Sterling Downey aka SEAZ is a product of his generation. Born in the 70s, brought up in the 80s, SEAZ admits that his first exposure to hip-hop culture was very much a mainstream experience. He was too young to know about the Wild Style movie, but Beat Street, Herbie Hancock, and â€œTeach Yourself the Moon Walkâ€ guides were where it was at. He confesses, â€œI used to collect those â€˜B-Boy Waveâ€™ caps you could get from Humpty Dumpty potato chip bags with â€˜Breakdance!â€™ or â€˜Graffiti!â€™ shit written on the back flaps. We were all the commercial Hollywood/Fox Studio versions of what graffiti was all about.â€
â€œSo they dared me to start tagging and I was like, â€˜god damn right I will, and you know what? Iâ€™ll do it better than you and thereâ€™s no chance Iâ€™ll get caught because Iâ€™m the security guard!â€™â€
Like any young kid enthralled by a new scene, he tried to do everything from b-boying to emceeing to tagging and writing shit: â€œI was an eleven year old kid trying to emulate that. My emcee/b-boy name was Crazy D and I would write shit like FRESH or STERLING. The funny thing was that back then I didnâ€™t know that you were supposed to use an alias. I just wrote my name or an abbreviation of it, because thatâ€™s what Ramo/Ramon did in Beat Street!â€
One of his first experiences with actual paint was when he stole some old Tremclad cans that he had used to repaint his BMX bike. â€œI did my first three pieces with those navy blue and fluorescent orange cans and I remember them clear as day,â€ he says. But like we all know, an eleven year old boyâ€™s attention span runs about as short as any fuse; and so, b-boying and graffiti were soon replaced with dreams of kickinâ€™ ass in the army when the new Rambo movie came out.
Almost a lifetime later, SEAZ took a job as a night shift security guard at a local mall. His main job was to bust kids who were writing crap on the walls. â€œAt that point, I really didnâ€™t identify with anything that those kids were doing, but they were actually younger siblings of my old posse that I used to skate with and go to school with. After busting them one time, they got all mad and were like, â€˜what the fuck man? How can you be busting us on this shit when itâ€™s exactly what you were doing back in the day?â€™ And then I realized that they were right. So they dared me to start tagging and I was like, â€˜god damn right I will, and you know what? Iâ€™ll do it better than you and thereâ€™s no chance Iâ€™ll get caught because Iâ€™m the security guard!â€™â€ It was an ideal situation for SEAZ who had quickly turned on to something. He started using some aliases like WICK (short for Wicked) or AKA (Otherwise Known As) but eventually came up with SEAZ because he really wanted to focus on the shapes of certain letters like Eâ€™s and Sâ€™s. â€œThatâ€™s what it was all about at that point. I got my first inspiration from a Chinese delivery truck that went past me one day. It said SEA on it, so I was like â€˜hmm…I kind of like that but, SEA? What am I, the sea?â€™ Thatâ€™s gay, so I threw in the Z for aesthetics, thinking I was coming up with a new word.â€
After a solid run as a bomber–tagging freight trains, breaking into buildings, and living on the run–SEAZ felt it was time to take a break. He was getting frustrated with the bad press that the graffiti in the city was getting and wanted to do something about that. In order to move towards legitimizing the art form, he started teaching painting classes at community centers and formed an outdoor festival in Montreal called Under Pressure. â€œIf a cop or just some sheltered suburbanite can associate a name with a face, in a respectable position like a Program Coordinator, then it can only help.â€ And help it did. Under Pressure broke through the boundaries of art and crime, putting SEAZ into a position of considerable power. Heâ€™s rarely bothered by the cops these days, and if he is, he can cite stature or a number of other reasons for why he should be adding his own flavors to the wall in question.
After a seven year break, he now feels even more confident in his abilities: â€œI used to just stick to my own letters back then, whether it be pride or insecurity. But now that Iâ€™m painting again, Iâ€™ve lost a lot of the bad habits I used to have and Iâ€™m left with only the refined talent. Itâ€™s not quite like riding a bike, but itâ€™s something like that.â€ SEAZ has also been dedicated to producing at least one piece per week for the past month since his return. His work was most recently showcased at Resurface graffiti event in downtown Toronto, and was asked to design a tee for the event as well.