Doing art is a job that society should come to terms with as artist Samantha Redfern explains in this interview. For the Singapore-based creative, every job has a purpose and dabbling in the artistic realm has its merits too. And that is to conjure up emotions that have since been bottled up — especially so in the Asian culture where revealing feelings is frowned upon. Redferns seeks to incite these dormant sentiments through her artworks. To her, if the world is void of artists, it would become a “categorically boring society”.
Ahead is an interview with the burgeoning artist, where she shares with us through her creative process and… her favourite museums in Singapore.
You were born in the UK where you studied (BA Hons in Fine Art ) and for family reasons you are now based in Singapore. Tell us about your background and where your creative journey began?
My father is an artist so I was always surrounded by art books and artworks when I was a child. The schools I went to, even from an early age, really encouraged creative expression and my parents also encouraged me to be creative. My parents never plotted a course for my career or put pressure on me. Instead, they told me to study and work for what I wanted.
At school, my biggest loves were Art, English and Science. I originally planned to study Art, English and Biology at A-Level but the Art and English courses clashed on the timetable so I enrolled in college and took double Art and English Literature.
It was fantastic. My art teacher encouraged us to try new things and be creative. Her attitude was, “what happens if we stick something on it here?” Such a full-on course meant I could go straight into my Fine Arts degree as I had accumulated such a body of work.
After my degree, I took a hiatus from art. Not because I wanted to but I chose a stressful, long hours sales role for my career and then I started a family. It was only upon moving to Singapore that I really had the chance to ignite my passion for art once more. And really started connecting back to that part of me.
Your colour palette composed of vivid yellow, pink, blue, red and green hues. What role does colour play in your work?
I use colour depending on my mood. When I was slightly unsure and uncertain or even frustrated, I liked to paint dark moody seascapes. Then inspired by all the vibrant beautiful botanics of Singapore, I started re-familiarising myself with the paint medium and colours by painting what I saw around me — the tropical plants and birds. Nature knows colour. Green is one of the colours of life. Yellow, the sun which nourishes us and radiates positivity. Blue is calm and serene, red is passion and pink just makes me smile. I love that really vibrant pink. It’s so energising.
Many of your recent artworks have featured city landscapes. Where do you find inspiration for your work?
When I studied in Bath, in the UK, I actually started painting cityscapes then but they were more traditional. I actually wasn’t an abstract artist when I was doing my degree. I painted more impressionist pieces and that was definitely my style up until recently. With practice and confidence, my style has evolved into more and more abstract. This wasn’t intentional but now I am addicted and this is the path I want to continue on. I was the small-town girl that didn’t live in a big city. So when we moved to Singapore it was completely different to what I was used to. Or to anywhere I’d ever been. I love to walk and explore so I would often go strolling through the city day and night and immerse myself in the sights. The city lights, the tall buildings all surrounded by tropical plants and greenery. I found it so inspiring that I wanted to put it onto canvas.
You also greatly enjoy Singapore’s tropical plants, flowers and lush nature. How important are nature and the outdoor in your daily life?
I find nature rejuvenating. I am an anxious person by nature and by getting out walking, noticing and getting into a different headspace through taking photographs, observing lizards, squirrels, fish it gives me that headspace and that focus and clarity. I try and walk regularly for my physical well-being and mental well-being. For me, walking coupled with painting really helps my anxiety and my mental wellness.
What emotions do you hope the viewers experience when looking at your art?
For me when someone looks at my artwork they tell me it makes them feel happy. Happiness and joy are emotions we seek as human beings and if we don’t feel those things we really feel the emptiness. They are strong emotions. Important emotions. I feel powerful when someone says something like I have made them feel happy. I have had people saying the painting reminds them of someone important in their life. I sold a cityscape painting and the collector said the piece made her so happy — the artwork is full of life and embodied the spirit of her recently lost father. That has real strength of emotion and that will stay with me. A wedding gift, a new home, a leaving gift, a memorial these are all stages in people’s lives I am now linked to. We have collided and connected through art and I find it amazing.
What is the role the artist plays in the society?
Artists aren’t always seen as the most important people in society or the ones that contribute the most. There is a romantic idea that artist should struggle, be misunderstood and only make money after they die. However, art contributes to the history, culture, tourism and well-being of the people. How many people flock to Rome, Paris, London to go and see the art? Art causes debate and divides opinions. It gives people something to talk about. Whether people understand modern art or question what is it? I think that is important. It inspires future generations to continue to create and leave heritage and culture to the people of the future to make their own mark in history. Society and the world without art would be a categorically boring society. The arts come in many forms some people wouldn’t even consider. The Merlion, the symbol of Singapore is art. In order for artists in Singapore to thrive, art needs to be recognised as important and a viable career choice that generates a living for the artist. Art isn’t something that should be expected to be done for free. The truth is amazing art is being left unmade because of lack of funding.
