Interview with Sam Creasey
Sam Creasey received a BA in Fine Art Painting from the University of Brighton in 2016. Sam positions himself as the man in this man/machine paradigm; relying on touch, gesture and the physicality of the painted mark to imprint the meaning in the works. His images evoke to the viewer a sense of uncertainty and dystopia in the information age and to himself a sense of humanity through the painted process. Interview by Ty Bishop. Originally Published in Volume 6.
TB: What is it like to be a painter in London?
SC: Moving to London has proved to be quite a roller coaster of up’s and downs. My London based peers had forewarned me of this, prior to my move from relaxed and bohemian Brighton where I lived beforehand. Myself and many of the other artists I know In London have a passion which is unparalleled and in order to keep your head above water in the pursuit of personal and art based success, you have to find that perfect work/life balance. With soaring rent prices, this enables me to just about live whilst leaving enough spare time in a week to paint and to write. There are ways to cut costs; I live in a guardianship scheme in South London which has enough space to run my art studio from in its living area. The building was once a day centre for the elderly. It is now occupied by ‘guardians’ paying affordable rent which avoids the property being taken over by squatters or becoming derelict. When not in the studio, I work as a delivery driver for an infamous supermarket chain, Waitrose. Its infamous nature has stemmed from its bracketing of a middle-class food shopper customer base owing to its price and fancy quality. I quite enjoy the stigma and various Facebook pages like ‘Overheard in Waitrose’ that have arisen from it over the years.
With regards to painting, I have tried to allow the city itself to influence my practise and the work I am making currently. With the increasing influence of technology around me in my life and workplace, and the new-media based artists making great advances with VR, sound and video in their practise, it is hard to keep painting feeling relevant. I like my practise to be a reverse process of making sense of the technology and overhaul of information I take in day to day. I choose to realise my ideas through a painted image because of its remedial quality as an act itself. Whether you are creating abstract mark making or a hyper-realistic painting, the worth of painting for me personally is akin to its meditative value. If I temporarily separate the subject of the work in question from the physicality of its creation, that material aspect of painting alone keeps me sane.
TB: The arts are so closely tied to academia. How have you navigated this after completing your bachelors in painting?
SC: Upon finishing my BA in Fine Art Painting at the University of Brighton, I remained in the south coast for a year after graduating before moving to London. I continued to operate my art practise out of a shared studio space called Red Herring Studios. It was great to be in this environment with many other painters, ceramicists, fashion designers and sculptors. Quite a few of them were a lot older than me so I valued their hardened life advice and we hung out and had lots of barbeques on the beach. Unfortunately, the studio its self was fighting a losing battle with its lease ending. The building, was due to be knocked down and replaced with flats thus displacing many of its artists and causing Red Herring to seek new space. This problem of gentrification is somewhat rife in both London and Brighton with creative spaces finding it ever harder to survive under its pressure.
This extra year in Brighton after graduating proved beneficial for the paintings I am making now. After experimenting for 2 years with what I actually wanted to do with my art and who I wanted to be as a result of it, only began to make sense in my third year in the lead up to the degree show. I took the motivation from leaving University straight to Red Herring Studios and began working on the more narrative based figurative works I create now.
TB: Collage is a major part of your work. How do you come up with your source material?
SC: I value collage as a helpful tool because it enables me to take different aspects and meaning from various imagery and collate it into one image which then takes on a new semi-fictional narrative. I mine the internet and my own personal photographs for imagery to fit the subject of a painting I am designing and create busy compositions on Photoshop. The resulting paintings are then created using a grid format with the Photoshop collage being like the instruction manual. I enjoy this relationship of converting screen based imagery into painted imagery.
I mostly aim for this to reflect certain tropes of the world around me and current socio-political occurrences. My recent series of works take on quite a dystopian aesthetic akin to the high-tech/low-life plot constructs of cyberpunk fiction. Fashionable figures dwell amongst towering piles of e-waste and screen based objects. Much of the computer saturated, synthetically-coloured flavour in the works is influenced by the internet subculture around the illusive vaporwave music genera. The cover designs of these types of albums are often collages featuring brightly coloured Hellenistic sculptures juxtaposed with Fiji water bottles and Pepsi logos amongst other branding. Vaporwave arose in reaction to huge economic and social forces that are still very much a part of our lives: globalization, runaway consumerism, and manufactured nostalgia paramount among them. I like to depict the ramifications of these forces in the collages. The piles of e-waste that surround the figures are representative of the speed in which new technology is invented, consumed and then rendered obsolete in a matter of years.
