Influenced by his childhood friends, Sam Eugène’s first contact with art was through graffiti; it was on the wall of his backyard where he experimented with spray paint. At age 15, when some of his friends were imprisoned for illegal graffiti work, Eugène realized he wanted more and started to slowly develop his own style. Soon he was selling canvas works to collectors outside his circles. Some of the influence of that graffiti work can be seen in his most recent exhibition.
I caught up with Eugène at a little street café in central London.
On Style When asked to describe his style, Eugène says that he paints instinctively, that his art is driven by his mood and the emotions conjured while listening to music as he works. Music helps to let the mind wander and achieve harmony, he explains. For Eugène, art is not therapeutic, but rather a way of living. He doesn’t like to paint when he is in a bad mood, though, because then he can’t find beauty.
On Art Criticism Art is a visual dictionary, he says, that resists criticism and literature’s attempts to describe or explicate the outcomes: “You can’t limit art to black and white words—it’s unexplainable. Art is defined by the viewer. One may transfer words into visual media, but you can never limit art in words.” Art is always defined by its observer. Art is not a message, it is aesthetic beauty.
On Finding Inspiration Eugène is inspired by innovative artists who take art to higher levels. “You can’t get bored by your own work,” the young artist declares, which is why he is very keen on developing new ideas. Although he interned at several art studios and galleries, Eugène did not study certain styles to master them, but rather learned how to manage his time as a fulltime artist, pacing himself and setting goals to structure a workflow. As an artist without obligations of clocking in and out at work, it all comes down to self-discipline, he says.
On Two Exhibitions In “First Dream,” his first professional show, he exhibited 13 colorful and subconsciously cohesive abstract paintings. When asked about challenges in putting together a show, Eugène answers confidently that there are no real problems if you know what you are doing and are sure about your work. His internships prepared him well for the task; the only difficulty is in deciding which paintings to hang next to each other to create harmony.
For his second (and latest exhibition), “A Digital Fauve,” the 19-year-old artist blended painting and black and white photography “to create a new reality.” The exhibition consisted of two series: “Free” and “Dreaming on Reality.” The work in the Free set is not painting per se,but rather the digital enhancement of his oils on canvas. The Dreaming on Reality set replaces natural colors like the brown of bark with a mixture of bright, almost fluorescent colors to create a more interesting perspective (or reality) for the viewer.
“Color is a power which directly influences the soul,” said Kandinsky. “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” Eugène starts with black and white photos and then adds colorful slashes to reshape the otherwise realistic portraiture. It is here that the use of digital photo software to add colorful effects meets Fauvism—the preference of bold colors over realistic impressions—meets the digital age.
On Anti-Photography The underlying theme of Eugène’s Digital Fauve exhibition is “anti-photography,” which, as he explains, appears in every piece in the Dreaming on Reality series where the main focus is not on the photographic elements, but rather on paint, colors, and the digital mixing of two mediums. “When reality is not good enough, it is up to me to change it.” The choice to not paint on the photographs, as some of his peers do, was explicit. The objective is to blend paint and photography to create something new.
The powerful combination of his paintings with black and white photos evokes a strong emotional bond between artwork and observer. This viewer was reminded of the portrait series of a young French artist who was asked to take LSD and then draw portraits. As the experiment wore on and the drugs kicked in, her image morphed with wild motions and colors. The viewer experiences her acid trip—her alternate reality—through her pictures. While Eugène acknowledges that these experiments can produce great pieces of art, he is strongly against using substances as an artist, more so when working on digitalization where he needs to be focused to control the process.
On Finding Beauty One of his Free pieces creates the illusion of three dimensionality and movement through its layers of colors. Eugène achieves intensity by digitally blending four of his paintings. The artist kept adding layers, blending more and more, enhancing, fading, blurring, until he reached perfection. Visual sampling allows him to reproduce, repeat, and recreate in the name of pursuing beauty. To create his artwork, he follows one simple maxim: “Don’t stop until you find beauty.” No matter how long it takes, he urges, if you are not fully satisfied, keep going.
On Youth Talking about his success and how lucky he is to be exhibiting and selling at such a young age, Eugène hopes that this is just the beginning. He may be right. Two pieces at the “Digital Fauve” show were immediately sold and he received inquiries on ten other pieces. Eugène admits that as long as he has money to pay for paint he doesn’t mind skipping a meal or two.
On Digitization Eugène refuses to sell some of his paintings due to emotional attachment, which is also why he digitizes some of his work. Digitizing his art doesn’t make it “less real,” he argues. Other artists may reproduce their artwork over and over again on canvas, but Eugène sees that process as a waste of time.
He also views digitization of art as a way to cope with loss. “When losing someone important, you feel the need to control and preserve what you can.”
*Art courtesy of Sam Eugène.