Stephanie Sampson was born in Montreal, Canada. She is a contemporary painter working in oils. She also makes ceramic art. She divides her time between Ottawa and Athens, Greece.
Stephanie Sampson is a Greek Canadian visual artist. She has been shaped by the light of Athens, Greece where she has lived on and off. The way light falls creates living surfaces and she translates this into paint by not overworking the surface and often painting thinly but sumptuously. Sampson describes herself as an experiential painter, using her environment as a source rather than media or photographs, often painting from a live model. Interiors represent her fascination with how light, figures and objects interact in a private and personal space. Many influences have enriched her style, among them: the thinly applied but sensuous use of paint of Arshile Gorky, the daring candy-colour and Intimism of Hodgkin and Matisse, the body beautiful of modern and ancient Greek art, the simple forms of Morandi and Rothenberg, the bold use of paint of the Abstract Expressionists and the feminine bravado of Dumas and Goldin. In ceramics, Sampson is drawn to Neolithic ceramics, modern ceramics and ceramics where shape is important.
Sampson studied Visual Arts at Bath Academy of Art in the UK and in 1991 she received her MFA in Painting from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. Her art education in the 80’s and 90’s was dominated by minimalist formalism and conceptual art which she reacted against in favor of a more autobiographical painting language; she did keep however the minimalist sense of economy of the deliberate considered mark. She defends the importance of painting believing that the physicality of brushstrokes and colour uniquely record mind and body within the interplay of picture and painting. Sampson’s method is to not overwork the surface, so that the properties of oil paint can be experienced.
“Time limitations and not a lot of correcting reveal the artist” Stephanie Sampson ©stephanie sampson
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FAQ s STEPHANIE SAMPSON 2019
What are you trying to achieve through oil painting … is painting relevant in the 21st c ?
For me oils are immensely versatile and responsive to the body’s expressive movement, qualities one cannot find in water based media as much. Painting and mark-making are as universal as music,story-telling and dance, and there are no substitutes because these are primary art forms. Painting can be heroic even if we no longer use heroic themes in that the ordinary can be made extraordinary. I enjoy the challenge of making oil painting contemporary because it has this amazing way of reinventing itself. It’s true that today other art forms like installation, found object, kitsch, video and performance have slightly edged out painting in the gallery scene, but maybe this puts pressure on painters to be more relevant or original and to stand out.
Do you think terms like “western art” and the “avant-garde” are outdated and meaningless in the 21st c?
Yes I think these terms are not very applicable anymore, because things are so global. Artists are experimenting all over the world so Western aesthetic inquiry no longer occurs exclusively in the West. And the term “avant-garde” could probably be replaced by “contemporary concerns” because there is so much diversity and parallel practices that a big breakthrough in art may be unlikely. Shocking the public may now be very local and niche, having to do with a local mind-set or cultural sensitivity a local artist has challenged. Today’s “audience” is absorbed with computers and devices so they are less likely to be shocked by a gallery piece. Maybe being moved or surprised is more meaningful than being shocked.
Which artists and writers have inspired you?
I am moved by Morandi and Cavafy; they found and developed a unique voice on their own terms. I admire artists who “escape” to exotic places to explore colour or light and flee the uniform drabness of industrialized countries, Paul Bowles’ Moroccan writing and Ken Done’s beach paintings for example.
Painters who focus on oils and hone a narrow deep painting language I also find very interesting, Susan Rothenberg’s snake paintings and Howard Hodgkin’s paintings using lines and dots are works seared into my brain. Arshile Gorky’s late oil paintings are supreme examples of the medium. Painters like Matisse and many other painterly colourists hold great appeal for me. Works by Louise Bourgeois and Marlene Dumas are very important and moving for me and Greek painters Tsarouhis and Fassianos. Anna Boghiguian’s travel drawings I also find inspiring.
How did your art studies impact your development?
