By: Sydney Wanguhu
When I left the Bay Area for Los Angeles to go to Cal State L.A., I was dreading it. It was never about getting good grades or missing my parents, I was just scared of being overwhelmed with career options and not knowing what path to take. I was scared of not being able to make meaningful connections with people, especially with how I see LA portrayed through the media –filled with materialistic and shallow-minded people. Although I wasn’t excited about my big transition, it was something I needed.
I quickly learned that LA is home to many young, up-and-coming creatives. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been surrounded by peers with nothing but pure talent. The determination around me has been beyond inspiring but figuring out where that determination comes from is what compels me. I’ve noticed that my friends inspire me most and if they’re capable of turning their aspirations into reality then I can too. Moving here gave me the privilege to share stories that are worth telling because of the exposure and encouragement from peers. To understand the full picture, I reached out to my friend, Suave, another Cal State LA student, who used his artwork as a side hustle that has paved the way for his career.
All the way from Montgomery County Maryland… Silver Spring to be exact, Suave has always seen himself as a creative. Since he’s invested time and energy into his artwork, it only made sense for LA to be his new home. His passion and versatile skills with graphic design, film, and digital photography is how he’s able to make those meaningful connections with people. While creating is his priority, he’s currently studying business to help strengthen the brand he started back in 2020, in hopes to elevate his foundation.
I took the chance to sit down with him, about the impact LA has had on him and as an artist ….
Sydney Wanguhu: If you are so artistically inclined why didn’t you apply as an art major?
Suave: Honestly, I just needed a way to get into school. It was a really short decision that I made and business was the first idea that came to mind.
SW: Have you learned anything that could be considered “beneficial” in class that you did not know yourself or have taught yourself already?
S: The best way to gain any type of knowledge is by actually experiencing it. There’s only so much that a Professor can teach you, I’ve learned more just working myself.
SW: You say doing it for yourself as if you’ve been doing it already and I know you have your own brand. Can you talk a little bit about that?
S: Suave2020 Started as a little side hustle. A way to express myself. I started drawing on jeans for me and my friends in middle school. I was selling T-shirts out of my bookbag and 9th grade and it evolved into a website and people started to buy into it. I want to turn it into a magazine where I can collaborate with a bunch of different artists. It’s really just a creative realm that I’m trying to build & bring people together.
SW: It sounds like an outlet.
S: Yeah, and I just put out a video with some people back home. Shout-out to Chris Diaz, Jediah, and Dom. Even though I didn’t take the video, it was good to know that I brought these people together to make something cool.
SW: What motivated you to apply to an out-of-state school, let alone all the way across the country and how has that shift in lifestyle been for you?
S: I just knew that La was the place to be and that I would make a lot more connections out here than just staying at home. Out here you’re exposed to everything. You get a whole bunch of people finding themselves out and figuring out what they want to do. I just know I need to be out here. But it’s the same me at the end of the day, I’m just In a different setting. Still on the same mission and creating.
SW: What’s the best and worst part about your journey pursuing art here in Los Angeles?
Superficial people who talk a lot about running over ideas and don’t want to problem solve. Maybe not necessarily lazy people, but just people who are really about it, right? Even with some friends, they ask me “what’s your price?” when it’s not about business. If you’re not on the same level as me, in terms of work ethic then I can’t be around you, right? Success, likes, fame, popularity, money It’s all going to come eventually.
SW: So then what are you doing differently among other young artists who are trying to succeed like you?
S: I’m just making sure I’m on top of my shit. Making sure that I have rolls of film before each week. Making sure that if someone really wanted to work, I’m really tapping in with them, making sure I’m texting them back, setting things up, investing in new equipment, tripods, lights, portable studio, or studio time. I’m investing not only my money but my time back into my craft. And in people who are willing to make the same effort as me.
SW: Can you define what success means for you?
S: I was having this conversation with my mom actually. I was telling her about my concepts for my shoots, and she was like, “So when will it be, ‘Suave has made it?’. [When will he be] A successful person in whatever industry he’s trying to get into?”. Success for me is just doing it. I don’t need a certain amount of likes. I don’t need a certain amount of money, I don’t need anything. I don’t need Kudos. I don’t need a pat on the back. As long as I’m doing it, that’s all I care about. Having the love for whatever it is that I’m doing is what success is.
SW: It sounds like you’re very committed.
S: Definitely. You know, a lot of people want to be a photographer because they want a certain amount of likes. They want to be a videographer because they want “x” amount views.
SW: Yea they’re focusing on the status…
S: Of course. Or even money. They might half-ass a design, put on the t-shirt and try to sell “x” amount of units just to make a profit, and not really caring about the garment. Not really caring about what they’re saying, or what they’re trying to do with. It’s not about that for me. I really try to put time into everything I do because it’s more important than just an applause.
SW: Can you walk me through your creative process?
S: I don’t really have a creative process, but I could have an image in my head, go to the shoot, and come out with something totally different, but it’s still the same message. For example, I just did a shoot about a woman who takes off her earrings and makeup. She’s taking a shower while smoking a cigarette. Just a distressed woman. I didn’t know how I was going to execute that, but when I got there, we just did the shoot and it was good. It’s really about finding flow and again not planning, just doing it,
SW: Sounds like it comes very easily to you.
