Janelle de Souza
Samantha Joseph is not one of those artists whose work encourages the viewer to get in touch with her feelings or to think too deeply about the meaning of her pieces.
Instead, her work is there to entertain and enjoy, “…more of a distraction than therapy.”
“My work is entertaining. It’s interesting. It touches on subjects with a tongue in cheek rather than being too serious. I’m not one to get bogged down. During the pandemic when it was a terrible time, I decided to start an online tactical and fitness supplies business because I knew the people who were still working were service personnel. I just turn around with it. I don’t stay in this negative space. I’m kind of floating.”
Joseph, 29, said that while she appreciates the fine art of Trinidad and Tobago, she’s not the serious type who looks at the universe. As such, she describes the work in her forthcoming exhibition at Arnim’s Art Galleria as “a breather.”
She has done many group shows in TT and the UK over the years but War and Peace is her first solo show. It consists mainly of oil paintings using mixed media such as newspaper, gold leaf and acrylic paint.
She said a lot of people wanted her first solo show to be a very serious work, and that was her intention. Around the time Germany started making noise about invading Ukraine, she drew a grenade and titled it War. She created it in a “tense space” and intended to continue in that direction.
“That was my freedom back then. Between the pandemic and the war, it got kind of scary. brain explodes! I read a lot of Robert Greene and wanted something in a military vein. I needed something that contains and explodes. I thought ‘grenade’.”
She went on to create several dog plays as members of the various arms of the Schutzdienst, but then it got out of hand and did something that made her happier.
Joseph believes that many artists try to please other people with their work rather than being true to themselves. She said it’s easy to produce “pretty” work, but that the process of creation is more important to her.
“Art is meant to be your expression, how you articulate yourself, but when we emerge (in the art world) we often fall into the trap of pleasing our bosses or predecessors, what fits the market, or what everyone else is doing to fit in with a group .
“I just don’t care. I feel more comfortable doing the work I want, work that inspires me, work that evokes something inside me, and work that I can connect with. So I just do my own thing and really enjoy the process.”
She describes War and Peace as a study of the TT subculture using anthropomorphic art – animals with human features or in human scenarios.
For example, there are dogs playing billiards, chickens playing poker, a lion as a kingpin in a casino setting, and frogs taking selfies. There are also paintings of models with Buddha tattoos, as well as alcohol, because she got inspiration from visiting the Angostura Museum and reflecting on TT’s drinking and lime culture.
Joseph told Sunday Newsday one of her biggest inspirations was Dogs Playing Poker, a collection of 18 paintings by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge.
“That basically inspired a lot of my work, as did Lewis Carroll (author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), (English author) Terry Pratchett, (American painter) Norman Rockwell and (Spanish surrealist painter) Salvador Dalí. I’ve read a lot of books and made a lot of illustrations that come my way, so I drew on that.
“And I realized that Trinidadian culture is really fun, so it lends itself well to this style of painting. I simply incorporated the style into the collection. I had a lot of fun with it.”
Originally from Siparia, Joseph moved to Surrey, England with her mother at the age of eight. She returned to TT in 2019 as she wanted to spend time with her father and help with his NGO.
She recalled returning just before the pandemic hit and thus spent most of her time indoors, which hampered her creativity. And although she drew in her sketchpad every day, she didn’t start painting again until about a year ago.
Since then she has created numerous pieces that adorn the walls of The Mini Bar branches and last August she decided she wanted to do an exhibition. She began researching TT to find a subject and between the Russia-Ukraine War and her business she painted what was familiar and produced war.
She said her family is very artistic, with several members working in creative fields including one cousin who is a tattoo artist and another who is a sculptor. Her parents have always encouraged and supported her. Her mother, a chef, encouraged her to be creative while her father, a transportation specialist, encouraged her to pursue further education.
“I remember when I was very young in school they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew immediately that I wanted to be an artist. And I kind of stayed on that path and immersed myself in books.”
And so she read classic literature, collected comics, worked in various libraries from the age of 18 to 26, received commissions for illustrations and murals for private individuals and attended art courses in various fields to build up more knowledge.
She added that she is “pro-failure” because it allows her to challenge herself and grow.
“The more you fail, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the faster you improve. Many people master something and they settle in and stay at that point. I’m not comfortable with that.
“Once I’m good at something, I want to learn to be better at something else. It really helped me to push the boundaries of my techniques, my applications, my perspective and my approach.”
Joseph’s paint application technique is classic. For example, she uses an underpainting with her oil paints and then builds up layers with glazes. However, sometimes their underpainting is a light color, allowing color to show through in different areas of the canvas.
Even with her application of paint, she does not hesitate with her brush strokes and uses the minimum number of strokes to complete a piece.
“I’d rather spend some time figuring out how to apply the paint than apply the paint twice. Because of this, you would see a distinct brush mark, line, or color on some of my work. I do this on purpose.”
Although she prefers a warm palette, she is not afraid to use color and often plays with light and dark and hues. She also doesn’t like too much color mixing on the canvas or smooth surfaces because “nothing in life is that smooth”. So she enjoys seeing brush marks, textures and evidence that the artist believes in what he is putting on the canvas.
A collection of over 40 distracting pieces is on view at the War and Peace exhibition at Arnim’s Art Galleria, La Romain, from 18 July to 6 August.