Isabel Samaras is a devious lady. She entices viewers with cuddly, dookie chain bearing woodland creatures or classical portraits of pop culture monsters. One might chuckle at the immediate irony presented, but upon deeper contemplation, Isabel poses heavy questions. Why is Goldylocks in the woods and not with her wealthy prince? How is it possible that Frankenstein and his bride are living happily ever after?
The satire penetrates to the bone, dissecting American folklore and Disney traditions to address their unforgivable flaws. This witty artist knows what a spoonful of sugar can do, and we are eating it up. Isabel expands on monsterized art dealers, the varnish high, and the insidious side of Bambi. –Shooting Gallery staff
Shooting Gallery: How do you “use yourself” as a model?
Isabel Samaras: I buy myself dinner, get myself drunk and have my way with myself. Then I usually put on a costume as close to what I’m trying to paint as possible (sometimes this involves renting things like big red capes, etc) and cajole Marcos into taking some snaps with my big honking camera: that classic “It’ll only take a minute!” that turns into an hour.
That porcupine costume was *really* hot and uncomfortable.
Beyond the lovely musings of your blog, do you write much?
When I’m not painting like mad I actually write a lot. I used to publish a lot of fiction on the web under an assortment of pseudonyms.
Writing is definitely my guilty pleasure, and what I would do more of if I were for some reason unable to paint.
What’s so great about chocolate?
It’s sexy, it smells great and tastes yummy. As an added bonus, it’s full of flavonoids and antioxidants: how many bad habits are actually good for you? And did I mention it tastes good?
(I was going to try to make some kind of connection between artists who used to enjoy absinthe and say the Green Fairy was their muse, but it just doesn’t sound as good to say I’m inspired by the Brown Fairy.)
Are there any “crutches” or “gimmicks” in your recent work?
If there are I haven’t found them yet. I do try to knock those out when I realize I’m doing them: I’m way more interested in growing and changing as an artist than just treading water. I feel myself getting more seduced by the actual paint and it’s movement on the wood, being less constrained by visual “facts.” We’ll see where that goes.
If little girls knew there was an option to “stay in the woodz,” would Disney go out of business?
They don’t need to go out of business; they just need to stop trying to control us. They hire educators and researchers to try to figure out how to create “emotional hooks” in children. I love Bambi but the stuff they’re doing right now is really insidious.
Entertaining kids is fine; trying to commodify them by using child psychologists to turn them into brand-stamped consumers is totally evil.
How did Squirrel hustle Run DMC’s dookie?
He’s a playa.
What’s coming out of that ghetto blaster?
I was thinking about Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” and “Joy and Pain.”
Why is On Tender Hooks the most fabulous of fabulous?
Oh man how can I answer that without sounding like a total fat-head? I shelled out big fees to museums for the right to reproduce some classic old master paintings because I wanted to be able to talk about where some of these images came from, their history, and why I chose them.
There’s even a cool lift-the-flap “dissection” of a painting, where you can see the sketch, the under painting, and the finished piece. I really wanted to show all the things I always wondered about other artists: what does their studio look like? Where do they throw their brushes? What’s it all about?
Is it hard to continually evolve as an artist and still cater to the audience’s expectations?
I sort of gave up on catering to expectations; I think that’s really dangerous. I could probably keep painting naked Catwoman and just laugh all the way to the bank but it’s not where my head is at right now.
I would hope that my audience would come along for the ride but if they don’t, maybe it opens the door to people who couldn’t respond to the previous work (poor Luddites raised without TVs, etc).
Do you get a feeling of closure by rewriting fairy tales into “happier endings”?
Oh absolutely, though it never really ends. I did the whole Red Riding Hood thing as a love story, but sometimes I think I’d like to paint her as an avenging spirit of the forest, a total badass wearing wolf-fur and packing heat. (A very different kind of happy ending.)
Favorite SF hangout?
Valencia Street. Belgian frites and mussels at Frjtz, sneak over to Tartine on Guerrero for some sweet treats, hit the pirate supply store at 826 Valencia for a glass eye, grab some cool animal bones at Paxton Gate, it’s just endless. Stay long enough and you’re ready to eat again. Head over to Mission Street and grab a taco at La Taqueria. Then it’s almost time for drinks…
What is so satisfying about painting drapery?
So much of what I do is about tiny little brush movements, itty-bitty things that are very controlled. Fabric is more about free-play, letting things blend and curve and sway and fold together. It’s the cut-loose-and-have-fun part.
In a lot of these forest pieces I treated the redwood trees like the fabric; I wanted them to be luxurious and almost liquid, soft, not craggy and snaggly. They are the velvet curtains in these paintings.
Most inspiring contemporary artists?
I have to say the Todd Schorr piece at that big show in Laguna Beach totally blew me away. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. And I loved the Olafur Eliasson show at SFMOMA, and Mike Mignola’s comic art always pleases.
What’s your apartment like?
It’s kind of like a house. There’s a modest little house up front, kind of “60s meets mid-century mix-up” with a big tree branch nailed to a plank of wood on the bar counter that gets decorated all year round (right now it’s full or origami monsters and little rubber creatures). Lotsa orange (my favorite color).
Behind the house there’s a big studio that’s just a total jumble of stuff: rubber heart in a jar, a couple of skulls, some monkey teeth, old Batman and Catwoman collectibles, you know, the usual.
What’s next on the map for Isabel vacations?
I’m heading to a houseboat as soon as the show is over to decompress for a few days (and detox from all this damn varnish!). But I really want to go to Spain. And Hawaii. And back to Italy. Over to Iceland. Down to Austin. Up to Portland. Heck, throw a dart in a map, I’m there.