Sam Read is an artist and educator who works across Nottingham and Sheffield. Recent exhibitions include EBC012 at East Bristol Contemporary, When I am You Then I Know Myself at Embassy Edinburgh, and Speaking Spaces at Phoenix and LCB, Leicester. He is an Associate Educator at Fermynwoods Contemporary Art and an Associate Artist at Nottingham Contemporary. Read’s artistic practice encompasses digital technologies, drawing, printmaking and sculpture. His artwork is inspired by graphic design, fantasy media and art history.
Tell us about your practice.
All of what I do begins with drawing, either by hand or on the computer. At the moment this involves sculpture and hybrid printmaking (with traditional and digital technology).
How long have you been practising and how did you come to it?
I graduated 2 ½ years ago in Fine Art from De Montfort University. Before that I finished a module in Illustration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco along with an Art & Design Diploma at City of Bath College. I was a very confident draughtsman before university but was only really interested in technical practices like observational drawing and portraiture. Whilst at DMU I experimented with as many different methods as I could to try and find a voice: live art, video, installation etc. and by the time I left I could only really describe what I did as “interdisciplinary”. Recently I’ve returned to drawing and I recognise now how much it informs the rest of what I do.
After graduating in 2015 I joined Two Queens studios in Leicester as part of the first wave of their Summer School. I kept a studio space after that and gained a lot of experience through participating in critiques and members exhibitions around the UK. The same year I became an intern at Fermynwoods Contemporary Art in Northamptonshire where I still work as an independent curator and educator. The mentorship I received both from Two Queens’ directors and from the staff at Fermynwoods has certainly helped me to mature as an artist.
I’m an educator as well as an artist, I see these as roles which are separate but co-dependent. I’ve always found I produce the best art and have the most fun when I’m learning and I want others to be able to have that same experience. After moving out of Leicester I joined Nottingham Contemporary as an Associate Artist, this role involves a lot of education and outreach, something which I hope will challenge me to keep working innovatively.
Tell us more about maintaining roles as artist and educator. Does an interdisciplinary practice lend itself to this way of working? Has your practice developed through your experience in education?
An interdisciplinary approach helps an awful lot. If you’re adaptable and have a broad mix of interests it’s certainly easier to keep the work fresh and to stay enthusiastic. It was whilst working for Fermynwoods and social enterprise School of Fish I first understood how important it is for arts educators to also be active practitioners. I’m sure I’d still be making art if I wasn’t working in education but yes, teaching others about contemporary art has forced me to develop for the better. Adapting your working method so it can be applied by a group means you must be very self-reflexive. It’s also taught me the importance of language in making art attainable and exciting to non-artists without dumbing down, which does a disservice to both the artist and the viewer.
What prompted your recent return to drawing, and will we see it in your work or does it play a preliminary role?
The main reason for the return is that I was working three part-time jobs and had less time for complex projects so I began doing these 15-minute sketches during breaks and posting them on Instagram. The pressure to keep up a stream of images within these constraints meant that drawing took over but also kept me going through a difficult period.
Secondary to this is that as I became more interested in subjects like folklore and games media I decided drawing and print were the most appropriate tools for exploring this critically.
Certainly it will be evident, I’m happy that drawing is now more present in my work and people are responding well to it. I’m preparing for a solo exhibition in Nottingham which will be my first in which these drawings are really forefront (though they’ll take many forms).
What is the most interesting or inspiring thing you have seen or been to recently, and why?
In terms of shows, I recently saw Constellations, a group exhibition of Chinese contemporary artists. I saw this at the National Museum in Tblisi a couple of months ago, many of the works were in traditional mediums but were produced with digital systems. I loved Zhang Ding’s “Exotic Lands” which at a distance look like maps or traditional Chinese ink paintings but up close you realise they’re very detailed silkscreen prints on gold-plated steel. I loved how it harked back whilst having a slick sci-fi quality. I was also inspired by its material beauty and I’d like to achieve a similar gloss/matt contrast with my UnFlag sculptures.
Completely different from that was the permanent collection at the same museum which contains works by Pirosmani. He painted historical tableaux in a social realist style with muted colours and a heavy black undercoat. The subjects are often banal but the tone is surprisingly gothic and has a threatening imminence due to the rigid postures of the figures who all face outward at the viewer like a child’s drawing.
Which other artists’ work do you admire, and why?
There are lots of bygone artists and writers I’ll return to for fresh ideas. As somebody who had lots of geeky pursuits as a teen I still get a thrill from any work that’s grotesque or sardonic: Hieroynmous Bosch, Francois Rabelais, Francisco Goya, Mervin Peake, James Ensor (and Terry Pratchett!) to name a few.
This is nostalgic obviously but this escapist immersion has always been important to how I gather ideas. I’m aware that recently both fantasy and alt-history have become central in mainstream culture but there’s a legacy which is older than most people realise (older than Frankenstein or even The Water-Babies).
In contrast to all this I’m also drawn to works that feel “designerly” or manufactured, I appreciate artists like Slavs and Tartars not just for their critical understanding of design but also for their shrewd perspectives on history and written language.
There are other artists and artist designers I enjoy who use symbols and type to make works that are appear esoteric or semiological; Eric Timothy Carlson and Ashley Bickerton are two examples. Like myths, symbols are both universal and specific, they belong to everyone and they can influence our understanding of the world without our consent or knowledge.
Where can people see your work?
My solo show “A Wobbling Hive Pointing Skyward” opens at Hutt Collective, Nottingham on Friday 3rd November and runs until 17th.