NAOMI SAMARA : EVERYTHING IS A MATTER OF SCALE
Multimedia artist, painter, daughter and granddaughter of renowned Bali ceramists Jenggala, Naomi is also a ceramic jewelry designer. As an inspired “Bali Kid”, Naomi is an Artistic jack-of-all-trade, she is currently working on a personal diary of new creations, written word, sketches and paintings. Her universe encompasses everything from delicate jewellery to productions in huge formats. Indeed, in her work, everything is a matter of scale. She tells us her story, revealing (almost) everything for CUB.
Could you tell us in a few words where you come from and if you studied Art?
I was born and raised here in Bali. My family essentially all have an art background. My grandmother Judith Tumbelaka Bell was a British painter of Dutch descent, and my grandpa on my mom’s side, was a creative person too. My mom and him started the ceramic factory Jenggala. I’ve always been exposed to design and art ever since I was a child. So it was a natural progression. I never questioned it. I went to school at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology but then I realized that my leaning was more towards Fine Art. I was in Thailand for a while then moved to Melbourne to continue in the same direction. I eventually came back to Bali and worked as a freelancer. I did a lot of graphic design for different companies too. On this island, it’s not that easy, but you sort of intuitively find ways of expressing yourself creatively through all sorts of different mediums. You can get involved in projects, professionally and personally, because there’s so much access. I ended up working for my family’s company from quite a young age. First as a freelancer and then almost full time, all the while pursuing my career as an artist as well.
What are you currently working on ?
Focussing ! This year especially has been an interesting turning point and I’ve been focusing a lot more on painting and have been integrating ceramics to wearable pieces. The medium was super accessible for obvious reasons and it started off as an experiment, but now it’s something that I do almost full time on top of painting. These days, I spend most of my time painting and making jewellery.
What’s your inspiration or your creative process?
It’s weird because I feel like it’s a lot about questioning and expressing. I don’t have a proper method, sometimes you don’t work on something specifically for years, but it kind of bleeds out naturally, in different ways, even if you haven’t been searching for homogeneity. The same questions come up through different means of expression.
Theoretically, painting is kind of a subconscious journey, even if you’re trying to not be too literal about it, it’s essentially a sort of self exploration. Usually paintings are based on narratives so I would usually start with a story. I also do a lot of creative writing and journaling so that comes into the process as well. At the point where the story is kind of pulled apart and abstract, the painting flows. My grandma did a lot of journaling and I basically came across her journals as a child and, even now, I still go back to them when I’m not feeling so great. I’ve developed the habit of doing the same thing, exploring my dreams and thoughts, visually and with words, all together, in a ‘stereo’ way. I think this is definitely where things come from essentially.
Is there a connection between your jewellery and you or your working process ?
I think so because it (ceramics) is so intuitive, it’s so much fun to play with and it’s such a tactile medium that you can get very technical with it. I just like playing with it and creating shapes. I feel like it’s an extension of you when you wear it, that’s what I find really beautiful with jewellery especially : it becomes a part of you. It is the same thing with people buying one of your paintings, with which you had a totally different interaction; they take ownership over the piece and transform it…In a very small, microscopic way, it changes, it’s almost like it becomes part of them, an extension of their body. Most of the pieces I create are inspired by forms or bodies, organic shapes based on the human body. The approach I try to explore the most is what it means to be restricted in a body or, what it means to have a body as a tool. For this, clay is perfect, It’s a perfect marriage of mediums.
What’s the best moment during the day to create according to you ?
For painting, it definitely has to either be really early in the morning or really late at night. The time in between is for all the logistics and admin stuff. So before anybody wakes up, or when everybody has gone to sleep, when everything is quiet.
So you paint with artificial lights?
Yes, I like one light specifically, I like the drama effect of it (laughs)
What is your technique ?
I predominantly use acrylic but then I just layer more, and as a mixed medium, I use a lot of charcoal in this acrylic. I usually start working without a drawing or plan. Sometimes I basically work with only one form. I sometimes prepare references for my drawings, but I don’t really look at them as I draw. When I do yoga in the morning, I’ll film it and go through the images, to get a motion visual and then I will start drawing different body parts. It’s all very intuitive, sometimes I start with a finger and then it ends up being something else. Lately, I’ve been working on taking things out. There are many cross sections of forms that I’ve cut out to keep only the parts I wanted. I think it’s the feeling of not being attached to a body so much, or to something that I’m familiar with. I’m trying to move towards what’s important, so instead of picking up the stuff that I look at immediately to have more of a minimal approach. Sometimes I take everything out and, when I do, only a section of a form remains. I use other shapes that are already in the drawing to create an abstract feeling and just end up keeping certain parts of the body. It’s all fairly loose and intuitive.
Do you do everything alone?
