7 Questions for Artist and Publisher John Sebastian, Also Known as the ‘New York Optimist’

Sebastian talked to us about his artistic inspirations and why he founded his weekly publication the New York Optimist.

John Sebastian, I See You Death. Courtesy of the New York Optimist.

Native New Yorker John Sebastian could be called an art world jack of all trades. An artist all his life, Sebastian left his day job nearly 15 years ago to start The New York Optimist, a weekly publication that centers around art, lifestyle, and travel. There, Sebastian has interviewed countless artists and creatives.

He’s also branched out into representing a small group of artists who he promotes through The New York Optimist’s Artnet Gallery page. All the while, Sebastian has maintained his own practice, recently showcasing a group of works in the exhibition “Confluo” at the art center Artisans at the Dahmen Barn in Washington.

Recently, we caught up with Sebastian to talk about the inspirations for his publication, and what he looks for in the artists he supports. 

Walter Paul Bebirian, 8-25-2008aabc. Courtesy of the New York Optimist.

Walter Paul Bebirian, 8-25-2008aabc. Courtesy of the New York Optimist.

When and why did you start The New York Optimist? How would you define it? On one hand, it’s a publication, but it’s also become an avenue for supporting and representing artists through its Artnet Gallery page. 
I started The New York Optimist after years of working in the corporate world of New York City while at the same time showing my art in galleries in Soho and Chelsea, along with clubs, restaurants, and other venues all over Manhattan.

Becoming weary of the politics and bureaucracy involved in both these businesses, I decided to collect my contacts from all the ventures and start my own company, a lifestyle project that would include my experience as a writer, businessman, and an artist, and create a magazine that would include all of these categories with art being the focus. It worked! 

How do you choose which artists you’d like to talk to and show works by? What was your first introduction to the art world?
I choose the artists based on instinct and experience. My first question regarding the artists I work with is: “Are they real artists?” By this I mean, will they always be artists, and is the art they make authentic? I was born into a family infused with art. From a very young age, I knew that this would be the direction for the rest of my life.

Your Artnet Gallery page features works by seven different artists working across a range of genres. Can you tell me about the artists you work with? 

I work with artists from all over the world in almost every background and discipline. The artist Walter Paul Bebirian explores how art can affect the shape and direction of a person’s life. He is a photographer who is now also a prolific digital artist. Painter Linda Hyatt Cancel has been an artist since childhood. All of these artists, including myself, will make art no matter what. It is a way of life. 

Linda Hyatt Cancel, A View From the Bridge. Courtesy of the New York Optimist.

Linda Hyatt Cancel, A View From the Bridge. Courtesy of the New York Optimist.

Tell me about your own art. What are your major inspirations and influences?
I am influenced by the things I see and the people I come in contact with: music, film, theater, writing, and literature in general. Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and the Modern artists of our time. Of course, the Renaissance had a major influence on me. Both the artists and musicians of the time made a deep impact on me.

Your works were recently exhibited in the show “Confluo” at Artisans at the Dahmen Barn in Washington State. Can you tell me about the show?

I was invited by my fiancée, Linda Hyatt Cancel, to participate as an exhibiting artist as well as by Julie Heitstuman Hartwig, the director of Artisans at The Dahmen Barn. This past October, I was also invited to do a solo exhibition at the Barn and had a very successful turnout, selling several paintings in this new world of Washington. This new adventure is exhilarating and life-changing.

Do you have anything coming up that you’d like to highlight? Other exhibitions of your works or your artists’ works?

There are a number of upcoming shows for all the artists who are always exhibiting all over the world. I would ask those who read this to get in touch with me as the work that I am representing is not only exciting, but inspirational and highly valuable.

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