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Sam Soule

I am not extremely interested in talking about my work with others or going as far as to explain it. This has been something that I have been struggling with for some time now. I have a hard time understanding making artwork for the viewer. When I am making a work, I am never trying to create it for someone else to look at. The piece that I am creating is solely for myself. It just happens that my work gets looked at by other people and they make comments on it. Most of the time I have no idea what to say to these comments. An awkward thank you or a grunt usually comes out but I never dig into what they think because for me it does not really matter. I am not in my studio creating something like a valentine for someone else, I am creating these works for myself to look at.

Influences are a very difficult issue for me to deal with. I never really want to admit that I am influenced by one particular person because I feel that following that point people will judge not only you but your work as well. Trying to stay unique in today’s world is as hard as trying to dive into a pool without water. What I have done, be it out of ignorance or out of stubbornness, is try not to look at many other works. I try not to go to museums, read art history books, or just look at other art in general. That is something that I had done for a long time. I am slowly slipping out of this hermit like state and have begun to look at other artwork in hopes that I can still believe that I can be original.

In this portion of text, I was interviewed by Erika Johannsen in the fall of 2006. We discussed various topics from my influences in art to why I do what I do. This text has been edited from its original version.

Erika: First of all, are there any artists that you look at for inspiration…your favorite artists?

Sam: You know for me, I can never really look at an artist. For a long time I went through this thing where I would try not to look at any art because I was afraid that if I looked at it I’d be thinking that I’d be copying everything I would do after that. I wouldn’t go to museums, I wouldn’t look at anyone else’s work because I thought then my stuff wouldn’t be original at all. So I really haven’t invested myself at all into any artists. It’s kind of an odd thing…

E: Not being tainted by to much education, keeping yourself original.

S: Trying to at least, which is becoming in and of itself a funny idea because everyone thinks there isn’t an original idea anymore. Everyone talks about these artists that they really love and then I start to think about it and I have no idea.

E: Since you don’t have any artists that you look at. Where do you find your inspiration? I notice that a lot of your work could be attributed to your cultural heritage.

S: That’s kind of just come in the past year. I felt for a long time that I could do anything and it wouldn’t matter, there was no meaning behind it. It came down to just the process and making marks. I felt like to be a serious artist you have to have a series of works so I did this series of portraits which were white guys with Native American makeup on; so there are about ten of those, which is odd for me. It’s my first series that I’ve worked really hard on. So now I’m stuck. I want to go back to doing random things. Not the subjects just the process of making art, but I cant break out of the series, thus the owls that I have been doing for a year and a half.

E: You have a lot of portraits. Do you always work figuratively? Even when you’re working abstractly, do you have a subject in mind?

S: Yeah I try to bring something out through the marks, building layers; lots of pieces put together make something.

E: Do you build layers as a way for the viewer to enter the piece? They have to explore it a lot in order to find the…

S: Yeah in a lot of my pieces people have no idea what’s inside of them and I can see it plain as day. I have this painting that’s six feet by four feet and to me I see an owl. For hours at a time people will sit at my house and finally before they leave they will be like, “Is that an owl?? You want to shake someone, like, “Don’t you see?? It’s kind of like a veil, the layers. I got into the ideas a while ago with the idea of the landscape, the cityscape; shedding all of these layers. What have come before them, like what used to be here, whether it was a meadow or…if you look underneath bridges where they have their trusses and there are layers behind that and behind that until it builds up what you see what you do now. That flowed into this mark making building layers. Bringing some images forward, pushing some back trying to make it so the viewer can’t see what I see, but I want them to see at the same time. It’s kind of a hard game to play. If it hit it every once in a while it’s really amazing to me. Other times I hit a wall.

E: Obviously you make challenges for yourself, what challenges do you like to make?

S: I like to see starting from nothing and building. Right away, initially things always look like hell. I can’t make them perfect right away and that challenge of making the image hide and come out, that play back and forth is really hard for me to get to some times, also coming up with ideas. It keeps me up at night.

E: Do you feel like you have to be really original as an artist?

S: Sometimes. I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I feel like everything that comes out of my hand or my mind is original no matter what it is. Even if it's copying someone else.

E: What sort of goals do you have with your work, for example: some people have political goals? Do you want people to read certain things into your work?

S: The one thing that I have struggled with is the idea of not having any sort of conscious thought that I have put into it; that I want the viewer to read into it. I’m trying to conquer the art world by saying that you don’t need that. Every class is always like, “What secret crazy thing are you trying to hind behind this dark image? I’m making art for arts sake. I’m making an object. For me, I want to rid art work of any sort of context or politics.

E: What part does the viewer play in your art? Do you think that they can add meaning to your piece? Do you consider them when you’re making your work?

S: No, a lot of time I don’t let people look at my work. I don’t feel that I made it for anyone except for myself. I’m not going out of my way to push my art onto people. It’s almost therapeutic.

E: When did you start pursuing art? When did you consider yourself to be an artist?

S: In high school I took a lot of art, whatever I could take which was weird because I had to get permission from my counselor. I was in the advanced math and the advanced science, advanced English, but I decided not to do any of that stuff. When I came to the U I wanted to go into architecture because I thought that art from my family’s perspective wasn’t good enough to be functioning in society and I was semi-brainwashed. So I started in architecture and I took my first architectural drawing class and I did all of these drawings for my teacher and I got a D, drawing strait lines. He said in my final review that I was too expressionistic. There was too much feeling behind my drawing. That was the point when I knew that I wanted to be an artist.

E: How do you think that sculpture is changing your art; working three-dimensionally.

S: It makes me want to go and be more aggressive with painting and printmaking. I see how restricted two-dimensional work is. It gives me the opportunity to really build a surface. It makes me want to go back and push my paintings and prints.

E: Materials, what materials do you like to work with?

S: I like using anything and everything. Anything that new, that I haven’t tried. Experimentation is number one in my book. I also try not to use the same thing, I’m trying to find things that are free that I can use.

E: Do you paint with paint?

S: I use asphultum, which is awesome over paint, it’s super toxic.

E: Yeah, my finger nails have stopped growing.

S: I’ve used ink, ink with mineral spirits, foundry wax… I like to explore different things. Some things work, some things don’t. I try not to think about the mental stigma to advance yourself in a business world. I try to separate myself from that because I think it can take over what you do and I don’t want that. I want to create for myself.