I do the clay pieces alone. Nothing really looks the same, even if I try making exactly the same piece, it just doesn’t work, I don’t use any molds or anything similar. For the silver though, I have a silversmith who helps.
Looking at the past, can you see an evolution in your work, is there one turning point in your career?
Yeah, I realized it with Facebook bringing back memories from 10 years ago… It’s a bit silly, but I feel like I became aware of some consistency but also of how things develop incrementally. It’s fascinating to see how far things can go, not even in a progressive and linear way, but just all over the place. Of course, from the personal experience aspect, and more generally in every aspect, there has to be some form of growth but I’ve been very consistent technically in the making process.
A lot of people romanticize the idea of making things and being an artist, as if you wake up fully inspired, and you create a masterpiece! (laughs). It doesn’t work that way at all ! I usually wake up and sketch. Some days, you think it’s shit and other days you’re like “well actually this leads to something else”. It is mainly a process of exercising your skills.
Have you collaborated with other artists?
Yes, I think that it really helps to be honest, to work with other artists. And I still do collaborations. It all bleeds in. With my long-time partner Spencer Hansen, we were running the Swoon Gallery together in Sanur for quite a while (2012 to 2017). We curated shows together for Indonesia based artists, and despite the small space, every month we would have shows on open calls, to bring people together and have themed exhibitions.
Was it here in Sanur ?
I am a creature of habits… (laughs) I feel that without these experiences and without engaging with a community, you don’t get as much out of what you want to express. It’s always back and forth, even if the work is very internal for me, there is an exchange regardless.
Is there a place in particular in Bali that inspires you and where you love to go ?
I love it anywhere up in the mountains. I love the region around the BatuKaru. I like the temperature there and the more laid back vibe as nature takes over. I do like going up there when things get a bit too much down here in Southern Bali. Every morning I go to the beach at five o’clock when nobody’s around, my dog wakes me up. (laughs). Watching the sunrise and having that peaceful palette helps me have a quiet base for the day
What is your feeling about the Arts scene in Bali ?
It’s all very exciting, we were just saying how many things are happening here. To be honest, I have been out of touch for a while, but we did participate in shows, for instance the Stranded Collective exhibition at The Slow Canggu Boutique Hotel last November. There is also this new space (Bali Design Centre) that I have absolutely no idea about, there’s so much to tap into now ! It’s an exciting time to be here because I feel like a lot of people are coming here with the intention of giving back, whereas before there was a lot of ‘’in and out, in and out ‘’ People are now trying to settle in and cultivate here, it’s stimulating to meet the new generation.
Do you discuss your work with other artists ?
I’m trying to be less shy about it. I find that that’s important. I’m lucky enough to have a group of friends that are also artists (Max Gaertner, Alex Geddis, Spencer Hansen, Salvita Decorte, Ines Katamso). Maybe it’s not luck, maybe it’s just that you gravitate towards people that are similarly passionate about the same things. Within the circle the dialogue is very open and there’s a lot of discussion about concepts and process and I think subconsciously that really benefits me. As far as talking to other people in general, it’s sometimes super hard to pin down, because there are so many ways of looking at a piece. Dialogue isn’t always easy, it takes a lot of openness to understand people, trying to see through their own lens, through their own emotions, through their own reality.
Is there an artist that specifically inspired you?
There are a lot in the obvious ones. I love the work of Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon and those sorts of very raw expressive artists. It’s fascinating to see how much control they have over things. They have mastered that feeling : how much you can let go of and how much you can control. It’s a back and forth process, sometimes you look at something that looks like chaos, but everything is in order at the same time, it’s just amazing.
Do you mostly sell your work locally or internationally ?
For the paintings, people from Jakarta show the most interest. For the jewellery, my work is widely visible, it’s shown on my personal website and my social media .
Do you have an agent ?
At the moment I’m represented by Cakravala, an Indonesia based online platform.
Is there a project you would love to do?
It’s nice to have so much going on online now, but the concept of doing a show that’s really transformative in a big space sounds amazing… Being able to show big pieces in a physical space ! (laughs). Especially now that everybody’s in their own little bubble. I think I’m craving expansion and interaction with other artists who like working with scale. It could be a group exhibition or it could be playing with the whole idea of space, what it means, and how you use it.
What kind of collaboration would you love to do with other artists, would it be through a specific media or as a crazy fantasmagoric project ?
They are all fantasy projects. Anything that I do, like having a dialogue with different artists or being able to have no limits, as far as scale goes and also on going back to scale again. Imagine getting a huge canvas and having other people interact with the piece in different ways, combining really brilliant performances from different artists; making it an experiential project, where people walk in on their own. You almost have to be an audience, like at a show. In that space, it’s not about having a drink and chatting, it’s about walking in, being there, and being present with Art. I think it would be really cool to see something like this here, walking into a painting.
Credits : Naomi Samara