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Art & Life with Sammy Jean Wilson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sammy Jean Wilson

Sammy, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
Born in between two worlds is the easiest way to start any story that ends with a sense of completion. The two coming together to teach us such as lesson that can only you be learned through the differences between the two. I guess that is where we start.

My father often told me that I was a princess and that I could do anything a man can do. He was quite the feminist and I took what he said quite literally. We spent most of our time together hunting and fishing our way through the great American outdoors. All while playing countless hours of music and movie trivia in the front seat of a pickup truck, over the jarring flack of talk show radio hacks.

Growing up in the country presented a plethora of materials and subjects to approach. I once thought I had a small foray into a career of painting wildlife and landscapes when I was 10 years old. Which is when I started painting with oils. As a child I often spent most of my time in the wilderness, in Wisconsin, contemplating whether this was all there is; carving bears from fallen trees and depicting goats as people. I guess that this theme did carry into my current career as an illustrator as I do spend a lot of my time anthropomorphizing animals. Giving them all a sense of authenticity that can only be learned by these observations from my past.

My mother often told me that I was such a good girl and that I can be anything that I wanted to be, that my kindness would take me places. She was quite a career woman and I took what she said to heart. We would often spend the summer visiting our family in central Detroit. They are the inspiration for the way I look at my black brothers and sisters with such reverence. Particularly how I choose to immortalize them in ink and paint.

Here is me, the city mouse, spending most its time clipping articles form dated Playboy and Vogue magazines on their front stoop. Watching people pass me by with a blind perseverance. Going to the ballet and craving the obedience that the crowd places on the dancers. Walking through the cavernous tunnels of the underground wondering: will they ever end? I found the ending, I think that it was at the corner of State and Madison. This is where I spent the majority of my 20’s as an undergraduate and also at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

These two scenes both represent the two halves of myself. Growing up in a mixed race and extended family household I often had the two senses cooperating in full effect on a stage that I built for my mind. Now I operate on a plain that is unparalleled by any other. I make sense of the world through the eyes of the people I have loved.

Through the lives, I have encountered. Through the many experiences, I have had. I eventually went on to make, yes, a choice. I chose the city. The city has presented all sorts of challenges, flights of fancy and careers. I have not been wasted on any of them. My love for the glitz and the grime of the street transformed into my love of fashion. I created volumes of print material for fashion archives.

That ultimately lead to styling and helping models spin fabric on catwalks. I fluidly fed 100’s of people at the same time as private dining hall chef. Then I came to construct monstrous buffets of international delights as a culinary student out of necessity. I have organized lives down to their finest details, reaching beyond what is even seen by the microscope. This has landed me where I now currently reside; the ultimate artist assistant.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
Recreational vehicles, rare white wines and racing hemlines. The only way that I can represent all these facets to my life is who I am now. I have resided in San Diego for 8 years but only in the past 3 years that I have been present on the radar. Installation artist, Robert Andrade (San Diego, CA), who I have assisted for the past 8 years, has really put me in such high regards in his career. That has allowed me to be able to approach any projects with an ease that Is not seen in my field. My skills as an artist assistant were definitely taken under wing by the fiber artist Don Porcella (Tucson, AZ). We have worked together on many projects including Intergalactic Dreaming for the San Diego International Airport and window installations for the high-end luxury brand Hermés.

Through his generosity and mentorship, He has taken me to another level of the assistantship. I am not only his assistant but his friend, confidant and silent collaborator. I currently work with Don as his remote studio manager and for installation/fiber artist Dani Dodge (Los Angeles, CA). Dani is a very special case to me because I am not only her assistant I am also her teacher. We are navigating the world of sewing and making an absolutely stunning end to it all. As you can see most of my current artistic status does reside with the work of other people.

Playing on the duality of my introduction there are many avenues that I follow to express my viewpoints through art.

The bulk of my work primarily focuses on portraiture, the human form, body consciousness and image. Creating “life-size” renderings using optical effects my paintings and drawings to convey a sense of the “unknown”, I question the realm of the unseen and what we choose to observe. There are patterns of internal organs that are conveyed on the outside of the figures that I draw that also appear in other facets of my work, particularly my sculptures. I sometimes sculpt with “unconventional” media, that being said, some of my work uses the flesh of animals to convey ideas and tell stories.

The animal-based materials are used in their very rawest forms. They are not preserved making the work very time sensitive and performative. There are some occasions where I make molds of animals or their body parts and they are used as the sculpture very plainly presented on plates. My culinary and “backwoods” lifestyles are clearly represented within this body of work.

Alternatively, I also create very small, minimal and unpretentious portraits of musicians, actors and prominent public figures. Most of the subjects I choose are African or African American. If I were to approach this very simply, I would say it is because of my struggle to identify as African American as a mixed race individual. This portion of my work has always been very delicate to talk about and I have very scarcely been able to put the correct flight of words to deliver to people ears and eyes. I think that many people have had this underlying question about their identity, the question: Who am I anyway? I periodically think that the people that I emblemize in these drawings represent different parts of me, my soul or personality.

As a rural community native, I have a profound respect for nature. This leads a portion of my work to explore the shamanistic quality of animals and alternate landscapes. I often canonize animals as symbols of humanity by using representations of their body to obscure our own. There are other instances when I choose to focus on the anthropomorphizing of animals in the illustrative work that I do for children’s publications. There is sheer joy in simplifying things and bringing it back to a sense of playfulness which I enjoy in certain parts of my work. If anything there are times when I would like people to look back at me and think of a perpetual child with a never-ending sense of wonder.

Do you have any advice for other artists? Any lessons you wished you learned earlier?
I have to say as an artist assistant. Finding time to make your own work. Best advice: Find the job that makes everything possible. What do I mean by that? Find the job that provides you with what you need to create. For instance, in my current state, I help people create. I help them make their dreams come true (there is, of course, a great deal of self-fulfillment that comes from that). I understand that that does not pay the rent, but it does come with a certain amount of respect that is priceless. That, in turn, gives me the credibility and the drive to make my own work and on my own time.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
Since we live in an age where the internet is our art gallery, I have been temporarily confined to outlets that we are all familiar with: Instagram, Facebook and my website.

That has not stripped me of a presence though; I take commissions through these outlets almost exclusively. Also, since my works also revolve ultimately around the people I serve. You can see my hand or contribution of ideas in the work of many other artists. The best way to be supported is by speaking out as artists and showing that there are many hands that go into making art.

Art is no longer a solitary mission to be carried out in the winces of ones sighs in a mildly lit romantic studio. It is the factory. It takes a team to construct not only yet finished product but the ideas that make art possible. We are not alone.

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Image Credit:
Addison Stonestreet

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