands of artists are using it now, and Anish Kapoor can’t use it.
Jeremy Vernon: How did you even start that process to the NanoSystems company? What was that paint specifically designed for? It’s quite high level.
Stuart Semple: Yeah, it’s a very technical high-level paint. It’s mainly for engineering application.
Jeremy Vernon: I thought it was something quite high level.
Stuart Semple: It was for like, NASA to put into telescopes to stop stray light or whatever. But they have worked for like, watch manufacturers, car manufacturers. They are not interested in the artist in their bedroom, if you like.
Jeremy Vernon: So, how did you go and develop a black that was, if you consider on a par from an artist’s perspective? Where did you even start for that?
Stuart Semple: So, what we started with was looking at paint. The difference between us and them, is, they are not paint makers. They are a chemical company, that grow nano particles on stuff in vacuum chambers. We don’t understand that stuff.
Jeremy Vernon: Very scientific.
Stuart Semple: We have no clue. But we have the whole history of art and paint making. We know what the blackest pigments are. They have been around for ages. We also know what acrylic binders there are for acrylic paints. Really, it’s the case of finding an acrylic binder that’s very open so it can take more pigment than other binders. So, we found that, if you put 5 to 10 times more pigment in a binder, you get 5 to 10 times more colour dab. So, what we did is we basically just didn’t cheap out. We made a really great black paint. We also added mattifiers in it. So, we spoke to the cosmetics industry, who were using it in like to mattify skin, for like selfie and stuff. We worked out how we could put that into the product without making it go white. Then we started to get a really good low reflectance black paint.
Jeremy Vernon: Did you ever think as an artist, you would be innovating products to use for people in art?
Stuart Semple: No, not at all. I always thought, I will have to make my own stuff, but I never really thought that would happen. But I supposed, I’ve been asked to do it. There’s enough people that want it. It’s sort of my job to keep going, I think.
Jeremy Vernon: You seemed to be very much of the mindset of sharing things. Where does that come from? Because you obviously, sometimes I don’t think people realise, how much effort goes into things that you do, and obviously serving lots of people. Where does that sharing mentality come from?
Stuart Semple: I think this is key to a lot of thing. I think this gets to the crux of, where does the artist fit intact? Because artists do something, that people don’t. What we do, is, we understand as a viewer on the other side of things we make. So, there’s always an audience in what we make. If I make a painting, it’s not really complete until someone stands in front of it. So, artists make things to share and to communicate.
The big thing that’s happening to artists, at least in my time, is the birth of the internet. Our audience is now global connected audience, where in the mid 90s, it wasn’t. So, for me when I was a teenager, I started showing my work online in 1999 on eBay. That’s the only place you could upload an image. We didn’t have social media. We didn’t have a Facebook. We didn’t even have a MySpace. But I could upload an image on eBay, and people could click to buy it. I sold 3,000 works of art by the time I was 21 to people all over the world. I used to run down the post office with 3 pictures a day.
Jeremy Vernon: So, you actually started an ecommerce in effect, didn’t you?
Stuart Semple: Yeah, ecommerce’s been since the start of ecomm. There was nobody selling art on eBay when I was selling art on eBay, original art on eBay. I used to sell 3,000 works of art to people all over the world, who have kept it and have had it in their life. What I realised, is that, you build a connection, and you build a community. People have a real thing of mine in their house in Norway or whatever. I mean, there’s something really beautiful about that. Yes, of course, it’s sharing something. It’s sharing an idea. But I think that’s the beauty of the internet. It’s that equal kind of playing field.
So, I don’t think that what we’ve done with the paint necessarily, is different than the rest of my work, which is always about getting things to people, and just kind of equalising the playing field like, every person is a person. I just sort of didn’t like the elitist of having to go to a posh art gallery to kind of buy something all the time. I mean, there’s a place for that.
Jeremy Vernon: One of the things I’ve noticed you say, certainly in your videos, when you’re talking about your products, is that, you sell them at the cost, that it takes to make them. So, there’s no profit motive of make fee in that.
Stuart Semple: No.
Jeremy Vernon: Why is that, when there is no harm in making money out of these things?
Stuart Semple: I know.
Jeremy Vernon: You put a lot of effort into it.
Stuart Semple: Of course.