TB: What are the things going through your head as you decide on a group of images to use in a particular painting?
SC: I have usually decided on the subject of a particular picture before I begin to locate the right type of source material. The benefit of the internet as a tool in assisting this is nothing new. You can find anything you like and warp it in any way you see fit. That’s what meme’s do and its hilarious.
Since moving to London, I listen to 3-4 hours of news and current events on LBC during a working day. The topical conversation between the drive time shows and phone-ins usually gives me an idea for how to represent it through a picture. As an example, the speculation and increasing tension between the UK and Russia surrounding the poisoning of the ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia and the Russian endorsement of the Syrian regime. In the lead up to the World Cup in Russia, much of the conversation and news features have now extended towards the possible impending battle of football fans on both sides. I have created a few collages recently which depict these passionate physical battles of testosterone. The collages (yet to be made into paintings) question the validity and taboo of the George Cross as a flag of England when it is flown and represented by Hooligans or forced nationalist movements like the EDL. This came days after English fans were advised not to wave the flag when in Russia. The football itself and celebration of the power of sport as unifier of different peoples and cultures is unfortunately tarnished by politics and the fallout of world affairs.
TB: In several of your recent paintings, you depict a word that’s falling apart, yet there’s a funny irony to it. In Creature Comforts there’s a group of angry people and a pile of debris collaged with a guy with a horse mask petting a real horse. What is your intention of including both these two things together in the same composition?
SC: I do enjoy maintaining a British sense of humour with the paintings and being quite sarcastic where I can. If a piece can prompt someone to think just as much as to laugh or be entertained, I would welcome the further attention span it brings to said piece. Although this piece in particular has rather more serious undertones.
Further to the previous question, the ‘Creature Comforts’ painting alludes to the debate the UK and London especially has found itself in this year regarding the increase in violent crime. Much of the debate and public opinion obtained from tuning into radio phone in’s is around police cuts, stop and search policy, the closing of youth clubs, parenting and particularly drugs. Whilst it is the opinion of many that these multiple contributing factors have led to over 60 violent deaths on our streets so far, this year, the overall trust between young people and the police seems to be at an all-time low. It is worth noting that the Tories ordered the Metropolitan police to remove their stop and search policy a few years ago after relations between the black community and the police were quickly becoming critical due to the frequent bias towards stopping young black males. The man in the horse head's identity isn’t revealed and wears the horse mask which in itself has become a bit of an internet sensation in recent years. It brings him into a similar understanding with the police horse; a creature and animal and therefore innocent and graceful. He also has one brown hand and one white hand, promoting the notion that there is no single race who are likely commit crime, but that the problem of violence runs much deeper.
Lastly, the display of the MTV logo in the screen in the bottom left alludes to the irritating misconception that Grime music has an adverse and glorifying effect on violence. This similar dichotomy between the police, the streets and rap music has been rife since the days of N.W.A in America. Opinionated, often ageing callers to LBC as well as an article in the press scolded artist’s like Stormzy for intentionally ‘glorifying’ drugs and violence. Unbeknown to them, these artists lyrics are telling stories from often harsh upbringings and from a system that’s often left them unheard, and unrepresented.
TB: Why is oil painting the best medium for your work?
SC: It is not necessarily the best medium for the paintings, I just enjoy it purely from a physical perspective. It has its own separate art history that extends further than that of the more modern synthetic alternatives like acrylic. Eventually I would like to embrace the realisation of my ideas in many different mediums both physical and virtual. For now, I am still learning different processes and tricks to make the paint appear in certain ways. I think there is a transgressive enjoyment found in pushing painting around owing to the many adjectives like; like daub, smear, splat and stain. This returns back to what I said about distancing the subject of the piece from its making and finding meditative enjoyment in the use of the paint.
Like learning any skill, I feel driven to maximise my potential with a given medium and then move on to the next. Like any making process involved in my practise; computers, Photoshop, woodwork, building and stretching canvas, I just like learning new skills.
TB: You’re about to begin a masters program at the prestigious Royal College of Art. What do you hope to gain from this program?
SC: Upon joining the RCA, I hope to make new connections, get to know new artists, develop group projects, inspire and more importantly be inspired myself. I felt like I needed to get myself back into an institution of further education and critique my practise alongside some great practicing lecturers and fellow artists. Having spent quite a lot of time at the RCA in the past year visiting friends on the Printmaking MA, I got a good feel for the place and felt prompted to apply and join the party myself!