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A natural connection: Interview with Sam Baxter

© Sam Baxter

Everyone responds differently to art. There is art we instantly feel comfortable with, art that just doesn’t appeal to us, art that inspires our fantasy and then there is art that has that little something, which makes us look more closely. That’s how I felt with Sam Baxter’s organic plant sculptures. The Dundee-based fine art graduate – who has honed her skills at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design – sees the world around her from a refreshingly different perspective and re-discovers the beauty of the outdoors with children’s eyes. As I was curious to find out more about Sam and her work, I decided to give her a heads up and shoot over a few questions about the life as a young artist, the scene up north and her natural connection with Mother Earth. Here we go!

Hello Sam. For those unfamiliar with your work, please tell us a bit about yourself? I’m a Dundee based artist primarily working with plants, producing sculpture and photography. The work is inspired from plant design, my own curiosity and findings, as well as the role that the natural landscape plays in cultures. I have a history of living in the Scottish countryside interacting with plants on a daily basis, which is the main source of my interest in working hand to plant. I have previously worked with locally collected material such as leaves and mud as well as ordered flowers from South Africa. All of which end up being dissected and played with in the studio in order to explore the material by hand, which then leads onto further research into the biodiversity.

How does a usual creative day in the life of Sam Baxter look like? I usually ask myself what kind of art I would love to make and see; no matter how absurd it may seem, hold onto the idea and find ways of working towards these ‘dream works’. I collect plant samples which I have an emotional interest in, play around with the material to get a feel for it and work from there, collecting ideas, discovering related topics, educating myself on the plant and further information which begins to build up. Walking in the countryside, making personal discoveries by myself help to stir up emotion and to create a childlike excitement, which fuels the need to discover and explore plants and issues which are generally overlooked in day to day life. My studio is a safe haven where I have a sense of control over raw plant material; it is singled out where I can manipulate it without competing with the overwhelming and powerful surroundings I sense from Mother Nature.

What brought you to mainly work with flowers and plants? And is there anything else that does inspire your art apart from Mother Nature? A childhood surrounded by the Scottish landscape is the core reason I have a natural interest with plants and flowers. The happy memories of having secluded land to explore with my siblings and the mix of comfort and fear nature brings is what naturally pulled me towards using plants as a material in my first studies. Artists such as Karla Black’s work where colours, texture and materials are the main component are incredibly inspiring to me. The playfulness and carefree attitude in installations which are bright and fun is very alluring to me. Music is also a big motivator and soul inspiring aspect of my life, and can sway work in different directions depending on the genre I’m listening to at the time. I will often search through new music when starting new projects, to add more body of emotion and meaning to the project.

Is there a theme, technique or material you always wanted to approach with your work? I have always visited water as a material in idea stages and would love to explore it as a theme and to overcome the challenges it would create. Stone is another one which I am currently trying to work with, which I suppose is the opposite of water in some ways. To me, these two opposing elements are challenging materials to produce work with, which alters the way in which they are typically viewed. A technique I have always wanted to learn is plant weaving. I appreciate the skill and would enjoy experimenting with the ability, using a variety of plant material to create large sculpture and installation.

How would you describe the art scene in and around Dundee? There is a lot to discover art-wise in and around Dundee. The art scene is always increasing and you can find supportive communities and artist lead exhibitions very easily. Organisations such as Generator, have helped emerging artists exhibit their work in Dundee for some years now, and Tin Roof Arts Collective have created much needed art spaces for recent art graduates, typically from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. There is also the exciting prospect of the V&A, a contemporary building to be home for the Scottish Design Galleries and is expected within the next few years. There are many collectives and pop up galleries with dedicated artists behind them setting hopeful examples to undergraduate students in Dundee.

I’d say 2013 and 2014 have been going quite well for you. Any cool future projects or collaborations we should keep our eyes peeled for? Current projects look towards new plant installation, highlighting familiar smells as a key factor in the emotional response we have to the landscape, with lavender and rapeseed currently headlining. This has stemmed from being involved with the Lavender Project at Woodend Barn in Banchory, an ongoing project which looks into the history of the cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of lavender, lead by artist Helen Smith.

Thanks very much for your time, Sam!

If you’d like to stay in the loop about Sam’s works, check these links:

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