On a flying visit through London recently, we thought we’d try to connect with some interesting UK artists we’ve been Insta-stalking through the pandemic. We thought it would make a nice point of cultural exchange whilst at the same time liberating us from our comfy Berlin bubble (if only for a moment). First on the list was Sam Sockett, a young artist with a practice meditating between four or five different disciplines. We talked about the evolution of his style, how heavily his environment influences him, and his compulsion to document everything.
We met at Sam’s shared studio space in Stockwell on a rare day of sweltering British heat. A recent graduate of the iconic Camberwell College of Arts, and with a particularly broad skillset, there are many possible futures that could exist for Sam. I wondered if the future as an exhibiting artist is one he’s considering, but he told me he wasn’t sure… “It doesn’t seem like me, I guess… But maybe. I think it’s complex”.
Sam’s current work exists on a blurry line between art and design, so we talked about how and why he flirts with each of these territories and what exactly they mean to him.
“I always find it hard to make things that haven’t got a use. It needs to be utilitarian… I started making quilts recently and I like them because they’re usable. I think I’d have more interest in people having something they can use — more than something like a canvas on a wall… Sometimes I do love making works that are useless because I think you can make crazier stuff, but I think I’ve always just preferred making work that has more of a use to it. Like bags or books or t-shirts.”
I asked Sam how he identifies himself in relation to his practice, and he expressed an affection for the word multidisciplinary… “It highlights that it’s sort of infinite. It doesn’t limit you”, he tells me. And so then I was curious, from his plethora of current disciplines, which attracted him first?
“I used to make band t-shirts when I was really young. That’s probably how I started if I think as far back as I can. And graffiti as well. I never did art at school, I did graphic design, and I studied that at university but I just didn’t enjoy it… But I was living with these people that were doing painting and they were all having this sick time doing whatever they wanted, coming home covered in paint like ‘I did nothing today, just a couple of paintings’, whereas in graphic design, I was just learning about kerning…”
“I felt like I knew everything I was being taught and I was mostly interested in the ‘art’ side of graphic design anyway — so I swapped to painting… I’ve been told it’s quite clear that I did graphic design before, and then painting. I think [the work] does sort of sit between the two.”
How does he engage with the meanings behind his work? I wondered.
“It’s more to me than to anyone else. It’s up to other people how they interpret it… For me, sometimes the visual aesthetic is enough, but that’s a really unpopular thing to say at uni because they’re always like, ‘oh why did you do this?’ — but sometimes it’s just because it looks good and there’s not much more to say. It’s just different purposes for different times. Sometimes it’s meaningless, and sometimes it’s meaningful.”
When questioning Sam on his influences he was quick to cite “the visual language of the city”, which made a lot of sense. The appropriated advert graphics, the graffiti type, the abundant iconography of urban existence. One can’t help feeling that Sam’s practice is in an eternal dialogue with the culture that surrounds him. I wanted to talk more about how exactly he’s absorbing these surroundings.
“I just collect. I’m pretty much a serial collector. I take photos of literally everything and I record soundbites of a lot of dumb shit. Then when I’m in the studio I can just go through everything and work from there. I find that way more exciting. I have a — I’d rather record it than not — kind of mindset. I take photos of so much garbage. I’m like ‘Oh that’s really cool’ and then nine times out of ten I look a week later and I’m like ‘What’s this rubbish?’. But every now and then it does come up good. Some of my favourite photos or songs I’ve made come from spontaneous things like that.”
I was then interested in Sam’s personal relationship to his practice.
“Experiential is a good word for it. Sometimes I have ideas that sort of answer questions, but sometimes I’m just making it for the sake of making it. It tends to be most enjoyable when you make it because you kinda just ‘want to’. I think for me it’s often quite bibliographical. Quite chronological. Like I can look at work I’ve done over the years and know exactly where I was physically and mentally when I did it.”
I compel those reading this also to read Sam’s artist statement as it offers a nice primer for experiencing his work, with the whimsical tone reaffirming the playful nuance of how he interprets his environment.
“I really enjoyed writing that. It was me and my friend [Peter Piskov] and he’s super articulate. It almost felt like a sort of art piece in itself. I like that it’s kind of silly but also kind of serious; somewhere in between. But yeah, I like to collaborate on stuff like that. It’s an opportunity for people to communicate with one another but through practice.”
“I’ve done a few other collaborative things, like this residency in Stratford [London]. Three of us had this space for a week and we had no real plans, we just sort of hung around Stratford all the time — half-lived there for a week — and just made work in this room. We all sort of worked on each other’s stuff a little bit, and it ended up being a book.”
We spoke then about the stylistic evolution of Sam’s work.
“I think maybe it’s got a bit neater… I think I’m trying to refine things a bit more than I used to. Before, I would just have an idea and I’d go completely mental at it and smash it out and not really care about how messy it gets, whereas now I’ve got lists of ideas and I’m more like, ok, let me see how well I can do this, and how clean and finished I can make it look. And I think that’s just coming from maturity.”
“As I said, I definitely take a lot from the visual language of the city. But then maybe that’s because I live in a city and if I was living in a different environment then it would change. But I don’t know… You get a love-hate relationship with any city, I feel. But urban environments definitely inform my work. I couldn’t live anywhere super quiet. That would be a bit of a struggle. I need a lot of visuals... A lot of everything.”
Thank you to Sam. You can find his links below.
Words by Ewan Waddell.
Photos by Ewan Waddell & courtesy of the artist.