A mutual friend set up a meeting between Sam and I in 2010 as a sort of networking opportunity. We met at Gilhooley’s on Albert Street in a cloud of cigarette smoke, Germans and jugs of beer. I was making comics for Ashcan and she was painting for her next exhibition. I was amazed by her work, and even more amazed that she wanted to be my friend! Over the last three years, I’ve been lucky enough to witness her piece together Die Empty in the back of her mind while she was tending to her canvas creatures. Although we’ve had countless hours of chats, I realised while preparing for this interview, that there are still some really important questions that I have never asked her …
Your work is very detailed and rendered, how long did it take you to paint ‘Alecia and Her Guide’?
Thank you. Alecia took 3-4 months, although it’s always hard to say exactly as I’ve always got a few paintings on the go at the same time.
You’re a self taught artist. How did you teach yourself?Mum gave me my first oil paints and canvasses when I was 13. Up until then I’d been content with pencils and occasionally charcoal or watercolours. Oils gave me a whole new world of colour and depth and I practised using them every which way I could. I remember seeing things differently then – every single scene, from my street to my favourite paintings, I’d translate into the Windsor and Newton colour palette in my head.
Can you recommend any resources to help aspiring artists?
Resources I would recommend would be anything that feels right for you. Try everything and see what makes you want to rush home and paint. You are your best resource – your art is YOU – so question yourself constantly. Do you produce all of your art for the same purpose? If not, how does your intent differ with each piece? Does your art represent you? And know that your answers will evolve with your progression.
I read ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ over and over, and used all my art class homework assignments as a guide to thinking about my own work from different perspectives. I would also read about my favourite artists and how they produced their work, then see if I could mimic their styles. I spend a lot of time agonising over finding my own style. Now I don’t think that’s so much of an issue.
What matters to me is producing a loyal representation of the original idea which means that every painting is executed in a slightly different manner. So I guess I taught myself through trying to understand the root of my inspiration.
Do you have any plans to attend art school?
No, although I won’t rule it out altogether. When the time came for leaving school and going to uni I was over how art was taught in the education system. I went to school in England and A Level Art Class was a shambles. I think that myself and my friend Stephie had the whole curriculum re-written during smoke breaks because the classes had become so uninspiring. Since then I’ve also see a few friends go through art school and have their drive and inspiration for their art die, after seeing them produce amazing pieces. See that change in a person is heartbreaking.
You began materialising the Die Empty movement in 2011. Why has it taken so long to bring to fruition?
The general idea had been knocking about for a fair while, but I was working too much to pay it enough attention. I’d tried 4 or 5 times before to cut down work hours and paint more, yet always ended up going back to work full time with maybe just a few more paintings finished and not much else.
About a year ago I decided to really pick it all apart and define my direction. I was taking a course at the time which was focusing on a few aspects of ‘life purpose’ and it took a fair while to realise what visual expression meant to me, why I do what I do, what makes me happy, and how this could be of service to others. I don’t believe that any of us are made to be useless – what makes us happy touches others too.
Taking all of this new information and structuring it into a project took a while too. As I started talking to other people about my ideas, I met special people at the right time, had some inspirational conversations, and the possibilities kept growing. The obvious challenge was the change in income. You and I have so far funded this out of our own pockets with a few welcome donations from those involved, so it’s kind of a catch 22 – needing the time and the money.
Of course I had planned on being slightly more well prepared but we all know life rarely goes according to plan. It was definitely a challenge hitting those tough spots where everything seems to be mounting up against you, but since we started this I’ve believed in it too much to back down. I’ve never done anything like this before so most of it is a challenge in some respect. I barely knew how to use a computer last year! I reckon wherever there’s something really worth doing there’ll be a challenge or two.
What are your future plans for Die Empty?
The evolution of Die Empty in whatever form that takes. We will stay in line with the original intent which is providing a space for artist’s growth and inspiration, as well as exploring additional means of communication and feedback between the artist and audience. Which specific direction this takes will depend on our feedback collected from each event as well as through our website and social media pages.
Will we see more exhibitions in the future?
There will definitely be future exhibitions, and we’re currently taking submissions for the next exhibition through the applications page on the website. Dates and location are yet to be confirmed. We will keep holding events until we find a permanent studio/gallery space, and when that happens I can guarantee that Die Empty will be like no other gallery you’ve ever been to!