S: It’s fun and like problem-solving. But I’m not forced. If you give me a math test I feel obligated to do it to pass. With this, I feel like I’m free. I’m doing it because I like to find a solution to a problem that’s not really a problem. It’s just to make this shit cooler, right?
SW: So then how would you describe your own work?
S: It’s based on your perception. That’s the whole point of everything that you do, it’s very impulsive. It’s just capturing moments that might resonate with someone. I want people to try to see what I’m saying since I’m just the medium. That moment had to go through me to capture it, in order for me to put it out to the world which is just documentation. When I took the picture of the people kissing It just happened. They had no idea that I took that picture because they were having an intimate connection with themselves. Not caring about who’s looking. It’s just about moments.
SW: So you want people to see the world from your, from your point of view?
S: Yeah, but they can take away whatever they want to take away from. That’s why sometimes there’s no set message. You can do that as a viewer. It’s just to start a conversation.
SW: Full circle. It all goes back to connection.
S: Of course. When I was back home I’d ask people if I could take their portrait which always started some sort of conversation. Having these conversations with different people makes you realize that we are all the same. That’s why I like to collaborate with people and merge different ideas because I feel like now, the world is just filled with hate and people trying to one-up each other, but it’s just about living in the moment enjoying it.
SW: So what exactly inspires you? Is there anybody that you look up to?
You know, inspiration is so broad because I can look at William Klein and Dido Mariama and look at their pictures and think wow, that’s so inspirational. But personally, It’s street photographers documenting their life, getting a new camera, or a conversation with my mother about or my friends about getting to the next level is what’s inspiring. I take inspiration looking outside the window. See a palm tree and want to do a shoot with the palm tree of all. Just looking at everything with meaning and at everything with intention.
SW: So your inspiration is from your surroundings rather than successful figures.
S: Yeah, definitely. Why did I make a skate video? Because it’s what I grew up around which is what inspired me to make it. Skating, having fun, and bringing people together.
SW: Tell me about the first time you picked up a camera...
S: When I was little my mom and my dad used to make home videos, so I would always see cameras around. Then in the sixth grade, I got a camera for Christmas, I was shooting flowers, people, animals, just anything. Then I bought my first camera (Canon AE-1) about six months ago and ever since then, I’ve just been shooting everything.
SW: What happens when you get a picture developed, but you’re unsatisfied with the image? Has that ever happened?
S: No, because I shoot so often that there are just so many pictures that make up for the bad ones. You kind of reflect on how you can make it work.
SW: Yeah, I was gonna say, do you take time to reflect on anything that you capture?
S: Now that I’m shooting more definitely. You kind of look back and know to use different graphics and techniques to give certain texture to a picture which I might have not known two months ago. it’s just progress and making sure that you see your teaching yourself and for me, it’s YouTube University. No one really taught me anything in terms of knowing how to take a photo or edit with photoshop.
SW: Do you say that with pride or remorse?
S: I say that with nothing because no one needs to help me with anything. Although if someone going to offer help they must mean it, right?
SW: I’m only saying that because my dad moved from Kenya to LA for art and film school and had to do a lot of stuff on his own like you, but eventually got a mentor to provide that guidance.
S: In terms of just navigating through life, there are so many people I could say have taught me things. I mean there’s my mother, friends, grandfather, my community, and so many others I can look up to. But in terms of my creativity and art, my dad used to do tattoos and my mom loved to paint so it’s always been there. I feel like it was already in my cards. But even with that, my little brother comes from the same family but he’s really into cars. Again, t’s about perception and how you apply it to your own life course while developing your own interests.
SW: So this artistic side of you was encouraged back home.
S: Since it made me happy, no one questioned it. I just pulled up to my local skatepark, shout-out to Sunnyside, and just started taking pictures. Everyone was down with it. It’s more so about connection than anything.
SW: Have you or anyone from home ever second-guessed what you are capable of?
S: Maybe it’s not second-guessing is just trying to find different ways to go about it. Referring back to images in my head. It’s like, how else can I portray this image? Although some people don’t like my work or criticize it, I don’t really care.
SW: So then how do you take constructive or criticism?
S: I used to take it to heart sometimes. I started to realize that once you start doing things for yourself and it’s something positive, what they say doesn’t matter. For example, I was taking a picture of homeless people. I got really good reactions [while] some people were like, why? It’s just trying to shine a light on an issue. If you can’t see that, it’s not for you. I can’t sit here and say that my work is to be perceived but hate when it’s perceived. Regardless, I’ma do-me, right?
SW: When you came to LA, was there anything that you promised yourself you were going to accomplish?
S: To appreciate life and that’s what I’ve been doing. I was talking to my good friend Julian who asked me why I came to LA. I told him “Maybe I want to put my city on the map”. He said, “We got to leave your city to rep your city”. I left home to establish myself here and bring back what I learned to give it to people in my own community. I’m trying to be like a Master Splinter of DMV. Just a person that people can look to ask for advice.
SW: With that being said, what advice would you give other young college students who have a vision for themselves just like you do?
S: Do whatever the fuck you want to do. If it makes you happy, then do it. I promised my friend this: if you really wanted to do it, you would go do it. Follow your gut. Follow your heart. Fuck what anybody else has to say. Have trust in yourself and don’t second-guess yourself. Just experiment. Try new things out. Just do it. No Nike. I need my check. Thank you.