Rich and Poetic Worlds: An interview with Artist Rebecca Sammon
Art — 24.02.21
Words: Madeleine Morlet
I discovered Rebecca Sammon through a friend of mine, Ocki Magill, who is behind South London’s Blue Shop Cottage. I was immediately drawn to the simplicity of her works on paper, Sammon’s unusual and dreamlike approach to colour and this sense of something magical finding life on the page.
Catching up with her early this year, Sammon discussed growing up in Lancashire, that her childhood dreams of flying and becoming an artist were born in the Gothic building of her school where nine-year-olds would spend hour-long art classes drawing shells.
There is an otherworldly quality to Sammon. An artist whose early dreams and escapisms continue to translate themselves within these rich and poetic worlds – a place where figures in unnatural shades might have wings, and we are reminded of an almost forgotten romance that is our relationship to storytelling and nature.
Madeleine Morlet: Rebecca, there is a classical or mythical feeling to much of your work. How do you engage in research, and where do you draw inspiration from?
Rebecca Sammon: Certain things stick with you and I have always had a fascination with mythology. I love the blurred lines of myths with factual origins, that over time become almost entirely fictional. I have always been inspired by the potential to create a story through art and I like the pieces to be open to interpretation. I usually have a trigger point for my research, and quite often it comes from a fascination with a place and the feeling of being there.
What materials do you work with, and what led to you working in this way?
I am working a lot with pencil & oil pastel on paper, I love the immediacy of working with oil pastels and the rather solid flat planes of colour that you can make. It interests me how the pastels interact with pencil marks rather than obscuring them fully and they create an element of blur and interaction with the drawing. I often work into the paper revealing and concealing the lines, there is an element of chance to the work as sometimes things you hoped would work don’t quite gel with the pastels but it’s all part of the process.
Can you talk a bit about your practice and approach?
I start by working on a few sheets of paper at the same time, forming loose sketches and figures, that way you don’t become too attached to the drawings and this helps at the early stage, then as figures start to emerge that make sense to me. I focus in on one piece and add other elements [as I] start to think about the placement of figures. I will fully work up a figure as this sparks the next element of the piece and helps me decide if there should be another figure etc. I’m usually keen to get involved with colour early on, as sometimes the process I use for working the colour can make or break a piece.
How would you describe the relationship you have with colour? Have you been drawn to specific colours at specific times in your life and what colours are inspiring you at this time?
I love unexpected colour combinations and the ways that certain colours can clash in an uneasy way, [and how] other elements in the piece help to bring things together. One of my favourite combinations at the moment is olive green and salmon pink. I also love deep earthy greens, they ground my figures even if the bodies are in unnatural colours. I don’t usually stick to representational colours for the figures in my work, mainly as there are elements of truth in the drawings but the figures are largely from imagination so it makes sense to me that they may have purple bodies and green faces. Sometimes I wish there were more colours to explore. If I’m feeling stuck I work on little books of colour combinations, this usually helps things along. I love the potential that combining unexpected colours can create.
I would love to hear about your most recent exhibition at Blue Shop Cottage, what motivated the pieces, and if there is an over-arching theme to the work?
The show ‘Moon-Shell Sea-Swell’ was a collection of work I created in the Summer of 2020. A lot of the works were triggered by memories of my annual summer visits to family in the village of Renvyle, Connemara on the West Coast of Ireland. The figures and symbols in these works aim to present the mystery and intrigue of a landscape richly layered in the supernatural and mythological. The figures are largely drawn from memory and triggered by stories ingrained in the landscape and my family history there. [They] represent the strength of the matriarchs [from] the land from the Pirate Queen ‘Granuaile’ who has a castle still standing in the village [but also] my Grandmother Katie who lived in the only house on Crump island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. [This blurring] between truth and fiction always enhanced my experience of the place and Connemara felt like the perfect imaginary landscape to escape to during lockdown. Mythology and storytelling feel alive there and are inspiring to read about and immensely visual. For example, the Tuath Dé Danann, a supernatural race in Irish mythology supposedly arrived in black clouds, on the mountains of Connemara bringing darkness over the sun for three days and three nights, are known to find ways to interact with humans and the human world and sound slightly terrifying but also fascinating…
Who are some of the artists you admire?
I always come back to Old Italian renaissance artists, some of my favourites are Piero Della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna, and Paulo Veronese. Pierre Bonnard’s landscapes are endlessly inspiring for me and the way he could truly transport you to a different place with his palette blows me away. I adore the way Rodin captured movement in his watercolour studies, I also love Hilma AF Klint for colour inspiration, she creates such a sense of balance in her pieces and how colours interact in her paintings is close to perfection for me.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on expanding some of my contortionist pieces, I spent a day drawing a contortionist just before lockdown. The poses were fluid and the model moved like a snake from pose to pose. Something about the movement was amazing, [how] a human body can have what seems to be a fluid spine [and this] movement that you don’t expect fascinates me.
Works from Moon-Shell, Sea-Swell are still available at Blue Shop Cottage.