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Interview With The Sculptor Sam Shendi
April 15, 2012
The Thinker (2011)
Hi Sam, tell us a bit about your background, where did you study?
I was born in 1975 in a small town, no more than 2000 at the time. Surrounded by huge fields filled with white cotton. I have vague memories of Egypt as a child as we travelled around the Middle East with my parents who were teaching. Where I come from and my family, art doesn’t feed anybody and being an artist is something too unique to try to be. It is an environment where everyone believes you have to be a doctor, a pharmacist or in the police or army to have a comfortable life. Art was not even a part of our education at the time in Egypt. Art was the only thing I could do best and the rest was 50/50.
I am one of five children, middle child and from a young age I was described as a rule breaker. One of my earliest memories is drawing in my parent’s books, flowers birds. People were amazed at the attention of details I had at a young age. This all came to me so easy and with no encouragement from school or home. I didn’t realize my talent until I arrived at university.
Mother and Child (2008)
I missed the deadline for Fine Art University but fate intervened as a few months down the line they opened a possibility. The took 360 people to take a test and shortlisted 6 of the best to go through. I was chosen and I started in 1992 at Helwan University in Cairo. It is one of the oldest fine art universities and the course was 5 years. In the first year we studied everything and then the second year you chose a direction. Everyone in Egypt thinks you have to be a graphic designer, interior or cartoon designer or architect in order to make money. I wasn’t interested in any of them. I was interested in learning something new.
Some how I was born with a certain amount of talent. I can translate my imagination on paper easily. Then cartoon design is in me, graphic design, I worked on storyboards etc and I was good at it but I felt these were about making money rather than pure creativity. I decided to try sculpting, as it was something I hadn’t done. I tried it and was impressed by the result and my professors too and the member of staff. This gave me the confidence to go ahead. From 1993-1997 I focused my study on monumental and architectural sculptures. I was at the top of my class for four years in a row.
– What Egyptian influences would you say are present in your current work?
As I come from a small village with a simple life, I try and put this simplicity in my work. I try to make my sculpture less complex and to be easy for the viewer. Ancient Egyptian construction and architecture influence my work. Mathematical design and geometric shapes, the pyramid shape, obelisk are all inspiration. I start to manipulate all kinds of shapes to suit my design.
What’s the art scene like in Egypt?
Art is really great in Egypt, there are some amazing artists who exist and you can always tell they have been influenced by the old masters; they speak about society and life in Egypt. The only thing is there are always boundaries, there is a limit of thoughts you can express and you can find similarity in the work as the same thing inspires everyone. I was always looking, not to break the rules, but not to have boundaries for my imagination.
– What inspires your work?
I absorb details quickly. I draw, inspiration from everything. Around us there is a great amount of inspiration, it is about taking the time to stop take it in. The majority of the time my ideas are a reflection of my own experience and/or my emotion towards something.
The Red Head (2011)
There’s a lot of red and yellows used in your work, is there a meaning behind the primary colours used?
We use the idea of black and white to describe our emotions and our decision making. We often associate black with bad and white with good. As people though, I believe we are not ‘black or white’ we are more red and yellow.
Red embodies, passion, sexuality, anger, intensity, danger, stopping, shocking, …
Yellow represents; madness, sunshine, spring, brightness, youth
All of these are our daily emotions, we don’t really have black and white emotions.
– You’ve also worked as a fashion designer and interior designer before, what made you want to become a fine artist?
I only did these jobs for the money whilst I was at university, as I needed to fund myself. Sculpting wouldn’t give me a regular income unless I taught at Uni and I wasn’t up for that. It wasn’t a career decision, it was opportunities that came my way and I managed to make a success of. I have always liked drawing and designing so these two suited my imagination and quality of drawing. Choosing to be a fine artist was always my aim since a young age.
– What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have been waiting for years to get to the time when I had a body of work ready to show in public. That was at the beginning of the year and since then, I have started with Debut Contemporary, got selected for The Other Art fair, I have entered the Threadneedle prize and The young masters and I am exhibiting in Bern in 2013 and currently I am creating a new body so this year so far has been a highlight. I am still waiting for a great moment though!
– Who are your favorite sculptors/artist?
At the moment, I believe Richard Serra and Alexander Calder are my top favorite sculptors from the last 50-100 years
– If you had to choose to relive a past art era in history, where would you go and what would you do?
I would like to relive in the early 1900 as an artist. They experienced so many art movements developing and changing in a short period of time and evolutional changes globally. It would have been fantastic as an artist them.
– What’s the process behind the making of your works?
I carry sketchbook everywhere I go, or a scrap of paper in my wallet if I am out without it. Then after a while the right idea speaks to give it measurements, colours, a name and I start to proceed with thinking about material and construction
– What do you do when you’re not working?
– I am always working, either running my Kitchen, Bathroom Bedroom showroom or making my artwork – the day I don’t work is Sunday and if I am not sketching. I do nothing!
– Where do you go for inspiration?
– It’s enough to open my eyes and look around. It is always there.
If you were to make a sculpture under the word ‘Candid’ what would it look like?
A big large egg (2m high)
You can see Sam Shendi’s Work at Debut Contemporary and The Other Art Fair