We recently ran into the works of Samantha Wall, a Korean born, Portland-based fine artist who creates portraits of distress. One of her more recent series, Partially Severed, “uses the female body as a site of struggle between subjective narrative and representations of women in Asian horror cinema.” Like we said, distress. That work was on display at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland earlier this year. Since we love art, and Asian horror, it was a no-brainer to catch up with Samantha and feature her in the Creative Spotlight. Read below for the full interview…
It seems you use your art to explore themes that have grey areas of exploration surrounding it. How do you use your art to dissect conflict from a feminine perspective?
Samantha: The drawings that I think are the most successful are ones that are a little difficult to digest. I enjoy feeling simultaneously attracted and repelled by the work. I think the only way to accomplish this is by confronting those grey areas within myself. For example Shame on Me, a body of work that I completed for my MFA thesis exhibition, require I confront my own relationship with shame. This led me to wonder why I’d cultivated such an intimate relationship with such an uncomfortable feeling. I realized that my Korean upbringing had an important role in this and other facets of my life, though I moved to the United States at an early age and assimilated fairly quickly.
Why do you choose the female body as the foundation for your large-scale drawings? What features of women do you particular gravitate to?
Samantha: I’ve always gravitated toward the female form, partly because it is what I know. I often used myself as a model, even at a young age. Also, I spent a lot of time comparing my body to that of other girls, focusing on the attributes that highlighted my difference. My height, skin tone, hair, weight, length of my legs, I practically dismembered myself. It’s not surprising– young girls are culturally indoctrinated to do just that and learn to be dissatisfied with their bodies.
Indeed, there are a lot of raw emotions in your work. Does this affect your psyche? Do you create better when you are in a state of vulnerability?
Samantha: No, I don’t think it affects my psyche, but is a reflection of it. It require that I allow myself to be open, it’s more about a willingness to share something that usually remains hidden, only experienced by the individual. I suppose there is a kind of vulnerability in that but artists should take risks.
You had an exhibition that explored the representations of women in Asian horror cinema. Is this observation more on the negative side? Do you wish films laid off the emphasis on mythos and long black hair characteristics?
Samantha: Not at all. Any of the negative meanings associated with these representations of women can be subverted, tipping the scales of power relations. The films make the mythos more accessible. Many of my projects are catalyzed by a film, photograph or story, which lead to other more obscure sources. Myth and folklore provide a lens to view social and cultural anxieties, desires and fears. I enjoy discovering what they represented, how they’ve changed, and how I can weave the preexisting structures into my own narratives.
Speaking of which, give us your favorite Asian Horror film of the past few years.
Samantha: Kuroneko, a 1968 Japanese horror film, was the catalyst for several of my recent drawings but thinking about Audition still gives me chills.
How does your Korean ethnicity play into your world and culture living in America and creating art? Does it still have a strong hold over you, as far as influencing you?
Samantha: My ethnicity definitely affects how I position myself in the world which, in turn, informs my work. I grew up knowing I was part Korean, but not really understanding what that meant. That’s something I still struggle with, concurrently being a part of something and excluded. When I was younger, it was much easier for me to try to ignore my ethnicity, basically erase my history. My parents gave me an American name and I lost the ability to speak Korean. Even though I spent much of my life forgetting where I came from while adopting a new identity, I think a part of me remembers life in Korea and that manifests in unexpected ways within my drawings.
If we peeled back the layers on yourself in 2012, what was the one defining moment for you as a person that had the greatest impact of your work? This can be private encounters, or just a small experience that just stemmed off to correlating an extreme emotional state.
Samantha: There wasn’t a defining moment, a lot of great things happened in 2012. The most important was having the opportunity to work in my studio without having to hold another job. It was important for me to play, make bad work, and fail… sometimes miserably. I feel I have a real sense of what it takes to be artist and it’s so much more difficult than I imagined but at the same time I know there’s really nothing else I’d rather be doing.
Next year you’ll be at The Art Gym, which is a university gallery that fosters cultural risk-tasking. Could you tell us a bit about the pieces you are working on, the themes explored, and what people can expect?
Samantha: The title of the show is Laid to Rest. The drawings continue to explore similar themes as some of my previous work but there’s a sense of distillation in this group of drawings. The work is focused on a single figure, presented over and over. She begins to take on a power through this repetition, and the titles of the drawings amplify this sensation. Expect a lot of black hair!
You stated that you shed light on internal struggles that often go unnoticed. What are some other relevant themes that you would like to explore in the future that you haven’t had a chance too illustrate yet?
Samantha: I’m interested in exploring multiraciality through an emotional perspective. These issues have always been a concern within my work and I plan to dig deeper into the subject this summer at The Joan Mitchell Center Artist Residency in New Orleans.
Lastly, any advice for a struggling creative?
Samantha: Make art. Make art when you love it, and it pours out effortlessly but most importantly make art when it’s hard and you’d rather be home on the couch with a glass of red wine watching Kojak.
Want to stay current on all of Samantha’s work? Follow her cookie crumb trail below: