In Conversation With Samantha Haring

February 14, 2017
Samantha Haring's "Fermata" chalk pastel on paper that is compromised of dull muted colors. The painting depicts a boardwalk setting from someone's perspective, which has the more detail and color in its value. Linear perspective is shown.
Detail of "Fermata"

Every week, we'll be sitting down with one of our gallery artists to discuss their work, process, inspiration, and stories. This week we're speaking with Samantha Haring. 




Samantha Haring's pieces are intimate meditations on life in the studio. Focusing on overlooked details of her surroundings, she explores an environment rife with traces of past experiences. Whether it be drips of paint, balled-up tangles of tape, or scuffed wooden floorboards, Haring elevates the remnants of a previous time and a previous self. These forgotten corners and abandoned objects serve as a metaphor for the imprints people leave behind on each other and on the world. Haring's work, with muted tones and soft marks, provides moments of quiet, reflection, and solitude in a fast-paced and noisy world. Despite the emptiness or discarded feel of her scenes, she avoids meloncholy by exploring the duality of presence and absence. The pieces buzz with the excitement of possibility, or the satisfaction of hard work. Mundanity is reexamined and brought to life. An illusion is exposed: even in silence, there is a tremendous amount of noise. Haring spoke with us about  finding stories in the overlooked,  creating portraits of a figure that is not present, and the idea of emptiness. 


Photo courtesy of the artist 


What are your earliest memories relating to art? 


I think I've always known that I am an artist. One of my earliest memories is being two years old, sitting at the kitchen table with a little pan watercolor set, and my mother showing me how to keep the colors clean. It was magical - the ability to create something on a blank page. Even now, the start of a new piece always feels special.


Art runs in my family. My parents are designers, and they have always been very encouraging. I am lucky to have had wonderful mentors throughout my life. I owe them everything - they helped me become the artist I wanted to be.


How did you find your voice and visual vocabulary? What was the path like towards this current body of work?


My current work is an extension of a series I started in grad school. In 2012, my family and I spent two weeks in Amsterdam. I've always loved the Dutch masters, and seeing so many of those incredible interior paintings had a profound impact on the way I understand space. I came back to my studio and started painting that cluttered space directly from life. The early images were full of the detritus of the studio: furniture, supplies, works-in-progress leaning against the wall. Eventually I realized that it was not the objects but the empty space itself that interested me most.


Since then I have made paintings and drawings of every studio I have inhabited. My subject matter changes somewhat every time I move, but the intention and the process behind my work have both remained largely the same. My work is grounded in reality, but I would not call myself a realist. If anything, I might be a "painterly realist." The physicality of the paint is as important to me as the depicted image.


Photo courtesy of the artist


What draws you to bringing attention to these overlooked scenes and details? 


My work is about the duality of absence and presence. Empty space is never really empty. We always leave some trace behind as a reminder of our existence. In an artist's studio, those traces might appear as paint drips, pencil marks, and dust left on the walls and floor. I carefully observe and depict these remnants as a metaphor for the imprint we leave behind on each other and on the world.


I am interested in the idea of simultaneity, specifically the notion that something can at once be both here and gone. The residue on the walls and floor tell a story; it speaks to some past human presence, implying the figure although no figure is visible. The marks are an inscription, an index of the artist's hand, and a reminder that emptiness is an illusion. The process of noticing and recording these traces is a way for me to strip away life's constant distractions and to be mindful of the things that really matter. It's about being where you are, being present in the moment.


What are the characteristics or qualities that you love capturing most in these scenes?


Finding beauty in the mundane is a fairly popular theme for perceptual painters. Lately I have been most interested in capturing between-ness - both literally and metaphorically. The imperfect space where the wall meets the floor is a wonderfully liminal space. Every interior has that slice between wall and floor; it defines the boundaries of the space while being relegated to the edges, collecting dust, largely unnoticed. All space is liminal. We are always between - between jobs, between relationships, between breaths. Between-ness makes up the majority of our days, yet too often it is dismissed as merely "waiting" for something arguably more interesting or important. I want my work to elevate those liminal moments.  


I've been researching the idea of emptiness for a while. Reading about Zen meditation and eastern philosophy helped put language to the ideas I have been considering for the past few years - that emptiness as we know it is an illusion, that absence and presence are really two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other; they are both necessary for balance, the same way that light cannot exist without shadow. The studio residue that has become my subject matter is a reminder of impermanence. I embrace the wabi-sabi aesthetic of seeing beauty in the imperfect, the impermanent, and the forever incomplete. Dust on a studio floor seems to be an apt metaphor for that, and it's a deliciously challenging subject to paint.


Photo courtesy of the artist


What is your process like?


I am an observational painter, so I work mainly from life and sketches. Drawing is a large part of my practice; I never leave home without a sketchbook and at least one pencil behind my ear (or, more likely, lost in my hair). My process is grounded in seeing - for me, it's about paying attention. Mindfulness is difficult to cultivate, especially with all the distractions that can consume us. But I believe that paying attention matters now more than ever. These quiet, sincere acts of observation, when practiced in all aspects of life, help to cultivate empathy.


I work all the time. My days start with coffee and contemplating whatever is currently on the easel. I usually listen to classical music in the studio - I'm an opera fan, particularly Puccini and Verdi. Lately I've been listening to a lot of violin pieces. My current favorite is Ralph Vaughan Williams' "The Lark Ascending".


What are your inspirations and influences?


Oh, there are so many. The artists I keep returning to are the ones whose images have changed the way I see the world. To name a few: Velazquez, Vermeer, Emanuel de Witte, Corot, Morandi, Hammershoi, Lucian Freud, Euan Uglow, Rackstraw Downes.  I had the great fortune to study with Marion Kryczka at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He taught me how to see, and his lessons are a constant source of inspiration.


At the risk of sounding cliché, my students also inspire me. When I'm not working in the studio, I teach Foundations drawing classes. Teaching is my other passion - it is incredibly challenging and deeply rewarding. Seeing my students refine their skills keeps me excited about my own studio practice, and finding new ways to talk coherently about the creative process keeps me honest in my work.


Photo courtesy of the artist


Where do you see your work going from here?


Lately I have been making more drawings than paintings. Pastel is my favorite drawing medium; it has the layered richness of oil paint, but it is more tactile and immediate. At the moment I am working on a new series of pastels for a three-person show this September at Gallery 19 in Chicago. These new works are larger than my last series; in fact, they are the largest pastels I've ever made. I'm excited to see how the scale change impacts the images and their content. After that, well, there will undoubtedly be a lot more dust on my floor. I'm sure I'll be able to do something with that!


Explore more of Samantha Haring's work here


"Little Ledge"

Add a comment