Sam Octigan’s surreal collages draw on the metaphor of shedding skin. April 25 2017
Sam Octigan is a visual artist based in Melbourne, Australia. His practice typically centres with painting on canvas, exploring the intersection of narrative and abstract form. Endlessly fascinated from a young age with the visual image and how we as humans connect to it, his current work seeks to delve deeper into the alchemy of what makes an arresting image to an audience, while exploring his own personal interests in memory, history, growth, home and truth.
His upcoming show at Outré Gallery on May 12 is titled 'Ecdysis'. Ecdysis is the process of shedding skin or malting fur or feathers in animals. Sam parallels this process in the evolution of an animal with that of a human; shedding the old to make way for the new. Exploring a human’s need to shed beliefs as opposed to shedding old skin.
We recently spoke with Sam about his upcoming exhibition asking about his process, where he generates ideas and more specifically trying to understand the artworks he has created for ‘Ecdysis’
How did you initially get your break into the art world, what was your first project?
In 2010 I was asked to create a piece of work for Just Another Agency's annual group show. It was my first time showing work in an exhibition of that scale and met a lot of great people through it. I still work with Melika today.
Your work is an orchestrated collage of various imagery, what is the process behind building these?
Once I have a set theme or concept for a piece or a body of work, I take photographs and gather reference material from books, magazines and Google images. I'll then create several pencil sketch mockups until I'm set on a composition, then create the finished painted piece on canvas.
In some of your work it feels like the viewer is transported into the mind of the portraits, through the use of collaged images. Is there a significance to the use of collage in your work - what do you hope for it to express to the viewer?
I've found the collaged effect in my work has an arresting effect on the audience. The juxtaposition and contrast of different imagery causes the viewer to look a little closer and draw their own conclusion on the piece. That's the goal with my work, to create images that capture people's attention and allow them to connect their own dots based on what they see within the image.
You have a distinct style, how did this develop for you?
I have a background in illustration and have experimented with different mediums and techniques over the years and have always valued composition, construction, balance etc. I guess it's always been a hunt for what suits me best and as I've discarded things and added others over time I've arrived at what I'm currently producing and have been pretty consistent with it for the past couple of years. The urge to experiment and try new things is always there, but I think there's also a time to settle and let your audience take in what you are doing, rather than continually shifting in front of their eyes.
What is your studio like? Could you take us through how you would usually create a work in there?
At the moment my studio is a garage space behind my home in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne, though I'm about to shift back closer to the city. It's filled with the things I like to be surrounded by while I work - books, magazines, things I've collected through travel, a few plants etc. I've worked in both the shared group studio and the solo studio environment and while both have their pros and cons, I definitely prefer to work on my own. I like to work focussed and uninterrupted, to get into a state of flow. I'll initially work on several different projects at once, in short bursts, but then as I gain momentum I'll focus large chunks of time into a single piece once it's time to get down to business.
If you could choose only one creative outlet would you choose being a frontman in your band ‘Iron Mind’ or creating your art?
Iron Mind has always been a fun and intense experience, but creating art has always been my main pursuit and priority. The band has been a really great outlet and platform over the years, in that it's allowed me to be creative in a group and share ideas, travel and meet other creative people from around the world and also physically express myself performing on stage. The band is a yin to the yang to the process of creating visual art in a lot of ways. With musical performance you are completely exposed and under pressure on the spot to perform. Whereas with visual art it's much more meditative, you can take the time you need remaining behind the work, as private as you like. For me, the kind of music my band plays is something that burns red hot for a short period of time, whereas in comparison, my art practice is something that I will craft and build over the course of my life.
Your upcoming show at Outre Gallery in Melbourne is on May 12 until May 21, what is your show called and what will you be exploring through these works?
The show is titled 'Ecdysis'. Ecdysis is the process of shedding skin or malting fur or feathers in animals. Visually I'll be experimenting with a more simplified, pared back compositions on smaller canvases. Something new and challenging for me.
How do you approach creating work for an exhibition - where do your ideas come from?
I'm constantly taking notes and sketching in a sketch book, I don't wait for 'inspiration', I have a process for idea generation and it's just a matter of putting in the work. I may come up with an idea for a single image and if it's solid enough, normally there is scope to create an entire body of work based around that one idea. Alternatively, I may think of a broader, more ambitious concept and over time if the idea sticks I may figure out a way to represent the concept visually, as a cohesive body of work. I also find getting out of the studio, getting into new surroundings, traveling etc. is essential to shift things visually in your brain.
Could you tell us more about the concepts you are exploring in this new body of work?
I'm looking at Ecdysis simply as a metaphor for how as humans we seek to shed certain parts of ourselves intermittently. Either attitudes, vices, world views, aesthetic qualities, relationships etc. Shedding these things either naturally or unnaturally, gradually or rapidly, violently, unconsciously etc. I feel that this work is a return to similar concepts I've worked with in the past. Ideas that are in part personal but also relatable to an audience.
What medium will you be working with?
Acrylic on canvas.
Words by Nicola Mitchell.