Thursday, January 30, 2014

National Art Exhibition -- Juror Carl Samson

After months of work and anticipation, the Ninth Biennial National Art Exhibition at the Visual Arts Center is upon us.  One of my most fun jobs as co-chair has been coordinating with Carl Samson, the juror for the show.  He is not only an incredibly talented artist, but a really nice guy.  I had a great time interviewing him for an article for Florida Weekly and learning about his work.   A version of the article (which ran in the January 23 edition) is set out below.  


Artist Carl Samson
Renowned Artist to Judge National Art Exhibition 
By Nanette Crist, Florida Weekly Correspondent

In the life of every artist, there comes that moment when the world of art reaches out and takes hold. For Carl Samson, that moment came when he was a 14 year old wandering down a street in Sandusky, Ohio. The young Mr. Samson glanced over his shoulder and was captivated by two paintings in a gallery window. He still remembers their subject matter vividly:  a ballerina and a bearded young man.  

At the time, Mr. Samson was a budding, but untrained, artist. He went into the gallery to find out more about the paintings, which he thought must have been painted by a long dead master. He was astonished to learn not only that the artist was alive and well, but that he lived in the community and was accepting students. In that moment, Mr. Samson began his journey as a professional artist. And it was that moment that, nearly 30 years later, brings Mr. Samson to the Visual Arts Center in Punta Gorda to judge the Ninth Biennial National Art Exhibition.  

Artistic connection

The artist whose work caught Mr. Samson’s attention was Allan Banks, an internationally known painter of plein air portraits, landscapes, and gardens. Mr. Banks was the juror in the 2013 National Faces and Figures show at the Visual Arts Center.  When asked for suggestions for jurors for future shows, Mr. Samson was at the top of his list.

Samson's Padme Amidala
The committee responsible for mounting the National Art Exhibition began to research Samson, and was immediately enthused by the results.  Ingrid Carroll, co-chair of the show, says, “Mr. Samson’s work is exciting and invites the viewer to engage. And his credentials are impeccable.” He has won both the Grand Prize and the Distinguished Achievement Award at the National Portrait Competition. He is the former Chairman of the Advisory Board to the American Society of Portrait Artists. His painting of Natalie Portman as Padme Amidala is featured in George Lucas’ book “Star Wars Art:  Vision” and hangs in Mr. Lucas’ personal collection. The list goes on and on. The question was whether Mr. Samson could be persuaded to judge the show.  

In one of those small world coincidences, Mr. Samson and his family, who live in Ohio, have spent time in Charlotte County. His in-laws used to own a place here, and he has fond memories of family vacations  with his now 16-year old twin daughters. Even without the nostalgia, spending a few days in Florida in February didn’t sound like hardship duty to him.  

Samson's The Collector
Artist in action

Mr. Samson isn’t going to have much time during his visit to kick back at the Tiki Bar, though.  In addition to selecting the winners of the show, Mr. Samson will speak with the VAC volunteers who will greet the more than 2000 visitors to the exhibit during its five week run. He will also give a three hour demonstration on his approach to portrait painting. The event will be held at Edison College in Punta Gorda from 1-4  on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

This will not be the first time that Mr. Samson has given a public demonstration of his craft.  In 2000, Mr. Samson was the first artist in history to be recorded painting a live portrait demonstration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (This honor was bestowed upon him as the Distinguished Guest of Honor of the American Society of Portrait Artists.)   

Mr. Samson tells a funny—if nerve wracking-- story about this experience. He had been instructed that he would be given two hours for the demonstration. This was a full hour short of the time typically allotted for his demos. So, in the months leading up to the event, Mr. Samson assiduously practiced painting head studies with this timeframe in mind. Once the demo was underway, he looked up and saw a guy offstage holding a sign that said, “10 minutes to go.” Mr. Samson looked at his watch, and a mere 47 minutes had elapsed since the demo stated. Unbeknownst to him, the time had been halved to a short hour.  His paintbrush was a blur as he finished his work.  

Mr. Samson’s takeaway from this experience was that the purpose of a demonstration is to provide as much information to the viewers as possible rather than to end up with a highly polished work. He says, with a bit of irony, “Audience members don’t have to worry that the demo will be like watching paint dry. I definitely err on the side of talking too much during these sessions. It’s a fantastic opportunity for artists to open the door to what goes on in the head of a portrait artist at work.”

Samson's Triumph of Truth
Art in an age of technology

Mr. Samson says that he has always been “attracted to the beauty and poetry of visual phenomena.” As a student, he would sketch the head of the kid sitting in front of him in class rather than draw pictures from his imagination. As a young adult, he spent three weeks painting in Monet’s gardens in Giverny, France. (He received special permission to paint at times when the gardens were closed to the public.) As a mature artist, he continues to be unapologetically realistic in his approach to painting despite the pressure he has often felt to work in a more “modern” way.   

This tension between realism and post-modernism led him to undertake a series of paintings entitled “Battle at the Twilight of Painting.” The works are portraits at their base, but the subjects are surrounded by the work of Picasso and other modern masters.   

Samson's At the Mirror
Mr. Samson considers these works a personification of his struggle to stay true to his love of painting what he sees in the real world. He believes that visual art based on the beauty of real people and real surroundings is more important than ever in a world in which rampant technology makes it easy to disconnect from what’s around us.  As they say, sometimes you need to stop and smell the roses.  

National Art Exhibition

With his mindset, one might wonder how Mr. Samson can judge an exhibition with works in styles ranging from abstract to impressionistic to realistic. His statement to artists participating in the show said, in part, “I subscribe to the increasingly antiquated notion that a juror for an exhibition need not factor into the decision one’s personal likes and dislikes. Turn of the century jurors had it right:  what is of utmost importance is how well an individual artist achieved his or her objective.”   

Mr. Samson was impressed when he viewed the more than 450 works that were submitted to the show. He was surprised at the depth and breadth of styles and approaches taken by the artists.  Works in all types of media were submitted, from watercolor to collage to colored pencil. From these works, Mr. Samson has selected 130 to include in the exhibit. This process was done online, and he is eager to see the works that he has chosen “in person.”  

And the winner is…

The winners of the show will be announced at a champagne reception at 7.p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6, at the VAC. The prizes include a $2,000 award for the work selected by Mr. Samson as “Best of Show.”

Visitors will have their own chance to vote for the work they believe deserves recognition. In the history of the National Art Exhibition, the same work has never won both Best of Show and the aptly named People’s Choice Award.   

The Visual Arts Center is well-known as a destination in Southwest Florida for artists and art lovers alike. The National Art Exhibition is just one more example of why the VAC’s reputation is well-deserved.

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