Seb Agresti picks the books that taught him more than art school ever did

29 May 2019

“Books have been an important part of my life since I was young and I have been collecting art books in particular since I was a teenager,” says Dutch illustrator Seb Agresti. Based in Rotterdam, he’s a creative whose work we’ve admired for its succinct, distinctive style for years now. It’s a style which has caught the attention of clients including Google, Apple, The New Yorker, Penguin Random House and The New York Times, to name but a few.

It turns out, however, that the idiosyncratic, clean and bright style Seb’s become known for has a multitude of inspirations, from comic books to sculptures to photography. And most of these inspirations live inside the books that line the shelves next to his desk. “[It] gives me the feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of amazing colleagues,” he tells us. “I like taking out books and skimming through them during my lunch break and find them a useful tool in my practice.” For his Bookshelf specifically, Seb has picked books “that I would take with me if I’d stay somewhere abroad for an extended period of time.” He goes on to explain: “I have learned more from these books than all my years in art school, and still learn a lot from them. For me, there is something magical about spending an evening with a book on one artist and actually reading about the work that I just can’t get from scrolling through the endless pin-boards and Instagram accounts online.”

Daniel Clowes: Eightball

I was 16 years old when I saw Daniel Clowes in a BBC documentary about graphic novels. It was one of those rare moments in my life where I got this exhilarating feeling of discovering a sense of direction that I wanted to go in myself. It’s very likely that if it wasn’t for discovering Clowes, I would not have become an illustrator. Dealing with depression and a lot of pent up anger at that age, I found comfort in Clowes’ universe filled with its strange, sleazy and unflattering characters. At that time, I spent virtually all of my time in my room drawing and it was nice to see the possibility that an adult could be doing the same thing and having a successful career.

Eightball is an 18-part series that Clowes made between 1989 and 1997. Many of his later books such as Ghost World and Like a Velvet Glove Cast In Iron started as separate chapters in these smaller booklets. Reading Eightball feels like peeking into someone’s unconscious and seeing all the stuff we usually are trying to hide from others. I love these very personal stories and I find that a lot of the best autobiographical work around is found in the work of cartoonists.

The bright, bright colours in my own work are definitely influenced by the bright CMYK and sometimes awkward colouring from the Eightball magazines.

H.C Westermann

It’s hard to say what I find more interesting about H.C. Westerman, the artworks or the man himself. There is so much love, finesse and eye for detail in his work that you might be surprised when you see a photo of the young Westermann with his muscled physique, tattooed chest and cigarette in hand smiling at the camera.

Westermann was stationed aboard the USS Enterprise as an anti-aircraft gunner and took part in many battles during World War Two. Westermann witnessed several kamikaze attacks, the destruction of the USS Franklin and the loss of over 800 men. After the war, he travelled to the Far East as an acrobat, joined art school for a bit until dropping out to re-enlist for the Korean War. After travelling the United States, Westermann finally settled down, but not before building his own house singlehandedly.

A lot of his work is anti-militaristic, with his Death Ship series being my favourite. It’s a collection of prints and sculptures depicting bombed and burning ships, sometimes covered in dollar bills or surrounded by shark fins. The craftsmanship and surrealism of the sculptures by Westermann are what keep me impressed every time I look at them again.

Tiger Tateishi

I was introduced to Tiger Tateishi’s work by Joost Swarte while we were making a selection of artists to showcase in the annual comics collection Scratches that I worked on as an assistant. Tateishi’s work is a combination of many things that I love: bright and strange colour combinations, Japanese culture, visual narratives and a dadaist playfulness. If you Google Tateishi you find almost nothing about the artist himself. This book does mention him working in Italy for an extended period of time but besides that, he remains quite a mysterious character. I love getting lost in the details of his paintings, always discovering new things when browsing this book.

Asako Narahashi: Titel

I stumbled upon the works of Narahashi in my first year at art school while doing a research project on landscapes in art.
Some of Narahashi’s photos were of friends at the beach she made while floating in the ocean. Seeing them years later inspired her to work with this and create a series. She often drifts off into the water for hours and makes hundreds of photos, occasionally being picked up by a worried coast guard.

I find it somewhat difficult to describe what fascinates me so much about Narahashi’s photos, but I think it has something to do with looking at the world from a distance. Most photography, of course, is looking at the world, but by drifting off into the ocean Narahashi creates a distanced isolation that gives her photos a serene and dreamlike atmosphere. Whenever I draw landscapes in my own illustrations they are usually very sober and somehow it has to do with me finding these photos all these years ago.

I had a hard time finding this book, at one point emailing what I think was the husband of the photographer using the aid of Google translate. I’m lucky to have gotten my hands on this first edition as only ten copies exist. As my favourite book, it’s the first I would grab if there was a fire and had to make a run for it.

Roger Brown: Southern Exposure

This guy is so underrated that Southern Exposure is usually the first book I pull off the shelf if someone visits my studio. Brown was part of the Chicago Imagists, consisting of amazing artists such as Christina Ramberg, Karl Wirsum and Jim Nutt. Like most of the Chicago Imagists, Brown studied under and was very much influenced by Ray Yoshida. Yoshida introduced his students to folk art, self-taught artists and popular culture. The Chicago Imagists would often visit these self-taught artists together or wander local flea markets to find folk art collectables. Brown died in 1997 and his house is now preserved as a museum, archive and art collection. I love how Brown uses a cartoonesque style of painting while depicting a broad range of subjects such as Christian fundamentalism, disasters, mythology and political events. With an incredible body of work, Brown really succeeded in creating a visual world that, to me, seems like it exists somewhere in another dimension. His landscapes have this “end of the world” feeling to them and I often think of them when I see the sky turning dark before a thunderstorm.

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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