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SAM SHENDI: BODY AS VESSEL

Sam Shendi is a brilliant sculptor who lives in the English countryside. Even though he resides in England which is rich in tradition, his work  http://www.samshendi.co.uk/ is really a fun and fresh reinvention of his neoclassical training. In short, his work rocks. Take a look and enjoy our cool chat too …

“… As an artist, I am not searching for fame … I am not made for the contemporary art world. I am an artist for the people. It is important for me that my work lasts with people for the value of beauty instead of shock value ...”

MICHAEL: Sam, I'm delighted to be chatting with you. Your work is so inventive and fun. First off, how did you get the idea to create this type of sculpture as opposed to traditional, neoclassical works?

SAM: Hi Michael, Thank you for the interview and my answer to the first question is - I think it’s a natural order. I was classically trained at University; we thoroughly studied the figure and human anatomy. After graduation, I tried to find my style and the purpose behind my sculptures. Moving from realism slowly over the past few years has made me see the human body as a vessel, not just as muscles, bones and skin, but beyond that. Since 2008, I started to experiment with focusing on the idea of the vessel and with less figurative details. What I achieve now is a combination of my background in classical sculptures and my point of view and philosophy towards my sculptures.

MICHAEL: Your work really centers on three elements for me: Form, color and delight. Let's work our way through these. Which comes first in your mind? Form, color or delight?

SAM: Form is really important for me. Colour is an element I use to describe the emotion within the piece. For all of my sculptures, it is necessary to engage with the public beyond our differences in colour, education, class or even religion. So it is important for me to use my sculptures in a way that allows the majority of the people to connect to my sculpture and I think beauty in form and harmony in colours somehow brightens your soul. I guess this is what you are calling delight.

MICHAEL: Yes indeed. I notice that a good bit of your work seems shiny like a new car. It's very contemporary. Is this part of your effort to appeal to people or is the shine part of the narrative of your works?

SAM: When I created my first collection, there were no colours, just bare stainless steel. Then I experimented with different types of paint. I felt every colour I experimented with didn’t give the satisfaction of the concept. That’s until I started to use wet paint with high gloss. This technique takes more work, but the result is always impressive to the viewer, especially since it has been done by hand. The high-gloss colour is as though I am adding life to my still sculptures. Without it, for me, it’s an object. The high gloss, the shine and the vibrancy of the colour for me, I feel as though they come alive.

MICHAEL: You know, we're living during a time when people expect objects to do more than just “sit there.” They want things to move on their own or light up or make sounds. Do you feel pressure to make your sculptures more than just glossy, inanimate objects?  Or is sculpture more about making people stand still and be in the moment?

SAM: To be totally honest, I don’t feel pressure of any kind. I create because I can. I don’t create for money, for pleasure or for the viewer even. Think of me like somebody writing a diary. Not for somebody to read it. But someone who writes well can make his diary become a sellable book even if that wasn’t the intention. I create because my ideas need to come out. I create because it reflects and records my own experience. The colour is not the main subject.

Sometimes, I paint the same sculpture a few times and I don’t know why. It’s a gut feeling. When I create something, it’s a feeling that fills me with satisfaction and I stick to that. Not what I think the people will be attracted to. I do think the high gloss is a signature of my work, but not just the colour, the paint but the high-quality finish overall. It’s used in a calculated way, but not with the intention to attract. I only think about the colour after the form is created, the colour is the completion. I am not using the colour to turn the heads of the viewer, but I deliberately select the colour because I can’t see it any other way. 

People notice that the colour on my sculpture is not just an attraction, they can tell that there is a reason - that each colour has been chosen carefully for that location. I think this is what makes my work different from other sculptors who use colour.

MICHAEL: When did you first become aware of yourself as an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?

SAM: Since a young age, I was known to my family and the school by the high level of creativity I had. As a child, really you don’t know what being an artist is, but I was aware of the level of talent I had compared to others. Going to art school, I was planning to learn about art, but I never thought I would be an artist. Only recently, maybe in the last ten years, I found myself more involved in my practice. Suddenly, your memories start to make sense, from the past until now. I haven’t chosen to be an artist, but I have been chosen somehow.

