We’ve featured Sam Weber’s work on numerous occasions, so it was good to finally track him down for an interview, asking him first up how immersed he is in the New York art scene.
‘Not as much as I probably should be. It’s definitely a source of guilt in my life. So many great shows and exhibitions find there way here, it’s impossible to see them all. The Chelsea gallery scene is incredible, and is always a great place to get recharged and inspired, although I don’t make it down there nearly as much as I should. It was a lot easier when I was a student. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of great artists, illustrators, and designers. Despite New York’s size, the community actually feels pretty small sometimes. Between large events, and just hanging out with friends and colleagues, I would say I get to stay in touch with the scene pretty well. Getting to meet other creative types is one of my favorite things about the city’.
Would you be doing the same things if you were still living in Calgary?
‘That’s difficult to say. My work really evolved after I moved here. Whether it was due to my change in location, or just practice and time, is hard to say. Most likely a combination of the two. I think New York probably has effected my work in many ways. Although I wouldn’t consider any of my drawings about the city, there are visual elements inherent to the city that I think crop up here and there, especially the surface qualities of the environment and its textures. Being around so many talented people has also helped me along. There’s nothing like seeing great work by other people to get you motivated and excited about making your own work’.
There always seems to be a dark undercurrent to your work. The subjects never seem particularly happy but rather have expressions of either surprise or fear. Why is this is such a prominent feature of your illustration work?
‘People have said that before about my work. I think it has a little to do with the type of stories that interest me, and have always interested me. Fairy Tales, cautionary stories, things meant to scare children. I’ve grown to appreciate those stories even more as I’ve grown older. There is something in those stories, and the exaggerated misery and tragedy, that I respond to, or at least have recently. As far as a tool for convey my own ideas and interests, they serve as wonderful metaphors and jumping off points. There are so many horrible things going on in the world, it’s calming I think to garner a little surprise or sense of unease from a fictitious image. A lot of it could be chalked up to simple escapism I suppose’.
You also like to keep the color palette quite minimal. But there are dramatic clashes happening om the page (the orange and black for instance). What’s your theory on the use of color in your work and in the work of others?
‘Color has never been my strong point, although I enjoy using it, and playing with it very much. Starting to work digitally had a huge effect on my palette. With an essentially infinite choice of colors available, I purposefully limit myself to keep things focused. The computer is a great tool, but has created for me as many artistic problems as it has solved. Something I think a lot of people who work digitally have experienced. With that said, muted colors have always been more interesting to me. A lot of the artists I admire, Casper David Friedrich, Yoshitaka Amano, Andrew Wyeth, Hokusai, all have a great ability to limit their color in a way that I find exciting’.
Is there an album that you generally turn to for creative stimulation?
‘That’s hard to say. I guess I find myself listening to Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate a lot. Especially early in the mornings. Phillip Glass’ Solo Piano is also a regular staple. And Ratatat’.
Between you and [artist wife] Jillian [Tamaki], your house must be full of beautiful artwork. Apart from your own work, what else do you have hanging on the walls?
‘I think as a rule we don’t hang any of our own work up. I spend enough time staring at my own failures at the studio, the last thing I want is to see them when I get home. Although I can’t speak for Jillian, I know I have a very difficult time feeling any affection for my own work once it has been finished. We’re slowly starting to collect work by others, which has been a really rewarding process. Some from friends and people we know, and other stuff we’ve bought. We have a Jack Long painting, a drawing by Gary Panter Jillian got me for Christmas last year, a great print by Aya Kakeda. A piece by Raymond Biesinger, and some paintings by Rick Sealock. Great prints by Jonathan Bean and Tayeun Yoo. I’m sure I’m forgetting something’.