Artist Interview: Samantha French

Samantha French’s paintings capture the feeling of summer so perfectly that looking at them makes me want to go jump in a pool. I love her chosen subjects, swimmers, and her skill in painting is truly impressive. You can check out her work on her website, or swing by her blog for updates on her work!

How did you come to focus on swimmers as a theme for your work?
I’ve been focusing on swimmers for almost nine years along with my other figurative work. I started working with bathers in college and over time, they’ve led to what you see now. Gradually moving from scenes above to the underwater images. I grew up in MN, completely surrounded by lakes and have always been drawn to water in my imagery.

Who would you say has provided the biggest source of encouragement in your life? Why & how do they encourage you?
My parents have always supported and encouraged my decision to got to art school, become a painter and move to NY. I feel extremely lucky as I’m sure that’s not always the case. Even if they had doubts they never showed it. They just came out to NY for my solo exhibition in Manhattan earlier this month which was great.

How did you decide to become a painter?
I’m not even sure how it happened, honestly. I was interested in art classes in high school but never serious about it. I’d always like to make things though, like clothes. I think this was a big thing in the 90’s, there were a lot of homemade bell bottoms in my past, err did I just say that? So having a creative outlet was important to me but I didn’t get into painting until I was in art school. I took all the foundation classes, photo, illustration, graphic design but the one thing that challenged me the most was painting, which made the outcome that much more rewarding. It was pretty much tunnel vision after that and here we are.

What’s your favorite piece to date?
That’s a difficult question. There are elements in every piece that I’m drawn to. I’m very excited about my body of work this year. There are pieces I don’t end up putting out there/exhibiting, the ones that didn’t work or got painted over so you’re only seeing what I believe is my best work.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
I feel like there’s always a new challenge. Once I finally get something figured out inevitably another obstacle comes along but I think that is normal. Being a full time artist is a business. Finding the balance to continually make new and engaging work while managing the “business” side of things with a multitude of tasks can be complicated. There is the financial instability, isolation of working long hours alone in a studio, rejection etc. but I think my biggest challenge has ultimately been the pressure I put on myself to make good work.

What is a typical day in your life like?
It depends on what projects I’m working on. Typically though if I’m getting ready for an exhibition my days look like this: I get up and have coffee/breakfast while I hang out with my two dogs. I’ll usually reply to emails or work on getting prints packed and shipped out in the morning. I’m not a morning person but I try to get my “busy work” done and out of the way at that time, I usually don’t but that’s the goal. My studio is only a mile away from my apartment so I walk there around 11am. I’ll stay there as long as I’m working but usually get home around 5 to take the dogs out and grab dinner with my boyfriend. He’s a painter as well so it works out nicely and he understands the time commitment that goes into being an artist.  After dinner, more coffee and we both get back to our studios for a couple more hours of work. Walk the dogs then off to bed. Wake up, Repeat.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what kind?
Always! It changes with my mood, though I usually listen to mellow music, recently there has been a lot of, Dark Dark Dark, Devandra Banhart, Lana Del Ray, Arcade fire, etc. Anything that I can get lost in.
I  also listen to podcasts, especially if I’m doing a lot of detail work, it helps keep me focused and entertained, Wait wait don’t tell me, Julie Klausner, Radio lab.

Your visual style has evolved over the past few years. Was that a conscious decision, or did it just happen naturally?
It really was a slow, natural progression, however not without it’s struggles along the way. I’ve continued working on this ongoing series/ love affair of bathers since college. Before that, when I was just starting to paint, learning about the medium and techniques and subject, my work was still figurative but the subjects often found themselves in loosely represented interior spaces. I’ve always loved painting the figure and the first “water” piece was a painting from an old photograph of my mother and aunt at the lake when I was a baby. With this element of nostalgia and these beautiful abstracted qualities of green reflections in the water I knew I had found something that deeply resonated with me. My work was slightly more ethereal and less structured than it is now but the progression to underwater swimmers was organic.  Every painting lends something to the next. The more I worked and investigated my subject the more I learned about what I wanted from the next piece and the better my technique became.  I’m still learning every time I go into the studio and try to keep pushing myself further.
Having worked with variations of one subject matter for so long I have to find ways to make it fresh, for me and the viewer.  I’m constantly trying to challenge myself, I always want to make my work better, push it further. If I’m not getting anything out of it that will come through. So the progression just seems to come rather naturally from painting to painting and a majority of my inspiration comes from the work itself, if that makes sense.

This will be my last artist interview on Mint.  Thanks so much to Ellie for giving me the opportunity to guest post on Mint, and thanks to you for reading!

– Alison

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