Jeremy Vernon: You innovate the products. Why do you then go and sell all of them at cost, in effect with no profit?
Stuart Semple: Yeah, because I sell my paintings, and I do my art projects. I don’t necessarily need to make money out of the other artists, because I see other artists as my friends. I don’t need to. Whereas somebody like Surrey NanoSystems, their job is to pay their shareholders from the products that they sell. They need to sell them at the highest price, et cetera. What I want to do, is, I want to make my product or these products accessible to as many people as possible. Because I think good art needs good materials. I think, that if I can make mine the same price as other brands, and actually give artists the quality they deserve, then we all get better stuff to play with.
Jeremy Vernon: Okay, great. You’ve mentioned the money. Making money and art, presumably there’s quite a fine balance there as an artist, that is not necessarily all about the money. But you wouldn’t be able to do what you do now without making money. How do you see that? Because I’m sure there’s thousands of struggling artists out there, that can’t monetise what they do. They haven’t found the right audience. You found an audience that appreciate what you do. You’ve obviously monetised that. Now, giving back in a way that innovating art material so that they can go and do their own thing. Where is the balance then? I’m sure for you, is it quite hard to try and justify in your own mind?
Stuart Semple: No, probably like, okay. First of all, I think I’m very lucky that the sort of thing I make people like and want to buy.
Jeremy Vernon: Is that through hard work, or is that luck?
Stuart Semple: I don’t know, a bit of both, maybe. But I know people who make great work that’s really obscured, that perhaps nobody wants to buy. But the world is better for having it. So, I admire that. I’m lucky that I do make things, that people do want to kind of put on their wall, I suppose. So, in that respect, I’m lucky.
But I’ve come up with this idea that, there’s a sort of statement that I’ve come up with, commerce follows culture, not the other way around. So, you can’t make something commercial and hope to tag culture on later. You make something culturally interesting, and then the commerce will follow. So, the Tate might not charge you to get in, but you will buy coffee and maybe, get something at the gift shop afterwards. The gift shops after the cultural experience. I think, really that’s how you add to your value.
So, you don’t start making to make money. But if you start and you do something well, somebody might give you some money for your troubles. It’s a bit like the busker, turn up on the street. If you’re good, someone will put some money in the tin.
Jeremy Vernon: It’s also like business, I think. A lot of people, if they provide value upfront, their money will follow, won’t it?
Stuart Semple: Yeah, if you’re doing something good, people are going to queue up and want it. Like, that’s the way to market.
Jeremy Vernon: I guess there’s a point, that you don’t know, whether that money will follow. Was there a point in time when, I mean, obviously, you started selling on eBay quite early so I guess there was an early indication that there was an appetite for your work. Was there any point in your career, that you were producing what you thought was your best work at that time, and no one was paying any attention to?
Stuart Semple: Yeah, this happened loads of times to me. There’s loads of things I’ve done that have been completely flops. I mean more things haven’t worked than have worked. There’s been times, where I feel like I’ve done things, because I needed money. They were the ones that flopped the most.
Jeremy Vernon: Because the intention was wrong.
Stuart Semple: The intention was wrong. The things that I’ve done for the sake of doing the art, for the sake of art, or making stuff for the sake of making stuff, that’s the stuff that has done really well. So, I think yeah, you’re right, the intention in how you show up seems to have an impact on the result you get.
Jeremy Vernon: Going back to your products, do you want to just talk a little bit about obviously, Culture Hustle, is the brand that you’re using to start the ecomm side of your business to sell these products. Just go through a little bit about the products that you developed, because I think there’s lots of interesting ones.
Stuart Semple: There’s lots of interesting things. So, first of all, like obviously, it started on my mom’s kitchen table with the pink. It grew quite quickly into being quite… I think, we got like 30 odd products now, and there are lots in development. We’re always in touch with our audience. So, we know what they need, and what they want, and what they like. There are requests coming daily. But can you make it do this? Can you make it do that?
But I’m really keen to do two things. One, make really amazing quality stuff, that really shows in a lot of ways, how in fact after it’s been ripped off for a long time. So, that’s part of it. The other thing, is, to make materials that have potential when materials haven’t before.
