Hello Samuel! So tell me a bit about yourself! I see that you’re from Bath, England and have been in London most recently, and you just earned your BA. What first interested you in painting or making art?
Well yes I’m from Bath in the southwest and I moved to London about five years ago for a bit of change and a bit of a challenge. I’d been here in London for about a year before I decided to enroll on a BA course.
Drawing is just something I’ve always done, and always been told I’m good at. Whenever there was a school project that required an illustrator it was always me – so it just became my job, kind of by default.
Also when I was little it was a way to entertain my family and make them laugh. My caricatures were very cheeky and naughty and weirdly looking at them now – very Egon Schiele!
It’s fun seeing how my practise has very much in a weird way gone full circle, I started off making naughty cartoons and not much has changed!
Where do you get your inspiration or ideas from?
Well a lot of the time it’s me to be honest and my life – I started off wanting to paint myself and make very honest very provocative almost disturbed work, but always in very bright clownish colours and always with a sense of humour. These cartoons ended up being a collection called ‘Sexy Munters’ which was basically an introduction into me as a painter, my first series sort of thing. I’d always painted but never really anything too distinct and always in quite a confused style – I guess I hadn’t quite found my voice.
As time went on, I kind of ran out of scenarios in which to place myself, so I moved onto my friends. Also I was introduced to face-swapping, so I was able to create weird amalgamations of everyone combined. This tool has proved to be invaluable in coming up with ideas!
Do you have any particularly influential mentors or teachers who come to mind?
I learnt a lot from every artist and tutor I had at art school they were all just amazing, but the most influence and insight most definitely came from Andrea Medjesi-Jones. I was in her studio for the full three years at art school so we got to know each other really well. She taught me the fundamentals of painting, how to accurately read a piece and how to start seeing a painting as language. Whenever I was having doubts as well, if people were telling me to leave a painting as it was, or to take it in another direction – she’d say “Sam, they’re not telling you what to see, you’re telling them” – Moments like this helped shape my voice as an artist and gave me confidence in the direction I was heading.
What is your studio like?
Well I’ve actually just moved out of my studio, which was in Hackney Wick. The area was very creative and the space itself amazing – but I realised after a few months that it was perhaps just a bit too much of a ball-ache to get to and for that reason I wasn’t going nearly as much as I should.
So I’ve just converted my spare room into a home studio, which is working out perfectly. It’s warm and convenient and I’m not having to spend hours of the day travelling – so not only am I able to wander about in my pants and paint around the clock, I’m also saving a ton of money!
Can you describe your process a bit? How long does a typical piece take you to complete? How do you get started?
It all depends on the size to be honest. Smaller pieces can be finished in a day, very large scale up to about a week – but in general I’d say work comes together fairly quickly.
A lot of the time an image will just pop into my head – I’ll try to depict it as accurately as possible, not because that’s necessarily what I want to achieve but because I need a structure to work with. Then as the painting unfolds you begin to see the real story that you’re telling. The interesting qualities of the piece you were never expecting and the elements and symbols that now need to be implanted to create a dialogue. These unknown qualities are what make each journey interesting and unique.
As a recent BA graduate considering applying for MA programs, what do you feel is the most challenging thing you face?
The guy next to me I guess?
What do you wish you had more of as an artist, or what do you need most?
Paint. And money for it. Money and paint is a good start. More affordable studio space would be fantastic as well. One thing that I miss about the BA is of course that sense of community and I didn’t really give my last space a chance for that to happen organically. So I guess what I need most is to be surrounded by more artists!
What is the most rewarding, positive, or exciting aspect of doing what you do? What propels you?
I think my work makes people laugh, so that’s rewarding and that’s really important to me. Experimentation as well, that definitely propels me. Trying to successfully meld different styles and I guess just accurately navigating painting in general. I think with all painting you want to truly deliver your own voice and create something uniquely you.
As well as humour I also like to have a sense of underlying cynicism in each piece I create. A feeling of unrest and something a bit perverse, but I still like my characters to be sympathetic. Marrying these two emotions together is really important for me when creating a story.
I love hearing people’s different interpretations of my work as well. I always try to leave clues and just enough information to suggest what’s happening to the viewer, but it’s even more rewarding when they aren’t picked up. I guess then in that case ambiguity is important to me, so that the reader can make my work their own.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects that you’re currently developing?
Yeah, there are a few things actually. So a group of us are embarking on a bit of an experimental drawing project. It’s going to take place over the course of a week and we are going to choose a different location everyday – there have been lots of ideas banded about, but I particularly enjoyed the suggestion of a laundrette and of course everyone seemed unanimous on one of the days being in the pub!
All of this work will accumulate into an exhibition at CAVE (Pimlico).
Then there’s another group show in the same location and I’m showing some work at the Zetter Hotel at the end of next year. Other than that it’s preparing for MA applications – which is bloody stressful!
Find more at samueleyles.com!
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