Continuing our coverage of the Royal College of Art RCA2020 online graduate show we speak to Painting (MA) student Sam Creasey about his experience of studying at the RCA and the inspiration behind his work.
A London-based artist, Creasey completed a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at UCA Rochester, and then a BA (Hons) in Fine Art Painting at the University of Brighton, before going on to the RCA. Introducing himself as part of the RCA2020 show, Creasey wrote: “As an artist situated within an abrasive and bustling metropolis like London, I utilise my art practise to make sense of the pace and complexities of the physical environment and the more technological networked spaces that make up the urban landscape.”
The Net Gallery: What was your experience of studying at the RCA like and how was it impacted by lockdown?
Sam Creasey: The experience of the RCA from 2018-20 became progressively more turbulent but also exciting over time. Through much internal politics and injustice within the way the school is run, the gulf between the students and staff and the senior management has become quite wide. Subsequently and positively, however, the connection between myself and my peers and our tutors has felt all the more steadfast. With everything going on – initially with the lecturer strikes and then Covid coming straight after – we have collectively shared the disappointment and trauma of these events, but adapted incredibly well and produced some great work, which the online degree show highlights well.
The switch to an online show was unfortunately necessary. The platform had a lot of bugs initially on the back end and it was a struggle to upload our content to, but I think it looks great now it is completed! I am seeing it as a RCA Facebook as opposed to an exhibition as such. It is a great way to introduce people to our work and our personalities as artists, but isn’t exactly curatorial as a ‘show’ like one in a physical space can be. It’s actually really great to discover The Net Gallery through this interview as initially I thought the MA Painting show would be done in that way (a virtual POV video through a physical space). For online art shows, I prefer this method as it at least shows you an exhibition in a way you would see it with your eyes normally in a gallery.
As for my lockdown, I haven’t been particularly locked-down. I have been super careful, but have worked an awful lot at my driving job in grocery delivery, whilst trying to get this show together. It was interesting for my work, which is very concerned with cities, to see the shifts in central London from bustling, to empty, and now back to busy again. The temporary silence felt like a tiny scratch on a huge surface of the persistent noise and vibration the city usually prescribes. Like a moment of eerie calm. I wish I could have recorded it: there was a time I was doing a delivery right in the centre of Bank, when the UK lockdown first began, I could hear the echo of the van door ripple around all of the buildings in my periphery.
TNG: Your paintings are very detailed and often also relatively large. How long does it normally take you to complete one of your larger pieces and do you tend to focus on one at a time?
SC: Weirdly enough, the larger ones can sometimes take the same amount of time as the smaller ones. I have quite a systematic and pragmatic way of making paintings. One step follows another, like an instruction manual for an Airfix model. Very boring, but there’s something really meditative about it for me. If the space permits, I will have a few going at once. Progress has been very slow and after trying and failing to paint in my bedroom for a short time, I shut up shop. I am soon to move into a new studio in Bow, however, so I am excited to get going again. I have become a lot more painterly with the larger canvas based works. Layering matte colours up lightly on a rough partially primed ground helps give me a sandpaper-like quality. I think this was born out of frustration with my earlier work trying too hard to appropriate the screen, where much of my imagery comes from. My newer work about the city focuses much more on the experience of actually regularly visiting the places that crop up in my cityscapes. I feel I can more accurately reproduce the look and materiality of moss growing out of concrete that I have seen and interacted with, for example.
TNG: Urban environments feature prominently in your work, with a dystopian tinge and a sense of spaces and materials – like concrete and steel – that can feel in opposition, or uncaring towards people and the human body. When did you first start to explore these types of spaces and ideas – and do you personally feel more at home in an urban environment or a more ’natural setting?
SC: A combination of a frustration with my practice at the time of first moving to London and then my delivery driving work spurred me to take a closer look at the city. Previously I made much more ‘internet centric’ work. I’ve always been interested in our relationship with technology as it permeates more and more into our lives. However, I was tired of so many screen based secondary sources finding their way into my paintings. What went into my work didn’t feel very close to my own experience. My first living situation was in Wandsworth on East Hill in a property guardianship. The ex-public day centre for the elderly had a gigantic JC Decaux advertising screen in the garden ,which towered over me when I sat at my garden furniture. Seeing something like the screen, so prominent in my work, now in a physical sense engulfing me like a building does was the flip side of the former paradigm. This was a simple, but lightbulb moment. Maintenance guys I called ‘the TV men’ came every now and again to monitor the tower and, on one occasion, I persuaded one to let me climb up and see the large structure from the inside. Since then, these advertising structures have cropped up in many of my recent paintings like ‘Sales Pitch’, ‘White City Approach’, and ‘Roundabout After Sagittarius A Star’ (all 2019-20).
My delivery driving work allows me to see a great deal of the city in a short time. I see the city in motion and from a distance from the intimacy of the sidewalk. I move through space rather than dwell in a place. My route is prescribed to me by an algorithm and I drive along roads that feel like rails. Part of my reason for enjoying painting and the creative arts is that it feels like it gives me an opportunity to break free from the systems inherent in technology and cities and to imagine and invent alternatives or fictions. Systems that are monopolies and closed in nature can become more open through art. Presently, our cities are so heavily interwoven with smart technology, which is camouflaged very well into the physical fabric, that we often don’t notice the extent to the dystopia in which we live. As a result, I do currently feel more at home in the city and at the centre of the bustle.