So, the recent sort of big release was a product called LIT, which is the world’s most powerful glowing pigment. This stuff emits light for 12 hours, offers a small charge. It’s so bright, you can see it in daylight. It’s a light emitting pigment. It’s amazing. The success of that has been quite good. Not even just in artists, as people want to use it in like, road coverings, in like developing countries so that speed humps and power cuts, things that we didn’t even imagine that’s coming out of the LIT product.
But there’s a whole range. I’ve got 9 different potion colours, which are the best quality acrylic paints you can buy. They all have different smells. We have colour changing paints, that turn from the pinkest pink to purple. We have living paints. So, our Rainbow Liquid is a living microorganism, which is a liquid crystal, which is very rare. It’s one of the most expensive art materials on the planet. People can buy 2 millimetres of it. They have to keep it in the refrigerator. They have to shake it to keep it alive. It morphs through the whole colour spectrum.
Jeremy Vernon: Where do these ideas come fron, for all of these different products? I know obviously, you’ve done it before. But glowing paint or using live organisms in paint, where does all this come from?
Stuart Semple: I don’t know. Just a desire to like push it in places that it hasn’t been, and just to ask really big questions like, is it possible to do this? What if it did that? Who’s doing this?
Jeremy Vernon: Presumably not taking a no for an answer when you’re given that?
Stuart Semple: Yeah, I mean it’s always no. Like, it always starts with no. Even in business, like some of the paint manufacturers, who want to deal with, or pigment companies, initially, it’s not, you’re not big enough. No, it won’t do that. No, we don’t do this. After a few conversations, it’s like, but yeah, you could. If you put that with that and put it here, it would do this. Can you try? Can you humour us? So, it’s like that approach.
Jeremy Vernon: We were just speaking earlier, you now have to sort of outsource presumably, quite a bit of the production side of things. Obviously, you’ve got some bottling going on as we can see. But you obviously had to scale, let up and outsource for that. Tell us a little bit about how you did that.
Stuart Semple: That was quite a big step for us, because we looked at it in two ways. One, we could make a massive investment in equipment and bottling machines for very Whiskers paint. It was actually quite expensive. So, we didn’t have the facility to do that. When the Black got really big, really fast, we couldn’t keep up. So, we have a factory that does all the kind of bottling and stuff for the Black now. The Black’s made in Germany for us to our recipe. It comes in, and then it’s bottled. Then obviously, you guys get it to the artists that use it, which is brilliant. So, that’s been a big step.
Then the powder colours are now being made in a monthly mega batch for us in a different factory. But there’s still a lot of hand work done, and it’s still to like our recipe. It’s certainly all very much originates here. We make those batches here. A lot of them are still done here. The potion is still done here. So, where we can, we do. Then when it gets to a stage where we can’t, we kind of have to call in the big guns kind of thing.
Jeremy Vernon: We just passed the year anniversary of Black 2. I see you’ve done an anniversary special of the paint. Tell us a bit about what you did there. You went to 10 of your customers. Is that right?
Stuart Semple: Yeah. So, 10 artists that use Black that we’ve seen their work and we really like what they are making. We reached out to them and said, we’d love to put your work on the bottles for special limited edition. So, we made 100 bottles of each of the artists’ designs. The next 1,000 bottles we sent out, had their work on them.
Jeremy Vernon: Are they available now for that?
Stuart Semple: Yeah, they are available now.
Jeremy Vernon: So, anyone can go and get this.
Stuart Semple: It’s been going out, yeah. They don’t cost that anymore or anything. We just thought it was a really nice way of bringing it full circle, really, bringing the artist’s work back into the product, and showing that. They’ve come out really nicely, actually.
Jeremy Vernon: You obviously, like innovating with products, which I think it’s fantastic, because you never sit still. You’re always trying to look for the next thing. You’ve mentioned Black 3. Do you want to mention a little bit about that?
Stuart Semple: There will be a Black 3. What am I willing to say? We’re making our own pigment from scratch.
Jeremy Vernon: Top secret.
Stuart Semple: Yeah. No, it’s a lab in Texas, that is making a pigment, that is a kind of pigment, and nobody has ever seen. That has all the properties you would want in a black pigment. We’ve got it, and we’ve been playing with it. It’s insane. We’re now working to put that into a couple of paint products, that will mean that everything, everybody dreamed of doing with Black 2, they will be able to do a bit more.
