A new series featuring - you guessed it - artists, wearing Drake's shirts, at work in their studios. Last year we visited the studios of some of our favourite artists, to chat about the creative process. First up, abstract painter, Sherman Mern Tat Sam.
Photography by James Harvey-Kelly.
Nathan Sharp: What’s guiding you when you’re painting?
Sherman Sam: Let me tell you how I start. All of [the paintings] are oil paint on wood panel. I make the panels in the summer, mainly because it’s nice weather. First I cut them down, and glue battens on the sides. Before they’re primed, I cover them with rabbit skin glue - they have to die for a reason right? [laughs] - and then it’s an oil primer.
What I want to say about their shape and their sizes is that they’re all relational. So, two years ago I did a show, and they were relatively small paintings that I was working on at the time. Then the next show I did was in a bigger space, and I sort of thought I would really like to have bigger paintings, just because you can ask for more money [laughs]. I know, very, very superficial.
NS: It’s as good a reason as any!
SS: I started to try and figure out how to make bigger [paintings]. There are some [panels] that have been sat there for more than a decade, because I made them ages ago, probably 12 years or so and I couldn’t figure out how to make work - they are big for me, but still less than a metre. By the time I did this show at Ceysson Benetiere in Luxembourg I had figured out how to finish a few of these larger pieces. What I learnt at the show, in this huge warehouse type space, was that actually the bigger works looked smaller, but the smaller works felt bigger. I realised that, ‘I don’t have to fucking make bigger works!’ [laughs]. It was for a show in 2007 at The Suburban in Chicago, where I thought I would do the show [with] hand luggage sized work, since they weren’t paying transport. That’s when I figured out that, actually, I could do everything I wanted to do in that format.. So why bother making it so big?
So, once I work through this current group of paintings , the work will get smaller. As I said, how I make them is in relation to the previous thinking. But every shape is, in a way, unique, and every shape is not perfect. Just ask the technicians who have to hang my pieces.
NS: You’re not mathematical about this, then?
SS: No, in fact some of them are even slightly bowed and the stretchers are not perfectly right angled. They all start in groups, say three, four, and there’ll be a first action that is consistent to the group. It will usually be a very light gesture, like a wash, or some of them have diagonal brushstrokes. There was a group of paintings which had blue splatters. The blue paint was given to me by my friend Clive [Hodgson]. We worked out that I didn’t paint with blue. When I first moved to London, I didn’t have a studio for nearly three years. When I came back to painting I want[ed] to rethink all this, so I reduced my palette, and at that point only painting in four, five colours. Over the years I’ve introduced a few more, but the palettes are still quite tight. Clive gave me some blue paint, and then it sat with me for some two years, cos I’m quite slow with all this shit. And he kept bugging me. One day I thought, ‘Okay, Clive has splatters in his paintings, so I’m going to do some, as a tribute, because he bought me the paint.’ But what I did was flick the paint on, and that’s when I realised that what he does is drips the paint down.
So, they each begin with a kind of action, then the painting begins. In one group for instance there are a bunch of zig zag lines. That was one beginning, and then, when you begin that, you sort of think, ‘Oh wait a minute, I can transfer this action to another painting.’ So, you move one to the other. That’s the beginning, how they finish I don’t fucking know [laughs]. I wish I did, because it would make my life so much easier.