"I seek out the universal from my personal life, to find a sense of the common human experience. It's from that place that my inspiration bursts out. I find it in the stories I listen to and observe from the people I'm close with, the connection that is found in being genuine and vulnerable with each other."
Samuel Hardidge‘s home studio in Melbourne, Australia has a deeply peaceful look and feel, with carefully placed objects bringing a warmth to the space. Samuel’s artworks are intimate and powerful illustrations of emotional concepts that he cares about. I visited Samuel’s studio and spoke with him about the process of creating art and themes of identity and belonging in his artwork.
How long have you been making art?
Being from a very creative family I was always encouraged in my creativity. I drew basically non-stop through my childhood. Though I started taking it more seriously when I was about fourteen when I was discovering some of the potential in artistic expression beyond just making fun pictures. I’ve been pretty hooked on it since.
As a self-taught artist, what has that journey been like?
The journey has been quite a long one. I get a lot of enjoyment out of exploring with different techniques and “puzzle-solving” with various mediums. I picked up Photoshop when I was about thirteen. I refused to look at tutorials because the challenge excited me to think of something in my head and figure out how to do it on my own. I developed quite an innate ability to be able to conceptualise the process itself in my head and then apply it. Which applies to all the mediums I dabble in. That being said, since high school I have studied six months in game design and one year in traditional painting, which were fantastic opportunities to refine my skills and motivation to create. I have an ethos that I’m always a student. I struggle to do two pieces the same way because I’m always wanting to try new things and learn. On top of visual art, I also write a lot of poetry and do contemporary dance. All the arts inform each other for me and help develop my skills.
What process do you use to create most of your work?
From the spark of an idea, I will generally do a tiny sketch of it, no bigger than 10cm x 10cm, and a couple of words basically to just capture the idea. From there I will gather my references. I like to use my own as much as possible. I kind of piece apart the image and study different aspects of it, for example different ways water might splash against a rock or a distorted reflection and I’ll practice drawing these separate aspects. I then proceed to pseudo-construct the image using my references. Next, I choose my limited palette of about six colours. If it’s a digital piece I then create vector shapes around the figures and build the artwork on top. For a traditional piece I will grid up my reference and translate in pencil onto my canvas/paper, then paint. I always prefer to work with a dark base and progressively add light and depth with lots of layers!
Where do you draw inspiration from for your artwork?
I reflect a lot on my experiences and journey. From my subjective reality I try to boil down my stories into their essence, an emotion or a concept. I seek out the universal from my personal life, to find a sense of the common human experience. It’s from that place that my inspiration bursts out. I also find it in the stories I listen to and observe from the people I’m close with, the connection that is found in being genuine and vulnerable with each other.
Can you tell us about your interest in art therapy? What’s the most interesting part about it for you?
I’m currently studying an Advanced Diploma in Transpersonal Art Therapy. I’m interested in Art Therapy because it brings a lot of my passions together. My loves of creativity, nurturing people towards growth and understanding human nature. To me art isn’t primarily about creating good aesthetics but a means of understanding and examining the self and the other. What’s most interesting to me is the space that creating art can provide for people that goes beyond language, articulation, and awareness. It provides an opportunity for someone to encounter themselves, look themselves in the eye, and grow in compassion. I count myself very fortunate to have the chance to facilitate and witness people going through this process, as I also join them in this journey we are all on together.
Could you talk about the themes of identity and belonging in your artwork?
These themes come from a lot of my diving into my own humanity. I think these things are universal questions for everyone, and they are life long endeavors we all face. “Who am I?” “‘Who are my people?” “Where do I belong?” I think we can in part find answers to all of those questions in realising that every other person has them too. In our common humanity all the distinctions we make to separate ourselves from one another falls apart. Ultimately what I seek to achieve with my art is to connect people with each other in seeing the commonalities we all share, from the joys to the suffering. Finding a love for ourselves and each other in our limitations, brokenness, and finitude.
Do you listen to music when you’re in your studio to get your mind flowing?
Almost always. Music is a powerful collaborator and can very much sway the mood and help facilitate my creative process. Depending on the space I’m wanting to create for myself I’ll use different music to get in the mood. I’ve got a particular affinity to modern classical music, there’s something about it that just gets the creative juices flowing. One of my favorite composers being Ludovico Einaudi. I find music with lyrics to be a little too influential considering a lot of my art comes from feeling in the moment.
Do you have a story or narrative in mind for the subjects in your artworks?
I mostly have a story or experience that is informing the artwork I’m making to begin with. But, I like to let go of that as I’m making it and give space for the painting to tell me the stories that lie within it. I feel it gives a lot more space for the painting to grow, not so much constricted by me trying to narrow it into a single story. The artwork takes on a life of its own, like a teenager becoming an adult as they are released into the world, to discover, doubt and question even the things they grew up to know. There’s a degree you have to abandon your own idea of what a painting holds when you show it to others, because it can be so much more than even the creator thinks it can. Every time I look at one of my paintings it offers me a new story.
What’s your favourite part about the making an artwork?
My favorite part about finishing an artwork is sending it out into the world and hearing people’s honest responses. I also kind of hate it because there’s a lot of risk, fear and vulnerability in it. But that’s a part of what makes it so good. The, at times, nakedness of bearing a piece of me out there, and it could be torn to shreds or totally embraced, or worse, ‘meh’. Though for those select few that respond with how my artwork has spoken to them or affected them, that’s the real reason I make art, and that’s what keeps me going.
Do you ever find being an artist lonely, or largely solo work? Do you have a community or network of artists to counter loneliness?
Being highly introverted I kind of revel in the “aloneness” of it. My process is very internal and I need that space to allow the art to boil up from the depths. However, I believe having community and a strong support around you is essential for an artist. Especially given the often solitary nature of it. I’m a part of an organisation of mixed artists and creative leaders who I’ve journeyed with for about five years. As well as a number of very good friends I’ve met along the way, who know me very well. I think it’s imperative to have a group of friends that you can be real and vulnerable with. Where you can shed all that constructed self you’ve created through social media, public and professional identities.
I notice in your studio you have objects and books related to sail ships – are you interested in ships, and if so why?
I have a very strong connection to water and the ocean, it features very heavily in my work. To me the ocean is this great unknown full of mystery. Being a terrible swimmer myself, I’ve found this strange intimacy with the fear of deep water, it’s become a symbol of both knowing myself and finding comfortability in the deep unknown of my life. The idea of sailing on a small ship in the vast abyss of the ocean, you can’t really escape yourself. I guess it’s always fascinated me.
Lastly, I noticed a hair ball on your shelf! Why do you keep your hair in a ball on your shelf?
I met a woman recently who told me she buries her hair in the garden, as an honoring of a part of herself that has died, instead of treating it as trash. I was quite captured by the idea as I’ve been exploring the concept of grieving and accepting death (and the many small deaths in life) for the past year. So, I decided to collect a ball of my hair, as a symbol to face and consider every day. In such a disposable culture, I feel we’ve lost a sense of the sacred, I’ve wondered what it looks like to treat ourselves and each other as sacred.
I’m still pondering on it, perhaps it has some more wisdom to share. For now it’s still sitting on my shelf…