Jeremy Vernon: So, it’s Vantom Blank.
Stuart Semple: Black. It will be just it’s gone.
Jeremy Vernon: It’s no point.
Stuart Semple: It’s gone.
Jeremy Vernon: When will you expect that to be available for your customers?
Stuart Semple: I don’t know. It’s when it’s ready. It’s one of these, when it’s ready, it’s ready.
Jeremy Vernon: But it’s just been worked on as we speak.
Stuart Semple: It’s been worked on. We’re quite far along. I wish I knew the answer. But it’s like labs and tests and results come, and then you tweak. You don’t know how much you need to do until you need to do it kind of thing. Because it’s all on that territory. So, you hit something that’s like, oh, no we’ve got to deal with this Now, we’ve got to deal with that. So, it will come. We’ve played with it.
Jeremy Vernon: Are you happy with it?
Stuart Semple: It’s going to do it, yeah.
Jeremy Vernon: Great, great. Just doing a bit of research for today, I came across your hostile design. I thought it was really intriguing. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? Why you’ve done it for one, as well?
Stuart Semple: So, a big part of my work is inclusion, and the fact, that everybody should be equal, and the fact, to have access to everything. One of the things that I have been doing or I do in my work, is public arts. So, quite a big public arts project. So, I have been working with the city of Denver on a mega project called Happy City, which is basically, a public art infrastructure design project, which is about train stations and public services, and all this kind of stuff. I’ve noticed this trend of hostile design creeping into the public realm. So, for instance, horrible bars have been put on benches, spikes being put outside restaurants.
Jeremy Vernon: To stop homeless sleeping there and things like that.
Stuart Semple: Yeah, to stop the homeless from sleeping there or being there. Also, sound devices that emit frequencies to stop the youth congregating, things to stop skateboarders. So, really just kind of really, mean spirited kind of policing of public space to kind of drive out people that might not be desirable. I think that’s really mean. So, we set up hostiledesign.org, a website, which you guys have been fulfilling stickers from. We’re encouraging people to put these stickers on pieces of hostile design in their own towns and cities, and then share those images on Instagram. Then the site pulls in these hostile designs. We start to have a database of them, where we call out people who are doing it. We’ve had quite some big successes already.
Jeremy Vernon: Have you?
Stuart Semple: Yeah, it’s only been couple of months old. Already, the hostile bars are taken down in Bournemouth, in the town centre overnight by the council. They didn’t like the negative press, which is brilliant. Mumbai in India has just removed their hostile spikes and replaced them with flowers.
Jeremy Vernon: Excellent.
Stuart Semple: A particularly nasty example in Toronto has been taken down now. So, this campaign proves that yes, it might just be getting some stickers in the post, that you can pay what you want it for, but it’s awareness raising. This shaming and this idea that doing it is wrong, is starting to change the attitude. That’s quite a powerful thing.
Jeremy Vernon: Do you think as an artist, you’ve got a sort of gift in some ways to help with things like that? You’ve got an avenue to communicate to a wider audience about things like this, because I guess, if we just walk pass something like that in the street, we probably wouldn’t even notice.
Stuart Semple: I mean, yeah, most people don’t even notice what that bar means. They think, is it to help an old person sit down? Is it useful in some way? I don’t see like that. Maybe I’ve got a different perspective. So, with that, I took a photo and I put it on my Facebook. It went viral. I went to sleep. I woke up the next day, and it had a million share, like a million shares overnight. Then I realise, actually I do have an audience. People do see what I do. Do I therefore, have a responsibility to use that, or can I contribute at to make things better? Something simple like hostile design seems to work. So, I don’t think every artist has to do. I don’t think you have to make socially engaged work. You make art however you want like, paint a cat. But I, kind of, want to make things better with what I do.
Jeremy Vernon: Yeah, just nice to see you that there’s a feel from sort of aspects of it. There’s a balance between what you do, balance between the messages you want to send out. The help and the sharing with your products, for example. Obviously then, keeping doing what you do as an artist, and in terms of there’s a much wider element to your business, isn’t there, that I’ve seen some of the canvas, that you do quite large format canvases, don’t you, and things like that. I did notice the Smeg fridge doors that you do. What was that one, because that looks amazing?