MICHAEL: I understand.

SAM: I remember when I was younger being surrounded by paintings, flowers and birds. My dad painted them and he considered fine art, but I think in his time it was more important to secure a job and the talent faded with less practice and now he can’t paint anymore. 

MICHAEL: So many people have artistic talent that they ignore and then find again later in life. How do you actually access or harness your talent? Do you meditate? Do you plan, write or sketch before you start something new? What's your process?

SAM: Of course, many of us have an artistic talent, but being an artist is when the talent takes over your life and becomes the way of living. Nobody tells you that you are an artist, but sooner or later everything you see or you touch or that you think about is somehow different from the majority surrounding you.

I don't need to harness my talent. Combining the vision and imagination that I have, there are no words which can describe what it is. I feel like I am a fish in an ocean, endless amounts of imagination to explore and so freely I can swim through it. Sometimes I sketch an idea, but the majority of the time, I start a sculpture without sketches - like my recent collection. Over the last 12 months, I have made 10 sculptures - none of which started by a sketch. They are all spontaneous, like the sculpture has been there in the medium I am using, I am just freeing it, releasing it if you like, from the material I am using.

MICHAEL: I love the way you play with the human form and pair it with other things. It's really fresh and fun. What's the inspiration behind this?

SAM: At the time of University, there were two main subjects I focused on during the five-year course: Realism and Architecture. A few years ago, I was affected by Minimalism and geometric design, but I always felt that it was empty of emotion. Perhaps I connected with it visually, but not emotionally. In this particular collection you are asking about, I tried to combine two movements together, marrying architectural and minimalistic design with realistic human parts. It's really important for combining these two movements together that there is harmony between the two objects that you use. I think I'm trying to combine old and new with a futuristic and contemporary visual. There are endless ideas that can come from this.

MICHAEL: Your work is indeed very architectural. Aren't you in London? How does the architecture there inspire you?

SAM: I don't live in London. I live in the north of England in the Yorkshire Dales, surrounded by green fields and hills. Houses go back 200 even 600 years old. Architecture for me is the harmony between vertical and horizontal. I'm more fascinated by the contemporary modern design of architecture which isn't what I see on a daily basis. So the architecture isn't what inspires me. It's the person who made it and his vision.

MICHAEL: Sam, most poor and middle class people don't buy art. Are there enough well-to-do people out there buying sculpture? Most people don't have the physical space for sculpture, let alone the money. What can we do to make sculpture more accessible and affordable to everyone?

SAM: Looking to the past, art has always been not affordable for everyone. This is why having museums and art galleries allow the majority of people to engage with art. I don't create thinking about how much I can get for my sculpture or which collector will get my piece. I consider myself a public artist/sculptor and I work toward my work being in public places for everyone to enjoy and more people can see it. Instead of an individual that has a piece as a part of the interior design of a house, hence I create large pieces, not thinking about the constriction of where the piece will be located afterward. 

If you speak about commercial art, nearly every house in this world, even the poorest will have some sort of artistic object within it as part of the house furniture. Art that has changed the face of humanity, that’s been on display in museums and that’s part of history - this is the type of art that can't and shouldn't be affordable for anybody. It's educational. It should be exposed to everybody beyond class or education. 

MICHAEL: Very interesting. Lots of people are suspicious of contemporary art because they see things like gold-plated human waste and it's called art.  What do you think about this? Do people need to see other things as art or is art sometimes a scam?

SAM: You can't blame the person who created this kind of art, but you can blame the society that praises it. At the end of the day, good, quality art will always be remembered by many. People need to understand that if you see human waste in a glass cube with dead file on a white plinth in a museum, I will guarantee for you many people will talk about it. I am certain the museum wouldn't put a piece without a philosophical background to it.

However, when you say “Art,” the first thing we think of should be beauty. But what we see now is the unlimited, unrestricted freedom of expression in our modern society. If you talk to the ordinary person in the street, one who has lost faith in contemporary art because everywhere he looks, he finds no emotion, no engagement and no depth, they still have an understanding of scale. If I bring two pieces of art works by two different artists together for a portrait for example, the viewer will always be able to tell who has the greater skill.