— Would anyone like to donate a community gallery space to Die Empty on a casual or permanent basis? Don’t hesitate to contact Sam —
Tell us about your trip to the states last year. What is the general vibe in the art community over there and how is it different to Australia?
It was only a quick trip (1 week in Seattle, 1 week in Portland), and it was a trip I’d been wanting to take for 7 or 8 years. I don’t know why I chose there specifically. I knew nothing about Portland, it was a really strong gut feeling that I couldn’t ignore even after almost a decade. Seattle was the same deal aside from some appreciation for the music scene. Realising the west coast art scene came about through trying to pigeonhole my own work. I was trying to find an applicable genre for when I was asked to explain my art, and the closest I could find was pop surrealism. Turns out there’s an awful lot of that around the west coast of America.
As much as I love all kinds of art, the most inspirational work I found was in tattoo studios. Not somewhere I was planning on looking, another one of those ‘right people at the right time’ meetings. My two favourite places in Seattle were Roq la Rue gallery and Super Genius Tattoo.
Roq la Rue had the set up of a boutique style gallery, specialising in pop surrealism. It was a treat seeing original Glenn Barr pieces hanging compared to the prints we get here in Oz. Even for those we have to travel to Outre in Melbourne. The staff were super friendly although the feel of the gallery didn’t follow through. There was nowhere to sit, so if you wanted to sit and gaze at your favourite painting you’d have to take a cushion.
Super Genius was super friendly, the friend I was with is a tattoo artist so we were lucky to have smiley Damon show us the studio space. It was warm and welcoming and I think we lost a good few hours in there. A good few of the artists were there either tattooing or painting although I didn’t ask many questions at the time, I felt lucky enough to see the studio space.
Portland had a way different feel, it seemed like people breathed creativity as part of their everyday life. We visited an art street market and Grass Hut comics as well as a few random galleries, but creativity was just in the air over there. It’s hard to explain, I guess it’s like comparing Melbourne to Brisbane. I’d like to go back and actually explore the art community instead of making random visits. Next time!
You’ve been exhibiting since 2007, are there any shows that weren’t successful?
It depends what you define as successful. I’ve had shows with no sales. But always had awesome compliments! Just hanging my work for my first actual opening night was a success for me. Every show gets it seen that little bit more so keep it up as much as possible. My advice would be to try and match up the venue with the pieces you choose to show. Even awesome art can look out of place. I’ve never sold a great many pieces from bars and restaurants but I have picked up commissions.
Many of your paintings are about childhood. Do you hold children in high regard?
I love how kids see the world. I love how they explain their drawings. A lot of my paintings to date have children in because they relate back to feelings, experiences or thought patterns rooted in my childhood. I can see that changing slowly (through the newer paintings).
Do you offer art tutoring? Are you open to charity guest appearances in Brisbane school art departments?
I hadn’t thought of charity guest appearances! Although I am open to them! I understand certain schools offer gallery space for tuition or curating experience, which could be an option for the next exhibit. In the past I have worked voluntarily with children’s art classes but that’s as close as I’ve got to tutoring (with art). As Die Empty progresses I would like to offer discussion groups and workshops.
It’s obvious that you’re going to be producing artwork for the rest of your life, but what kinds of projects do you have in the pipeline, and do you have plans other than Die Empty?
Die Empty is the main one at the moment! I still run my barista training business ‘The Coffee Whisperer’, so between that, DE and finishing the next round of paintings I’m fairly busy. By next round of paintings I mean the 5ish that are half finished. Then there’s another 5-8 individual paintings and a set of 5 which are yet to be started. Not including commissions which are always welcome. Ideally I’d like to have the time and space to make more of my own frames as well, I always planned for each painting to have it’s own unique frame.
Die Empty has really only just begun. I’m prepared to sit with it for some time yet to see where it leads.
In the spirit of Die Empty and ‘arty sharing and caring’, please give a new artist some advice that you wish you had been told before you started your art career.
Be patient. Create for yourself and those around you, not for what you expect to get out of it. You can make a living doing whatever makes you happy. If the outcome isn’t looking great, change your perspective.
You can see all of Sam’s work at her website www.samanthayallope.com as well as journals and sketch diary entries. She is seeking a free space where she can hold exhibitions, workshops and discussions, as well as like-minded artists to contribute to Die Empty. If you want to help, please contact her through her website or Die Empty.