Photo and images courtesy of Sean Yseult
Sean Yseult is best known for cofounding White Zombie in the mid-80s in New York City, but her creative pedigree began much earlier. Born in Raleigh, NC, Yseult attended North Carolina School for the Arts, and later received a scholarship to Parsons School of Design in New York City, where she lived from 1982 to 1991.
“When you grow up in North Carolina, all you do, if you’re in the arts, is dream of moving to New York City,” says Yseult. That said, she didn’t find her true home until she visited New Orleans while on tour with White Zombie. The city transfixed Yseult, who moved there permanently in 1996. Since then, she’s been very active making art and music and digging deep into the ancestry of the Crescent City.
Yseult is gearing up for her first solo photo show in New York City. Called Retrospective (the irony that her first solo show is a retrospective is not lost on her), it’s being shown at Sacred Gallery NYC from November 7 through the end of the year. The show combines pieces from Yseult’s early work, plus pieces from 2012’s Sex&Death&Rock&Roll , 2013’s Mississippi Mermaids , and a current show from this year titled Soirée D’evolution: Tableaux Vivants Et Nature Mortes .
Noisey recently spoke with Yseult about her unconventional upbringing, her love of New Orleans, and her propensity for finding beauty amid decay.
Noisey: By all accounts, you’re an art school dork. Can you recall your initial attraction to the arts as a kid?
Sean Yseult: My parents were very bohemian, hippie, art-supporting parents. My sister and I were fully immersed by the age of 4 in ballet and theater and playing musical instruments. My dad was always blasting the Stones and the Beatles. It was full immersion from the get-go. I never had any other kind of life.
There was never any urge to rebel and become a pharmacist or something like that?
No, no [laughs]. One area I was most focused on was piano. I was actually performing in nightclubs by the time I was 8 years old, playing with old bluesmen, and doing blues improv. It’s funny, it’s part of my life I forgot about until my sister found a newspaper clipping a few years ago and it was of me. I was studying ballet four times a week, piano three times a week, violin, and private tutoring a few days a week. It was pretty intensive. I was a super-nerd in school, with the big, frizzy hair. Nobody wanted to talk to me (laughs).
You got a scholarship to attend Parsons School of Design in New York City. How did the city shape you during those formative years, ’82 to ’91?
As far as my artistic influences, just being in New York City and having access to great galleries and museums, and being at Parsons and having amazing teachers and art history lessons—that really shaped me. I’m not sure if the city itself really affected my taste and style and what I do, but I’m sure it must have. I’ve always been kinda attracted to the dark side of life, and photographing things that are a little darker and eerier. You could find that back in the 80s [laughs]. I loved it.
White Zombie was obviously a huge part of your life. You made an awesome scrapbook of those years titled I’m in the Band: Backstage Notes from the Chick in White Zombie .
Yeah, with White Zombie, I’d have some crappy little Instamatic camera on the road, taking pictures of bands we toured with and on stage and partying backstage [laughs]. That was my life!
“St. Louis Stroll”
I can’t help but notice the references to the fact that yes, you were a woman in a very prominent heavy metal band.
There’s a dichotomy there, I know! [laughs]