I studied art in the UK and Canada earning both a B.A. and an M.F.A. Almost all of my painting professors were Minimalists and Abstractionists who occasionally scorned my figurative paintings as outdated. Some of the significant things my professors told me I grasped later on. My studies were valuable in that I was exposed to many aspects of current practice and art philosophies. It’s interesting that the figurative mode I worked in at art school which was sometimes scorned, soon after became the new style in New York..go figure!
I wish my art teachers had discussed how important cultivating context is to an artist’s practice; your art contacts, the country you live in, where you exhibit, having an informed audience, sophisticated peers, all these have a massive impact on how your work develops and how it’s valued and regarded; art is woven into its environment and context. Artists are also regarded along national lines, amazingly enough.
Are you in the art world?
Probably I am on the periphery. I was amazed to recently discover that contemporary artists even of minor note each have on-line a stock market like graph charting their sales profile and if they are going up or down. Gallerists can view an artist’s “sale-ability” chart, and thus their relevance, at the click of a button. That chart is the art world.
How would you describe your cultural background?
As a Greek-Canadian clearly the very term defines my family’s profile; immigrating to Canada from war-torn Greece in the first half of the 20th century to make a new life. Both my parents were Greek and I was born and raised in Canada. My parents were in the arts and curious about the world so early on we left Canada for a period of time and set out on various travels; the Caribbean, Europe, the UK and finally when I was ten, long stays in Greece. The effect this had on me and my work was a dislike of cold countries and a sense that warmth and sun are more inspirational. I am too worldly to identify with one country. My father experienced WW2 in Athens as a boy and I think had PTSD his whole life unconsciously as an adult in Canada, but he could not discuss it. He definitely carried this into the family with some negative results. My mother is an amateur painter who was proficient but didn’t push herself to be part of a contemporary scene. My parents did not have a particularly happy marriage.
What motivates you and what do you explore?
What really inspires me is the sun, light and colour because these bring surfaces alive and enable colour and paint to perform at their best. It is very easy to fall into melancholy and one must fight it, so light and colour are in a sense a lifeline, but also a record of how I am experiencing it through paint. My aim is to use paint as if it’s light; really geared to how one moves, feels and sees. Unfortunately environments full of light and colour are not always accessible and one has to construct it in one’s studio in some way. The cities which are art centres are cold, industrial, grey, rainy, expensive and impersonal, and conversely, interesting, inspirational, exotic sunny places do not have a supportive art world. What to do? In terms of what themes inspire me I would say figures in a context is one of my favorite themes in my oil paintings because it contains so much: the beauty of light streaming into a box called a room, objects and fabrics with their interesting forms contrasted alongside the human figure illuminated by light.
What are your sources, and do you use photos?
I am an experiential painter. I respond to and paint my immediate environment because it is the only way to find my own voice. I also “experience” my art materials by being process sensitive. I used to paint from photos which I took myself, but the colour was limited so I stopped this practice, though I have kept those paintings and I like them. I never use other people’s photos because I find that the whole Post-Modern re-cycling of media imagery too impersonal for me.
In my current work I use my apartment as my subject matter, in a sense I am painting my world. To be inspired by interesting colours and shapes I often arrange an interior scene to how I might want to paint it; fabrics, furniture, drapes, things like that. When I can afford it, ideally, I will also hire a model to be the figure in this interior room scene. I cannot work from my head, though I have tried, I work best looking at something which may then become a departure to something else; I do not copy slavishly. When I make my on-location watercolour landscapes I am also working from life. The only time I make art from my head is when I make ceramic pieces or when I draw, because I am not using colour very much; and because the use of these media is almost an “automatic” hand-mind process.
Aside from Painting, which other media do you explore?
I also make ceramics, drawings, watercolours and photography. Clay has been a revelation to me, a material which transports you to a place of peace and concentration; sinking your hands into “soil” has such universality, I think everyone should do some work in clay, it’s almost an imperative. I started by making exclusively ceramic figures as sculpture but now I also make ceramic vessels and pots which I regard as equally interesting and relevant with their inside/outside quality.
all art and text copyright © Stephanie Sampson