MICHAEL: Yes.

SAM: This tells you that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder when it comes to art, but that talent and skill are recognizable, built within us. This value which we are born with is not going to change.

Contemporary art is chosen by people in the art world. Art today is a reflection of everything around us. What is around us, hatred, war, greed, money, fame and I guess human waste. So perhaps it is a perfect way to present it.

My own opinion, if you are asking is … In 2006, I recognized that only un-formed art and shock value art are taking the art scene’s attention at the moment. As an artist, I am not searching for fame or to follow the contemporary art world to achieve something quick. I am not made for the contemporary art world. I am an artist for the people. It is important for me that my work lasts with people for the value of beauty instead of shock value. Since that day, I stopped going to museums, exhibitions or meeting other artists if I can help it, giving opinions or even reading books about art, because at the moment, there’s a new generation born that believes that a whistle and a florescent light are art.

MICHAEL: Wow. Very interesting. What is it about sculpture that makes people always want to touch it? I often want to touch the works I see, but obviously I never do.  Needless to say, if everyone touches sculptural works, they'll be destroyed in no time.

SAM: Sculpture because of the three-dimensional form, it's the touch that enables you to recognize it, blindfolded, if that makes sense. Human beings are in need of touch, this is what makes the connection more than just visual. You can't ask a child, why do you want to hug your dad? And I doubt that you would want to touch a sculpture that’s not visually appealing to you. 

I don't mind people touching my sculptures gently. If it disappeared over the years from that, I'd be happy that many people engaged with it. You need to understand that people make art valuable, not the art itself. Without people there is no art. 

MICHAEL: Indeed.

SAM: Art work is not valuable to a true artist, the viewer is what is important, however the viewer does needs respect the art. 

MICHAEL: Do you work every day? What's a typical day like for you?

SAM: I work all the time! I am not a full-time artist. I work as a designer through the day which funds my sculptures. I work in the studio from the afternoon until early evening. This is my usual six days a week. On Sunday, I don't work as a designer, but I'm in the studio from lunch time until late afternoon. 

MICHAEL: Wow. What's the difference between design and artistry? Of course, design is more about products, but what's the difference for you?

SAM: Working as a designer, you are limited by the client’s wishes and the material you are using. Plus it's a job, to earn money. In art, design is part of the process from imagining it to bringing it into fruition. However, when you think of art there are no boundaries, no limits and you don't create it for money or for a client.

MICHAEL: What do you think about the contemporary art world and art market and how they function?  Do you feel part of them or separate from them? Do you understand how they work?

SAM: When you use the phrase, “contemporary art world,” it’s exactly like using the phrases stock market and Wall Street. It's a business. Collectors shape the movement of contemporary art and like any business, they sometimes succeed, sometimes they go bankrupt. The existence of this market and this world labeled “contemporary art” doesn't exist and would never exist without artists. 

I'm not part of anything. I'm part of my time and like any artist before me, you work, you get exposed, you get discovered and somehow they may speak of you in books etc., and then you are part of this contemporary art world. But a true artist creates for no more purpose than the idea of creativity and expressing themselves. This is the way that I live my life.
I don't need to try to understand contemporary art, but I believe that every idea out there based on good presentation deserves respect whatever shape it takes.

MICHAEL: Finally Sam, what do you want people to take away when they've seen your work? Does your work have a message?

SAM: Every sculpture of mine has some sort of hidden message - more for adults than children. I don’t know really what I want people to take away from my work, but perhaps visual engagement or discovering the message within. I think the most important thing is that I need to be remembered in a way that I reflected the time that I lived in and to be an inspiration to others. My work is all inspired by people, I guess I want people to be able to see themselves in my work or maybe that they like it, but they don’t know why.

MICHAEL: Excellent. Thanks Sam. I think I see the secret messages in your works. Best wishes.

SAM: Thanks Michael for this opportunity.

Check out Sam Shendi at http://www.samshendi.co.uk/.  



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