Jack Samels

Jack Samels

Jack Samels' wonderful series collages entitled Vessels came about from a desire not to overthink the process and instead just do. I love the colors and undulating shapes that both interrupt and carry on patterns around each surface. So happy to share this wonderful interview below, as well as some examples of his work, more of which can be found at the links at the bottom!

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I'd love to know more about you! You're currently based in Amsterdam -- are you from there originally? What first interested you in making art?

I mostly grew up in small town Massachusetts after moving around the states a bit with my family. I found myself moving to Amsterdam this time last year after my girlfriend got a job here. I think I have always made art, or rather always just made. My parents are very creative in their own ways and that no doubt spilled into my brain. My mother made paper, is a bookbinder and weaver and we were always doing crafts at home for fun. She instilled an appreciation for materials and the construction of things at a young age.

What has your art education been like?

I went to school for liberal arts at Beloit College in Wisconsin. I took mostly classes in science and the humanities and had wonderful professors in the arts. Living in New York for four years after college, I worked as a sculptor and studio manager for two brilliant artists. I also was a carpenter at times doing mindless repetitive tasks for days. I saw the struggles of being a working artist, the joy, the freedom. I considered it my own self-taught degree in the “art world” which is a complex matrix of unbelievable beauty and utter chaos.

Your work is collage-based primarily, and you also have a background in design. How does your practice as a designer influence what you do for your personal work?

Graphic design is about communicating information. Designers hone their craft through replication, repetition and not being afraid of anonymity. I have no idea what art is about, maybe just a desire to communicate with yourself and potentially others. I think that being a designer/art director as a career path has helped lay a solid foundation of order to my creativity that I am happy to completely destroy every time I step into my studio.

Your current series, Vessels, addresses materials and textures that you encounter as a maker: wood, stone, metal, clay, and so on. Can you tell me about the series?

The Vessels series have been the first thing I have ever made that I didn’t sort of hate or distrust. I don’t know why, but I let myself just “do.” I didn’t think about reasoning or why or for who. I just told myself to shut up, and I started cutting and layering. I was drawn to the color brown, the color of the earth, of dirt and wood and rope and rock and skin. And white, for stone and sand and dust and then colors from cloth. Pictures of rope, metal, oil and paint. I use to touch these things, cut them smell them connect and arrange them physically while sweating and standing. Helped by huge saw blades and suddenly surrounded by the sound of the radio in my truck on an empty road early morning. I guess a bit of memory and material nostalgia compelled me to cut and layer 2D representations of these things torn from a magazine in a way I couldn’t before while fixing someone's porch stairs and wishing I was an artist. Some kind of closure.

Where do you typically look for source material for use in your collages?

I go to an amazing magazine store, Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum, and buy brand new copies of my favorite magazines. They are not in my budget and I don’t care. They have incredible art direction and photography and tend to focus on craft and products. I owe a lot to the amazing photographers and stylists who create my source material, and my next phase in my practice to take all my own photographs to secure the final step of creative ownership in my mind.

What is your workspace or studio like? (feel free to send an image!)

I use to have a few studios in New York, but they were overpriced and I ended up going there after work and obsessively cleaning them while not making any work. It was really frustrating. I just got a studio space in Amsterdam! It is in an old outdoor sporting store. I had a connection to the guy who runs it and he let me join the group of people who work there. I love it and consider myself lucky to have gotten in. I go there on weekends and it is never enough! The rent is extremely cheap otherwise I would still be on my kitchen table with my papers spilling everywhere and my cats knocking over my coffee cups.

What is your go-to when you find yourself in a creative rut?

I stop what I am doing. I don’t fight it. I take the punch right in the face and sit down. I am not in control and if I try to beat myself up, I lose twice. Weeks can go by and I try to stay calm about it. It’s hard. I get anxiety. I doubt myself. I feel like a massive fake. But it eventually disappears and the world starts to sing. Other than that I think exploring new places on a walk or a bike ride is nice. Reading, watching good films and getting exercise certainly help.

Is there a piece of advice that you find yourself always returning to? Is there any advice you've been given that you're glad you decided not to take?

This is such a great question. My friend Breeze (dude is magic) always used to tell me "Rise Above." It's his mantra. I love that idea. Making it a daily goal to ascend above negativity and not feed into unproductive or unloving people/ things. Being real and cutting through the noise of complacency and fakery. I don't really believe in the idea of trusting your instincts. Some of the best things in my life happened when I did exactly what I normally wouldn't do. 

What do you find most challenging about pursuing a creative career?

I think there is always a sort of guilt attached to art making, especially in America, equally in myself. Art making sounds selfish and privileged. Many artists are. The truth is that society needs artists. Makers and storytellers and souls who are especially sensitive to the world and all they can do is try to reflect on the moments of wonder that make up humanity and try to share it with others. To connect us. What is confusing is that with the democratization of digital artistic tools anyone can make and share but we lack a cultural space to collectively talk about art. Instead, it is about entertainment. For me, it's easy to get crushed under the weight of what has been made before and question the point of personally contributing to the world with your own art.

What is the most rewarding aspect?

Being able to talk about colors and shapes and ideas at work is very rewarding. Being creative within boundaries as a designer is interesting and I am grateful for it. I want to work on and show my fine art more and more. Having one person react and feel something even if they can't explain it is extremely rewarding. It is a form of validation that obviously makes me (my ego) feel good but also lets me communicate with people in ways I can't in words. 

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or current projects you're developing?

I am working with a 3D animator to turn some of my collages into a virtual reality experience. I am also working on a film for a musical performance for a composer friend as well as a general body of work. I want to take all of my own photographs for collage in the new year. Also start making sculptures. There is a lot of work to do!

Anything else you would like to add?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to answer these questions. Your love for the subjects and your interest in the humanity behind the artmaking is apparent. I really love the interviews on your site and look forward to staying in touch.

Find more at jsamels.com and on Instagram @jsamels!

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Catherine Haggarty

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Mevlana Lipp

Mevlana Lipp