This week’s cover captures something vivid in our memories but hard to capture in paint—the intensity of the light as seen from below the swimming pool’s surface and the refreshing feeling of having just dove in on a hot summer’s day. Artist Samantha French lets us in on what’s behind this painting—her background, inspirations and upcoming projects.
How did you get your start in painting?
I studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and found painting to be the most challenging but essentially the most rewarding. I grew up in a small town and, although I had loved to draw and create things, I never really thought of it as a career. It didn’t seem like there were many opportunities outside of teaching or advertising. Being a full time fine artist wasn’t even on my radar. But once I saw that it could be done I worked really hard to make it my reality.
What’s your creative process like?
I like to spend at least a couple days doing photo shoots and do them periodically through out the year. The light plays a big factor in photo quality, and there is a lot of repetition trying to get shots of moving subjects. I’ve spent a lot of time in freezing pools trying to get the right shots.
I take thousands of photos each time. Once I get back to the studio, I cull through everything, slowly paring images down. But I save them all and typically find things years later that I wasn’t interested in working with at the time. Eventually I get to the point where I’m manipulating the photos and taking aspects from two or three to create the image that will eventually be the painting. And then, they are just a starting point. Even with all the work I go [through] to get the image, I’m okay abandoning it once I start painting on the canvas. The actual painting process is always different. Every piece feels different making it. I’ll go into something thinking I know what I want out of it, but I’m always reacting to what is going on on the canvas.
When did you begin your underwater scenes, and what inspired them?
I’ve always loved painting the figure, and the first water-inspired piece was a painting from an old photograph of my mother and aunt at the lake when I was a baby. This was at least a decade ago, in college. 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 [early] work was slightly more ethereal and less structured than it is now, but the progression to underwater swimmers was organic.
My paintings obviously frequently represent summer, which is usually an escape or getaway for people, or mine at least. A lot of my work for me is trying to shut everything else out, using them to recreate these memories I have of the quiet and tranquil, weightless feelings of being suspended in water or drifting in and out of sleep, sun-drenched and poolside. I grew up in Northern Minnesota surrounded by lakes. We spent nine months of the year dealing with the winter so when the lakes finally thawed and warmed it felt like you had been waiting a lifetime to dive in. I lived in those days, and still do, looking back, remembering being that free.
Having worked with variations of one subject matter for so long I have to find ways to make it fresh. 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
As an artist who does both paintings and prints, do you find that the difference in medium changes the overall feel to the work? Have the prints opened up new doors?
My original work is in price bracket that isn’t always affordable for a lot of people. Making it accessible via prints is important to me for a variety of reasons – and I like building these relationships. So many of my patrons/collectors have reached out to me, and when I hear why they bought a certain piece, it can be really moving. You can’t work in a vacuum. So this connection keeps me in my work and helps me to understand what my paintings are doing.
I do however think viewing a painting vs a print is a completely different experience but I get all my work scanned at high resolution (and do the proofing and printing myself) so the quality is pretty amazing, you can still see the texture of the canvas and the physicality of the brushstrokes.
What new projects are you working on?
I closed a solo exhibition in Minneapolis last month and just sent new work to Rarity Gallery in Mykonos, Greece for their Summer Salon Exhibition running through Sept. I’m taking some time to focus on commissions along with new work in the coming months.
For more on Samantha French, visit samanthafrench.com.