Stuart Semple: Thank you, yeah. That was a series of work made for show in Hong Kong. They are just sculptures. But they are about poetry. So, I put poetry on Smeg fridges basically that I fabricated. Because I realise people had less and less time to communicate, and people leaving notes one for another on the fridge. I was like, actually how cinematic can I get in a few words? Can I actually give like a whole picture and a whole story in a few words on a fridge, which I made for exhibition? Yeah, but my own paintings are interesting, because they deal with social issues. They kind of document it. They talk about what’s happening.
But I think some of these other stuff, like one, doing Culture Hustle or the Hostile Design, is actually doing something physically about it. Because it’s all very well sitting in your studio, and wind you on your belly in your paintings, and put them up at a show. But actually, it’s got a point when you do something about it. I see a lot of these other stuff like, the stuff we’re doing completely online is more of an activistic kind of thing.
Jeremy Vernon: Yeah, when you did realise that your messages were being listened to? Because obviously, as you say, your paintings have these messages in them, and your art has these messages.
Stuart Semple: Yeah, I think it changed with the pink paint, because I’ve done a lot of art shows. The art world understood what I was making. People talked about my ideas, but that’s a niche audience. Then when we put the pink out, and then the black, I mean it went so big, so quickly, like GQ writing about it, Wired writing about it. It went very mass, very quick. Literally, people that I didn’t know was stopping me and asking me about paint in the street. I was like, actually there’s a reach here. I could do one of 2 things. I could run away from it, or I can embrace it and try to do something with it. That’s what I was trying to do.
Jeremy Vernon: Excellent. So, what’s next for Culture Hustle then?
Stuart Semple: More products, just more products. We’re working on new stuff all the time, and just trying to give people what they need to make better art and better platform. Just keeping that connection as direct as we can to the audience, and making things for other artists, and just contributing.
Jeremy Vernon: You obviously, interact with your customers quite a lot, I mean, your audience. Obviously, we could see an example of that with the special edition blacks. Does it motivate you to see the successes of some of your sort of followers, some of your customers?
Stuart Semple: Oh, I love it. There’s nothing more exciting like every day I wake up. The first thing I do in the morning, is, I check the Instagram for the sharetheblack#. I look at what people have made while I was asleep. I’m like, h wow, this person has made this. This person has made that. I normally comment and answer all my messages myself. I know most of the people that use our stuff, like they are my friends, you know.
Jeremy Vernon: You’re obviously scaling as a business. There’s obviously this momentum that you’re building. Do you think that personal touch will be maintained as you scale further and further, because obviously, you’re constantly innovating. You’re selling more and more products. Your reach is getting wider. How do you feel about the whole personal touch interaction you kind of have with your audience? Is it going to stay as personal as it currently is?
Stuart Semple: Yeah, I hope so for at least as long as possible. Where I can find a way to do it, I will, because I think it’s really important. Actually, there’s been things that have popped up that could have made it go bigger. But I noticed that I could lose contact with the audience. So, for example, physical retail is something I’ve said no to. That’s like why would you do that? We’ve got hard stores throughout America. You could sell 10 million units. Why? Because an artist is going to walk in. They are not going to understand the product. They are not going to get the connection. They are not going to get the customer support. They are not going to get that into action with us. With you guys, we’re like caring everyone, that’s doing that help our customers. It’s fantastic, because we know we can support them. They can write to us and say, I’m trying to make it do this. I’m trying to make it do that. What do I do? I want to be there for them. I can’t do that in a store in Ohio.
Jeremy Vernon: Nope.
Stuart Semple: That’s why I said no.
Jeremy Vernon: Presumably well, the profit motive that we spoke about earlier, yes, you could probably commercialise this and make more money at it, if you chose to take that route. But that doesn’t seem like the route, that motivates you at all.
Stuart Semple: No, it doesn’t have to be bigger to be good. Things can be small and great. I don’t know. It would take a lot to tempt me. It nicks me feel more than money.
Jeremy Vernon: Okay, it’s been a great chat. I really, really appreciate your honesty and taking the time out to do this today.
Stuart Semple: It’s been fun.
Jeremy Vernon: Thank you very much. It’s been great. We’ll look forward to the Black 3 coming out.
Stuart Semple: Yeah, okay, thank you for coming.
Jeremy Vernon: Thank you.