Anxiety and Desire

in conversation Samantha Rosenwald

Samantha Rosenwald’ s works will be shown in ‘Comic Tendencies’
09 October - 19 October 2019

Party of One, 2018, coloured pencil on canvas

Party of One, 2018, coloured pencil on canvas

How did you first get interested in art and begin making works?

I’ve loved art for my whole life. I would collect trash, interesting looking thread, and rocks from the ground and make things out of them. I was always colouring, making little clay sculptures, and attaching human emotion onto inanimate objects. I’ve been making art in some form for as long as I can remember.

Still Life with Lemon, 2019, coloured pencil on canvas

Still Life with Lemon, 2019, coloured pencil on canvas

What attracted you to coloured pencil on canvas?

‘A lot of the time, my work begins with a pun or a phrase that I think of.’

Coloured pencils were my first art tool, as I’m sure is the case for many little kids. I love their soft dreamy finish, their specificity, and the allusion they draw to childhood. After using acrylic paint on canvas for a long time as an adult, I became frustrated with the plasticity and stiffness of it – it dries so fast and so shiny, and I couldn’t get it to cooperate with me. After making a lot of coloured pencil on paper drawings, I realised I could be doing the same thing on canvas. I love coloured pencils, specifically on canvas, because they are associated with craft, while canvas is the epitome of old-master-hood. The dichotomies of crafty and masterly, child and professional, and highbrow and lowbrow rhyme perfectly with my interest in conveying psychological contradictions: anal perfectionism mixed with failure, cartoonish humour tangled up in anxious mania, to name a couple. I also love how small and precise coloured pencils are. So small and precise, that on a large canvas, they convey a manic anal intensity. From far away my canvases look sort of light, dreamy, and surreal, but from up close, you can see the frantic colouring and the labour – the desperate need to make something sophisticated in an innately incapable material.

Self Care, 2018, coloured pencil on canvas

Self Care, 2018, coloured pencil on canvas

How does new work begin? Can you tell us about the process of work?

Beep the Ladybug Messing Everything Up, 2019, coloured pencil on canvas

Beep the Ladybug Messing Everything Up, 2019, coloured pencil on canvas

‘I am interested in current fashion, clothing patterns, internet trends, Renaissance and Baroque symbolism, and cartoons.’

A lot of the time, my work begins with a pun or a phrase that I think of. Or, sometimes they begin with a mental image or compilation of images. If either of these things happens in the middle of the night, I’ll write it down to remember. Then, I’ll draw out the painting on a piece of paper. During this time, I’ll also start preparing the canvas. This part takes a long time, as the surface of the canvas needs to be smooth and as poreless as possible so the coloured pencil can absorb properly into the surface. Once everything is all planned out and the canvas is finished, I start transferring the sketch onto the canvas. If the canvas I’m planning is really big, I’ll project the sketch onto it so I get the composition and proportions right. After all of this is done, I colour it. I usually know what colour everything is going to be, but sometimes I let it fall together as I go. Everything about my painting process is fairly anal and specific, but I think that matches pretty well with the anal nature of everything else I do.

What idea are you currently exploring?

Currently, I’m thinking a lot about insects. And with them, I'm thinking about zaniness and cuteness as aesthetic genres (inspired by Sianne Ngai's theory). Thinking about the emotional labor, masochism, and mania that is associated with zaniness (especially when framed by a feminist lens), and the power-play and aggressive urges that are implicated in cuteness, these small passive creatures, blown up in scale, are all self-portraits of me, allegories of these aesthetic genres I'm interested in, and a consideration of how all of that ties into the dynamics (historically and currently) of the female. Through the depiction of cartoony bugs, I'm trying to paint a cute, funny facade only to let that facade be poked by an underlying layer of darkness and anxiety.

Can you share any fun facts about making art?

Most of the time when I’m working on my paintings, I’m watching The Office and drinking White Claws.

How autobiographical is your work?

Extremely. All of my ideas for my work come straight out of memories, panic attacks, dreams, insecurities, and inside jokes I’ve made with myself. The subject of my paintings range from a pile of fruit to afoot, to a goofy bug, but I’d say over 50 per cent of the time, it’s in some way a self-portrait.

What and whom are you inspired by?

A lot of the time, things that inspire me are things that I wish I could be, or things I wish to mock. I’m therefore interested in current fashion, clothing patterns, internet trends, Renaissance and Baroque symbolism, and cartoons. Other things that inspire me are the female body, Surrealism, networks of established and made-up semiotics, kitsch, things I find cute, objects I see in stores or on the street, and the complexities of the human psyche. I’m also inspired when I look at other artists’ work, such as that of Julia Wachtel, Lisa Yuscavage, John Currin, Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Ben Sanders, Julie Curtis, John Wesley, Brian Calvin, and Louise Bonnet.

Do you have any ritual or habit that feed your creativity?

I don’t have any rituals that help me to feel creative. Usually, things just come to me at random moments and I save them for later. I’d say I have the best ideas when I’m the most anxious, the most tired, or the drunkest.

What is the message that you would like to give with your work?

My work, in a lot of ways, is about how stressful it is to be making the work itself. And beyond that, it’s about stress in general – the anal obsession with being something or doing something great, the anxiety and desire surrounding the myth of female perfection, the physical and emotional labor of the female to accommodate and appease her surroundings, the quiet pain of simply existing, and the dark humor in all of these terrifying things. I’m not sure if I have any one particular message that I’d want my work to evoke, but maybe that everybody sucks, everyone hates themselves somewhere inside, but the pain is nothing without comedy, and comedy is nothing without pain. So if we just have a laugh in the face of crippling anxiety, we can flip this whole thing on its head and enjoy this weird ride together.


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