Each month one of the art.earth Board of Directors selects an artist from the membership because they are particularly taken with their work. This month our Featured Artist is Sam Clark selected by Mary Waltham.
Sam will be showing a series of new works at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh from September 3rd to October 4th, and launching ‘A Line That Circles: Seven Sea Drawings’ a new series of works on paper on my website at the same time.
Image above: Cold Wave (2020) (detail) Gesso, Gouache and pigment ink on paper. 58 x 80 cm
Samantha Clark: artist and writer
Tell about your current work
I’m a visual artist, writer and creative coach. Over the course of my art career I’ve moved between many different media; photography, printmaking, video, installation, sound and now writing too. However, drawing has been a continuum, an unbroken thread that has run through everything.
I originally trained at Edinburgh College of Art and the Slade School of Art UCL. I returned to study many years later to do an MA in Environmental Philosophy, before completing my PhD in Creative Writing in 2017. My first book ‘The Clearing’ was published in 2020. I’ve also taught in several Art Schools and University Art departments over the last 25 years. So for the last 30 years my ‘work’ has been an ever-shifting balance between making, writing, learning and teaching.
But certain preoccupations have kept returning throughout; how we try to understand ourselves through our relationship to the natural world, how to be at home in a reality that always exceeds and eludes our human need for understanding, how to slow down enough to really pay attention and to notice the stubborn, humbling mystery of it all.
What are you currently working on?
Since I moved to Orkney six years ago my focus has been on drawings. These have developed into paintings that I think are really more akin to big drawings. I think this is part of a move towards a more meditative, solitary, studio-based practice after a period in my life that involved a lot of travelling, teaching, responding to other’s needs and requirements. There’s something contemplative about the way I am drawn to working now. There’s a focus on the use of line, and on highly complex surfaces created through repetitive mark-making.
Water is a constant companion in the weather-beaten island landscape of Orkney; the sea, rain, clouds, mists, fog, lochs and streams. You see and hear water everywhere you go. My home lies next to a loch and a stream runs along one side of the garden. So it’s not surprising to find that water has become a central focus in my current work.
The drawings I am making sit in counterpoint to the quickness and mutability of water. They are created slowly, patiently, through the repetition of simple marks and motifs that result in intricate forms. These come to resemble the rippling surface of water, sea foam, cloud formations, mists and fogs. I often use reflective and iridescent surfaces, like silver leaf, chrome ink, and mica, so the paintings constantly change with the light and with viewer’s position, just as water does.
I am fascinated with the way mark-making takes a fleeting moment of time, a momentary gesture of the hand, and holds it still. Each drawing becomes like a receptacle of time, gathering up all these moments so they are visible in a single instant. And yet there’s a sense of the depth of time involved, a kind of density, in the finished piece.
What do you find most rewarding about visual expression and about writing?
For me, writing and drawing are closely related but very distinct ways of thinking and processing the same world of ideas. It’s all coming from the same set of questions and puzzles. I even use the same tool for both – a pen.
Both drawing and writing are ways to come to a place of stillness in which I can pay more careful attention to the natural world, to the fleeting present moment and how rich and complex our experience of it is. They are tools for attuning the mind, for bringing it into the present moment with a kind of calm focus, and then sharing that experience with the viewer or reader.
At the heart of my most recent writing is also a meditation on water and time. Water’s quick flow and changeability seem an apt metaphor for time’s passage, and yet its ancientness and ubiquity also seem eternal. Time is also paradoxical: our day to day understanding of it bears little resemblance to the insights offered by modern physics.
So really I am exploring the same ideas in both my writing and drawing, just in different modes. The key difference between the studio and the writing desk is the physical engagement with materials: paint, ink, gesso, paper, water. All of these can (and do!) behave in unpredictable ways. There’s a challenge in that, an invitation to be flexible and responsive to what’s happening.
The ’material’ of writing consists of the words themselves. Words are venerable creatures, part of our shared inheritance. They carry the past within them, sometimes a very deep and ancient one, and yet they also adapt to current conditions, perhaps as seeds do. When a word is shared it germinates and sets new seeds that keep growing and adapting to new conditions. Language is a living thing. It shapes us and we shape it.
What inspires you?
I have been based in Orkney for the last six years and this environment has begun to shape my work in many ways. Orkney is a very dynamic landscape, especially where I live on the west coast. Here, the North Atlantic and the North Sea meet. Huge waves thump the cliffs. Gales blow in every season. Wherever you look something is moving, shimmering, flickering, dancing in the breeze. With these wide sea horizons, rolling hills and few trees of any size it’s a landscape full of horizontals. The light is very particular too. It’s a bright, cool, northerly light that in summer reaches deep into night-time and in winter gives us a scant six-hour day. It’s impossible not to respond to that.
Connection and conversation inspire me too – that’s why I enjoy teaching and coaching so much, and why I think it’s important to build and nurture a creative community, people you can hold conversations with about the ideas that are lighting you up. What I value about Orkney is the community here, the writers and artists and musicians around me.
I think it’s very important to cultivate that creative community and to nurture it. That’s why collectives like Art.Earth are so important, and also just keeping in touch with like-minded people we meet along the way, making that bit of effort to stay in contact. People think ‘networking’ is a bad thing, using people instrumentally. But really it’s just building an ecosystem, a rhizomatic network of conversations and collaborations through which we share information, inspiration and friendship. I think solitude certainly has a very important and fundamental place within this, but ultimately we flourish together.