“002-J,” Shepheard-Walwyn 2018. Oil, acrylic & mixed-media on canvas, 150cm x 180cm.
Samson Shepheard-Walwyn, a third year student at Kingston School of Arts in London, sits down with RAIN editor Mark Benjamin to discuss his artistic practice and career beginnings. Coupled with his early success in art, Shepheard-Walwyn has also found himself cast in several prominent fashion shows such as Comme des Garçons and Charles Jeffrey. He was also featured in an editorial earlier this year in RAIN, spring summer 2018, print edition.
RAIN: Tell me about yourself.
Samson Shepheard-Walwyn: My name is Samson and I’m a third year fine artist specialising in painting.
R: What was your foray into art? When and how did it first become of interest?
SS: I learnt pretty early on that academics wasn’t going to be my thing; I would skip lots of school to do art at home. I remember my bedroom wasn’t large enough for what I wanted to be working on, so I would put my mattress up against a wall and use my bed frame as a make-shift painting desk. I knew I wanted to make something; I had to make something with my hands. I was constantly studying and copying other artists, getting addicted to one artist’s style for a few months before moving on to the next one, all the time trying to figure out my own style. School was the starting block but during my art foundation; I really grew to understand what I wanted to do.
“…I felt I had spent so long trying to colour within the lines both literally in art and metaphorically within my life.”
R: What is it you want to say with your practice?
I strongly believe that destruction can be utilised as a form of creation. I’m constantly destroying in order to rebuild my paintings. I want the viewer of my paintings to come away with an emotion, a feeling, happiness, ecstasy, chaos, sadness. I would rather someone hate my paintings than be indifferent toward them. I want to learn about myself when I paint; the paintings can end up feeling more like self portraits than abstract pieces, with their interspersed poetry revealing how I felt at the time. Generally, they’re relatively chaotic; I can’t sit still and I can’t paint slowly. I’m continually scraping paint away with knives or covering areas with Polly filler and expanding foam. I think my art is firm and decisive; it knows where it stands and it’s not afraid. I’m not interested in shy art. I guess that’s why I like to paint so big, nothing is hidden, mistakes are bold, size and lack of shame, often become the key elements to the piece. Recently, I’ve relied on mistakes to produce these seemingly random results which has been so freeing, I felt I had spent so long trying to colour within the lines both literally in art and metaphorically within my life.
R: How did you go about choosing the medium to express this idea?
SS: I needed something that was going to allow for me to build it up and then eat back into it. Diluted oils allow me to cover large areas before scraping and scratching back into the surface. It produces these beautiful flat planes of colour. I then use a whole host of other mediums. Plaster and Polly filler build up a surface full of cracks and lumps; expanding foam and spray cans don’t allow the oil paints to bind to them which can give interesting results. As these mediums have rarely been used previously within art, there is little known about how to use them on a canvas which encourages all these mistakes to happen. Recently I’ve started to just use interior and exterior house paint as it’s so much cheaper than oil and can be used with the same effect!
R: What makes a good artist? What makes a bad artist?
SS: I think it’s easier to work backwards with this question. A bad artist knows their style and subsequently refuses to push their own art. They have a fixed set of ways which they know to be semi-successful and then become afraid to try anything new. You can be a successful bad artist, you can be rich and famous from your work, but if you know that it’s only because you’ve become too afraid to try something new, you’ve found a style that sells well, then you are a failure. A bad artist stops listening to the creative voices in their head and instead chases money or seeks only approval from their peers, too afraid to potentially receive criticism.
R: Have you had your first show? If not, how do you envision it?
SS: I’ve had a couple of group shows but not a solo one yet. For me, the venue is very important, as important as the paintings. The perfect exhibition for my work I think would be in a large dimly lit space, with tight corridors leading between each room, and each room would only hold one painting. Only one viewer would be allowed in the space at a time and they would not be allowed any watches or phones, anything that could tell them the time. Why should just the artist suffer, the viewers can too.
R: On one hand, some of the most recognized artists are drop outs or informally trained yet on the other hand movements such as the YBAs come from art schools. Is art school worth it?
SS: It’s difficult to say really, different people have different needs. Personally, if school had built me up to be this academic student ready to apply for academic subjects, then foundation and uni helped me break that down, back to being a kid and feeling inspired. Obviously in terms of money, going to uni can feel like a big risk, you’re hoping that you can make it within the art world to the extent at which you will be able to pay off your student loan. There is also a fear that art schools are like ‘cookie-cutter’ artist creators, with all graduates’ work ending up the same. Personally, I haven’t found this to be true but I can’t speak for everyone and say art school is worth it!
R: Do you have influences within or outside of art? Who are they?
SS: Recently, I’ve been heavily influenced by Alexander McQueen’s words, his boldness and confidence and complete lack of fear of criticism. Mark Rothko is a continual source of inspiration, along with aesthetic philosophers Adorno and Kant, both of whom investigated the role of abstract expressionism within aesthetics.
R: Is having knowledge of contemporary art history important?
SS: Until this year I had always spent hours reading back to back editions of artists’ personal writings, their notebooks and letters, trying to understand how and why they worked in the way that they did. However, I became so influenced (and addicted) to them and their work that anything I produced just replicated theirs. So now I do as little artist research as possible, I want to be as original as I can with my own ideas. If you’re able to separate yourself from the artists and works you’re researching then I can see how this would be very useful but for me it’s just not practical.
R: Hockney just became the most expensive living artist. Why is physical painting still relevant in the digital age?
SS: Is anything within art still relevant? We’re now in the post-post-modernist era, which art historians say it is unlikely we will ever leave. This is the era of reproduction, of zombie-formalist creators and replicators. Social media has promoted this ‘see-now buy-now artist,’ both a blessing and a curse. It’s ironic really, in the century of the greatest change the world has seen, art is left scraping at the corpses of the art-god predecessors.
R: Is fashion interesting to you?
SS: Definitely, yes. The closest people around me are studying / involved already within the fashion industry, fashion as a field which I consider to be in unison with art. I love discussing this seasons’ new collections from the latest new-gen designers, the designers pushing the boundaries of their work, working similar to Duchamp, asking ‘what can be considered as fashion’. The works created from Sterling Ruby’s art with Raf Simon’s collection make me want to be involved within fashion more.
R: If you could meet someone alive or dead who would it be?
SS: Yung Lean- I like his music and I have a sadboys tattoo from when I was 18 to show him.
R: What’s in store next year, 2019, for you?
SS: I wish I could answer this question with confidence. Well, I’ll have graduated by next year and have been dragged kicking and screaming into the real world. I hope to be able to continue my practice. I want to hold solo-exhibitions and potentially collaborate with other creatives. I’ll let you know how it goes.