Have you ever encountered a piece of landscape art that felt like a place you’d been before? Something about the shape of the coastline and the hills, or the color of the water, feels familiar and connected to old memories? That’s a feeling you may have a lot when seeing the work of Alimo.
Professionally known as Alimo, Sean Kesterson is a West Coast artist whose minimalist, colorblocked creations are an ode to the ocean, surfing, and the great outdoors in general. From riding waves to hiking, snowboarding, and camping, the simple but striking imagery feels intimately personal to outdoor-lovers.
Inspired by the coasts of the West and forests, beaches, and mountains around the world, Alimo’s artwork isn’t directly tied to a single place, although the influences of a popular California beach or a snowy mountain in Japan may feel right in the viewer’s mind.
As an ocean-loving artist, preserving and taking care of the seas that are both his playground and home is paramount. As such, Alimo’s recent work and partnerships have been deeply rooted in sustainability, whether in supporting environmental causes or directly reevaluating how his own artist production can be made more sustainable.
We recently caught up with Kesterson to learn more about the evolution of his distinct artistic style, where he finds inspiration, and what’s next on the horizon for the nomadic nature lover. Read on and enjoy.
Who are you, where are you from? What do you do?
I'm Sean. I go by the artist name, Alimo. Born and raised in a suburb of Portland, Oregon... currently in Bend, Oregon. I was living in San Francisco [when COVID hit] but generally I'm a bit of a traveling nomad. It is hard to kind of get stuck to one spot, but for now, I'm here.
How do you describe yourself as an artist?
It's a mixture... artist and designer. Artist, meaning there are no restrictions. You just brain dump your imagination onto paper or whatever medium. And then design, is really kind of understanding the color theory and layouts and how to present stuff and really looking at it conceptually... I see both for myself.
When I was a kid, it was all art. And then school taught me what design was and then post school, having these different career jobs, realizing that I needed to revert back to what really kept me moving and got that blood flowing.
Sometimes we're really trying to bridge that to keep it fresh.
Tell us about your connection to, or relationship with, the outdoors?
The connection has been there since I was a kid, since day zero. A lot of influence from my brother, who taught me just about every board sport and sport there is out there, dragging me along whether I liked it or not. That really grew that love for doing everything outside. Camping, surfing, photography, and snowboarding.
Anything to get outside of the chair, because when you're drawing and on the computer and you're painting, you’re kind of landlocked. And so you need that inspiration, to really level things out. Nature is what keeps me alive and level headed.
"How can I be a snowboarder loving the snow and surfer in the ocean and be okay seeing trash in the mountains and in the water?"
Do you have a single favorite scene or activity to depict?
I really like the scenic scenes that I draw. You look at it and you don't know where it is, but you can see yourself in it. Once you can relate to it and you're like, “Oh yeah, there's a wave near this hill. I remember going to this spot on this coastline with my friends over the weekend." And so those types of empty spaces, you fill in with your imagination.
And then other times when there's a full scene with people... and it's like a spitting image of like what you did over the weekend with this crew. And so there's some history and then there's future dream landscapes that you can't wait to go to.
Are the scenes inspired by photographs or imaginary moments?
It's a mixture. I carry around my medium format camera just about everywhere I go—my Mamiya 6 or my Nikon S. Those kind of live with me.
There are tons of scenes that are just shot with my iPhone. And then I'll compose many different image pieces together to turn them into this kind of singular dreamscape.
A lot of times, people will point out a painting that I have and they'll be like, “Oh, this is this spot, this is that spot, right?” And I'm like, “it could be like.”
The point is that it brings back this feeling that people have been somewhere before, or this relationship to people that they've had before. And a lot of times it's subconscious, but that subconscious came from somewhere.
Your artwork blends analog and digital. Did you discover this process by design or by accident?
The process has always been quick sketches on paper, whether that be a napkin or the back of a business card or my actual sketchbook. The sketchbooks, those have become my catalogs, or personal reference library, over the years. And at different times I can look at it if I’m having any sort of writer's block, if you will. It’s just scribbles and most of the drawings are quick—they're not good—but i can see one line and it'll trigger something so I can go forward and start drawing that again.
So, a lot of times I'll go in and scan certain lines or textures or different photos that I've taken. And then I'll blend together to create a new kind of composition, and then I'll play around with different color palettes. And then I'll revert that back onto canvas and I'll redraw it and really kind of pull in that analog form.
It's taken me 15 years to figure out this technique. But that's kind of the secret sauce—it's both digital and analog. It always will be both. It's just using one tool for the next tool to give you the kind of solution that you've been looking for.
What are your top three ways to spend a Saturday?
I'd say all three of them would be with friends or my brother. Top one would definitely be at the beach, surfing my brains out for the majority of the day, hopefully in warm water.
Second would be a splitboard in the backcountry, getting away from all the clutter and really earning those hippy turns, finding some pretty good powder lines, and also scaring the crap out of myself. That's, for some reason, really fun for me.
Third thing... other than traveling, it's really just getting outside of my normal “Groundhog Day” routine. Maybe that's just walking across the street and looking at a different item to get some inspiration, or it is a few hour drive just to see something new, to gain a different perspective.
Three outdoorsy artists readers should follow right now?
There are so many to choose from, but these are some of my top picks for painting the outdoors.
Is there anything you’re working on that you want to shout out or mention?
Continuing on my sustainable efforts. I accidentally fell into this dirty industry of cheap apparel and fast fashion. It started out as selling prints and paintings and then it turned into, “Hey, why don't I put it on a shirt or hoodie? This is rad.” And then I realized that the quality was pretty awful, so I had to really remove a lot of stuff. That's why I don't really have t-shirts or much apparel on my website right now.
I want to feel good about what I'm selling because we're in this outdoor world. And like, how can I be a snowboarder loving the snow and surfer in the ocean and be okay seeing trash in the mountains and in the water? So, I partnered up with a company called SeaTrees, a nonprofit that helps creators and businesses fund projects and initiatives in sustainable ways, and offset emissions. So every sweatshirt or T-shirt that I produce, we plant a mangrove tree out in Biak Island, which is in Indonesia. That's been a huge thing for me. I'll likely continue doing more small batch drops, so it's all limited edition.
Other different fundraising initiatives have been impactful, too. I did a big one to support wildfire relief in Australia last year, and then George Floyd raised a ton of money within a couple of days, which was really powerful.
I'm also coming out with a new puzzle here shortly, and then a new collaboration with Arvin Goods. Way stoked on that partnership. All-natural colors. No harmful chemicals. Zero water waste. Plus 10% of sales go to @Seatrees. I'm hyped.