Whether it’s on screen, paper, snow or water, drawing lines is the key to fun for Sean Kesterson, a.k.a Alimo. Bound caught up with Alimo to learn more about the man, his art and his message.
In a world full of earnest marketing campaigns, aggression in the lineup and endless trolling on social media, you’d be forgiven for thinking that surfing is one hell of a serious sport. Which is why the playful artwork of Alimo is a refreshing and much needed antidote. It reminds us that we’re all out there for the simple pleasure of riding a wave. After all, isn’t surfing meant to be fun?
Why does Alimo exist? How did it come about and what’s your philosophy?
Alimo started out when I was a rugrat whether I knew it or not. I’d draw weird scribbly lines and create ceramics that felt cool. It was a brain dump of my imagination onto any medium. A fun sport to create stuff just for me. It was rad.
I’d religiously read Snowboarder and Thrasher Magazine as a grom. The stuff they were creating mesmerized and inspired me. I didn’t understand how they did these graphics, but I’d try and replicate everything from home movies of me and my friends skating to sketching out logos from the mag in my school binder.
When I grew up from a rugrat to an older human, I headed to art school to explore all the fun stuff of making. Throughout school, we’d present our work and dive deep into the critique. One day, a classmate came in right before a presentation. He had a white canvas and pulled out his sharpie to draw a black dot right smack in the middle. He then walked into class. Over the next hour, he walked us through his entire project convincing all of us that this was ‘art.’ It was brilliant. I was baffled. It made me bummed on school though. I spent months on my project while this student made it in just a few seconds. His concept was so powerful it changed my foundation and the way I think about every project still to this day.
Next term, my professor asked everyone to create a skateboard brand. At the time, I was still fired up on this last students ‘art’. I wanted to create a brand that meant nothing in spite of art school but specifically for this prior project. One day, I went to Urban Dictionary and typed in the words, ‘means nothing.’ Alimo popped up. It wildly made sense to me. It was perfect. A week later, I checked the site and the definition was gone. That day, Alimo was born. I had a name that meant nothing, but in actuality meant everything.
This name kept on going after the school project. I started to use this as my company name and artist avatar pitching ideas to surf brands after college. I drew illustrations and slowly learned the ropes of the biz in the surf world. Over the years, Alimo faded away. My ideas were getting pushed onto other companies and that satisfaction to create for myself dwindled away.
At the end of 2017, I quit all of my freelance jobs to recreate Alimo. To bring it back to life. To create for myself and bring everything back to my upbringing. This was skating. This was traveling. Friends. Family. Surfing. Snowboarding. Creativity. To draw playful humans being rad.
It’s clear that there have been two constants in Alimo’s life: board sports and art. They go hand in hand. There’s a beautiful simplicity to his outlook on life that really shines through in the work. Colorful line illustrations are usually paired with a saying. Exactamundo amigo. Coolbeans. Stay rad. Bananas. These phrases are old school clichés that you’d never hear a WSL commentator utter. But there’s a real charm when these are alongside Alimo’s drawings. There’s a playful quality to it all that brings an immediate smile to your face. What he does so well is to evoke a feeling of stoke. It’s not quite the same as surfing, but it’s as close as you can get on paper… and that's not accidental.
Surf culture can come across as pretty serious at times. How have people responded to your playful tone?
Oh man, you hit the nail on the head. Surf culture is definitely wild. We’re all domestic humans trying to zen out on the beach, but when we jump in the water, we sometimes turn into wild beasts. It’s survival of the fittest and sometimes that stress is just too much to handle. Some of the best days ever are ruined by population and grumpy dudes getting agro. It can be a big bummer. Flipside is that after a fun session, you’re ear-to-ear smiles regardless of any life problems. That remedy is why we're all out there. For me, I try and bring that five-year-old kid mentality back to the table. To provoke playful thoughts you may have while surfing and evoke these feelings of pure fun. Cause that’s what surfing is: fun.
Explain the relationship between your art and surfing.
Art and surfing are a tight-knit crew for me. They’re these wild creative outlets that let me braindump ideas using a different set of tools. There are no set rules and no boundaries. Nothing’s right and nothing's wrong. My relationship between the two has always been these visual elements seen through my eyes. An outlook on life and how I could imagine things that weren’t done yet. It’s like looking at a wave and seeing yourself slapping the lip, or an empty canvas to fill up a story. It’s a big visual puzzle piece that’s simply endless.
Being based in San Francisco definitely has its merits. The art community has solid roots and is getting even stronger. And of course, there’s a core surf culture based around the notorious Ocean Beach. These are two distinct communities, but Alimo is bridging the two, alongside a few other enterprising souls. It’s an exciting time to be based in the Bay Area and Alimo is harnessing the positive momentum behind both worlds.
In San Fran, do you find yourself grounded more in the surf community or the art community? Do they overlap?
San Francisco has gone through a lot over the years. More so than I can imagine since I did the reversal move from Portland to here. It’s nothing new though… Tech world giants moved in and the art community took a major hit. It forced some of my favorite artists to flock up north, or the Midwest to graze. Anywhere you go, artists just bring in the rad. But once it catches fire, money always seems to push us out. This past year I’ve noticed a big change though. Either I’ve gotten more involved in the community, or the creative space I’m in has brought together more ideas and collaborations than ever. The hype in this area has been real contagious and mega fun.
On the flip side, the surf community is a different creative beast. It’s been here since before I was born bridging a core group of surfers to Ocean Beach. It’s because of the wave and the type of person it needs. Over the years, the Outer Sunset area has grown up in a lot of ways from my eyes. Tiny pop-up studios, boutique surf stores, shaping studios, and coffee shops have broadened this community as a whole. The mix of surf and art community has overlapped since day one with the notion of creativity. It’s been great.
Alimo creates prints and has expanded into apparel and merchandise. The art acts as an antithesis to the too-cool-for-school surf culture and as a counterpoint to the general negative vibe that underscores so much of our daily lives. Because of these reason, Alimo is being welcomed with open arms around the world.
The response this year has been out of control good. The community in the Pacific Northwest, France and Australia has been so supportive beyond belief. People repeatedly tell me, “this is what we need right now, we love this!” It’s seriously been blowing my socks off and I’m so dang humbled.
We here at Bound couldn’t agree more and we’re frothing to see what’s next.
Check out photos from the studio and shop the Alimo collection below.
Photography by Kyle Peters. Check his work out here.