Samantha French: An Exclusive Interview with A.I.M.O.
Your underwater painting is so intriguing to me. You capture the moment in time as if it were frozen. What drew you to your current subject matter?
I’ve always loved painting the figure, and the first water “themed” piece was a painting from an old photograph of my mother and aunt at the lake when I was a baby. This was my second or third year 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. I had been doing a lot of plein aire work at marinas and lakes painting sailboats and open water so the figurative element felt really good when it happened. My early work was slightly more ethereal and less structured than it is now, but the progression to underwater swimmers was organic. I was using a lot of found imagery, vintage bathers, old family photos, imagination mixed with studio shots. Every painting lends something to the next and the more I worked, the more I learned about what I wanted from the next piece and the better my technique became. I just try to keep pushing myself further. It was a natural progression to the pool after moving to NY nine years ago and needing the control of my own photography. I started taking photos of people swimming from above. I bought an underwater case for my camera not long after, really transforming the work into what you see today.
Since I've been working on this extended series it has become a lot more about escape and taking a moment of time, slowing everything down and capturing the feeling of being in the water. While still relishing in the act of painting, mark-making and being immersed in the intricacies of the abstracted water and light-play on the figures.
Do you first photograph the models that you paint? Are you in a scuba suit?! Please explain the process.
The photographs are a huge part of my process. I like to spend at least a couple days doing photo shoots and do them periodically throughout the year depending on where I am and what I'm working on. My partner Aaron helps with the photos quite a bit- when I started doing this, he and I were generally my only models. By now he knows exactly what I want and we work well together. We’ve spent a lot of time in freezing pools trying to get the right shots. Once I go through the first day’s photos I know what I need to get the next day. But since it’s dependent on a lot of factors I can’t control (sunlight, water clarity, etc.) I take thousands. 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 and composition that will eventually be the painting. And then, they are just a starting point.
What are your mediums of choice? Any that intimidate you that you would like to try?
I mainly work in oil on canvas, with most of my studies/small works are goauche on paper. I've been really focused on mastering oils but I'll dabble with acrylics or even ceramics for the release of doing something without expectations of the outcome, which can actually lead to some interesting breakthroughs.
Have you collaborated with other artists before? Is there a certain artist who you'd like to work with?
I haven't but I've thought about it. My work is really solitary and I would definitely have to change my approach were I to collaborate. I have been talking with my partner, Aaron Hauck (www.ahauck.com) who is also a painter about starting a few things together so we'll see if that comes to fruition anytime soon.
Where are you showing now and what is next for you?
I just got done with a couple larger shows so I am working on new pieces and taking time to focus on some commissions. I have a few shows in the works for the future but it is a bit too early to discuss.
If our readers want to learn more about both you and your work- where can they go?
My website, www.samanthafrench.com - that also links to all my social media where I share a lot of in-progress and new work. instagram @samantha_french and facebook @samanthafrenchart1