Five Minutes with Samantha Clark

On her creative process, inspirations, and the importance of long-term commitment.

Samantha has been an artist for nearly thirty years. In 2016, after moving to Orkney, her relationship with art changed after being influenced by the inspiring presence of the Orcadian weather and sea.

Clark has always had a passion for the creative world. Her talents reach further than solely the visual arts, in fact, she has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of St Andrews. She originally trained in Edinburgh College of Art, Belgrave Academy of Fine Arts and the Slade School of Fine Art, ULC.

Samantha looks up to inspirational female artists who continue to produce brilliant artwork late into their life.

Is there anything in particular that inspires you to create art?

Since moving to Orkney in 2016, the natural environment, the sea, and the dynamic weather of the North Atlantic have become central shaping forces on my work. I’ve become very fascinated by water. It’s such a complex substance. Something we are so entwined with, and yet it’s also elusive, always changing form as it moves through clouds, mists, rains, rivers, sea, our bloodstream, our cells, our thoughts and emotions, our kitchens and bathrooms, pipes and sewers, and our stories and myths. It’s a necessity of life that every plant, fish, bird, and animal depends on, but it also poses dangers in the form of storms, floods, drowning, sea-level rise, melting ice caps. Watching water can teach us a lot about change, uncertainty, impermanence, our place in the natural world, and the harms being done to it.

What is your creative process?

My work is always driven by a need to puzzle something over. It’s not necessarily about getting an answer to a problem, but about inhabiting a frame of mind that is uncertain, taking a questioning stance, and seeing what grows out of that. My methods are contemplative, often slow and repetitive, drawing very small, simple motifs such as a circle, line, or a five- or six-sided shape, and repeating this over and over and over again, until a highly complex form starts to emerge, like froth or a honeycomb or sedimentation. These forms resemble patterns of growth and accumulation seen in nature and although they are complex they are also very calming.

In my most recent work, it’s the circle that keeps recurring, like a bubble or droplet of water. These come together to form churning waves, or delicate mists and fogs that sometimes cover the whole surface of a painting. I like the paradox of using this very slow, meditative working method to represent something that is so quick and ever-changing. I’m a writer as well as a visual artist, and the two practices sit alongside each other very well. When I am drawing I can hold an idea, maybe something I am writing about, in my mind in a loose way, and sometimes when I come back to the writing it has become clearer. And vice versa.

To learn more about Samantha’s creative process check out her ‘Open Studio’ here.

What has been your favourite or most memorable art sale?

My most memorable art sale recently was actually a public art commission I completed last year.

It was for a new NHS hospital being built in Orkney. It was quite a high-profile project because it was a big new building and everyone in Orkney would probably see my artwork for it, sooner or later. It was quite a daunting undertaking – a mural 30 metres long – and it took a long time to complete the drawings as I was using the very slow method of working I describe above. I hardly saw the light of day for several months, but it felt like my chance to give something back to my adopted island home. The effort was worth it, as it has been really well received by both staff and patients, especially at this time when they are under so much pressure and stress.

I made a short video about it with NHS Orkney recently which you can see here: https://vimeo.com/454761337

How has your arts business/career changed over the past 6 months?

Since moving to my studio here in Orkney my practice was already shifting. I was looking to travel less, to be more rooted in a specific place, as previously I had done a lot of residencies and commissions that entailed lots of time away from home. Of course, that has only accelerated in the last six months with restrictions on travel. I had two gallery exhibitions cancelled due to the lockdown, so that focussed my thoughts. I decided to spend the summer developing an online shop to sell my work directly, and to embrace the world of social media, something I had resisted until that point. It was a lot of work, but I rather enjoyed the challenge. So, I would say that my second most memorable art sale was just after I launched my online shop and the first sales started to come in!

‘I take inspiration from artists like Agnes Martin, Louise Bourgeois, Carmen Herrera, women who were creatively productive right into their 90s!’

Finally, what piece of advice would you give to artists starting their career?

My advice to artists just starting out is to take the long view. Don’t expect overnight success and don’t expect to be making your best work right away either. There may be periods in your life when other things do have to take priority; earning a living, raising children, but as long as you can keep going, even just a little, your creative work will always be there for you, like your oldest and most loyal friend. And I take inspiration from artists like Agnes Martin, Louise Bourgeois, Carmen Herrera, women who were creatively productive right into their 90s! Or Phyllida Barlow, whose career only really took off once her five children were grown and she had retired from teaching. Look at her now!