The five words that describe best your art?
I think the five words I’d use would be expressive, unique, authentic, joyful and colourful.
Tell us about your major projects and highlights across 2021?
So this year was not the year any of us had planned. But I have made the most of the situation. I leased a studio space so that I could create the work I wanted to create. Before I was working in a very small space in my bedroom. I wanted to make a mess and experiment but I couldn’t so I was doing it on a small scale. As soon as I got into my studio the first thing I did was buy a big roll of canvas and lots of spray paint and went nuts. It was so liberating and I’ve just loved every moment since. We also organised an exhibition at Selegie Art Centre, which was amazing and we had such a good turnout and great feedback.
Next in the pipeline is to start organising art shows at my studio with other local artists. I am also participating in the Hong Kong Affordable Art Fair and the Singapore Affordable Art Fair later this year. I am hopeful that travel opens up next year and I am able to do more shows overseas. One of the things I love most about being an artist is travelling and meeting potential collectors, existing collectors, artists and galleries and really forming relationships and connections. Being an artist can be pretty lonely and isolating so these events really do bring the creative industry together.
Where can we see some of you work online and are these for sale?
I have my own website. I also have works on gallery sites such as artsy (with Addicted gallery), the Artling and Saatchi. I have artworks for sale and I’m always creating new pieces. I am a prolific creator. Pieces can be viewed by appointment in my Haji lane studio.
You accept commissions. What is the working process there? How specific — or not — should a commission be?
I do take commissions, however, I do have terms. I am a very expressive and impulsive artist. I don’t work from sketches; I work for my heart, my head and my instincts. A commissioner can talk to me about colour schemes, size and style but there has to be an understanding that I need to be able to create without rigid guidelines.
Any artist who has lately inspired you in the British art scene? Your views on Damien Hirst?
I really miss going to London and going to the galleries. I found the pieces that you can see at the Saatchi, Serpentine and the Tate so inspiring. I turn to Instagram for inspiration these days. It can be overwhelming as there is so much and they are all laid out there for free. It’s called content now. However, nothing beats seeing art up close and personal.
I actually saw a Damien Hirst exhibition at the Saatchi as well as Tracy Emin. I think Damien is very clever because he has notoriety and popularity. He knows how to create pieces that get people talking and people are interested in seeing what he produces next — how he pushes the boundaries. His background and religion and his interest in life and death have shaped his art. When an art piece has the world reeling you know it’s not a bad thing. People may not understand it but because they’re talking about it gets exposure and creates momentum. My work isn’t shocking or political it’s happy-making. It’s all the same. Everyone’s artwork is art and we express ourselves in different ways. There’s good art and bad art but you need both to exist to recognise its value. Each way is just as valid. What I like about Damian is he’s not afraid to try new things. I don’t think he’s the best painter but I think he’s great at doing concept and execution. He knows you can’t please all of the people all of the time so he only wants to please his collectors and people that love his art and want to own a piece.
Your favourite museum in Singapore?
I’m going to say the Art Science Museum. This is my answer because it’s interactive and it’s fun. I can take the kids and we can have an enjoyable time interacting and creating together. The National Gallery is a beautiful building and has some great art shows, for example, I saw Yayoi Kasama there a few years ago and wow. She is a huge inspiration. I hope her works come back here.
So far, your most vivid memory of life in Asia?
For me it’s the things we don’t do back home. The moments we’ve been sitting on a rooftop bar and its warm and the twinkly lights and December. That’s one of the best moments. The other is how good it is for kids. There is so much to do with small children. We’ve annual passes for Universal Studios and the zoo. The iconic buildings such as Raffles Hotel and having afternoon tea with my parents there is definitely a standout memory. Also Atlas, which is such a great art deco inspired building and a unique spot for dinner.
If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and path as an artist, who would that be?
i’m going to say my college teacher Una. She was the one that taught us to push boundaries and express ourselves. To not be afraid to try new things. When I started university we were very much left to our own devices. This is quite difficult for young people. I often think if I had gone as a mature student I would’ve been far more equipped to really make the most of university in terms of creating art and not just enjoying the nightlife. I’ve actually said that what I’m doing now in my studio feels like my art Masters degree. I’ve matured and I’m ready to focus on creating. Plus everything closes early right now so I’m not distracted by the Haji Lane nightlife. I’ve also had some fantastic advice from fellow artists. Artists I have found really root for each other. I think because our work is so varied and we are not in competition. There is space for us all in the market. I am just at the beginning of my career. I have big plans and big dreams.