Meet minimalist artist Olivia Samman

One of the largest works in the 2017 SCA Honours grad show is a simple, minimalist lighting structure.

Metre by metre, it moves upwards towards the ceiling in graded steps. As it reaches the ceiling lights, the viewer’s eyes are drawn away from the work itself and find themselves tracing over the building’s architecture.

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Olivia Samman’s untitled work reaches skywards, merging with the original lighting in a room that otherwise goes unnoticed as a subtle backdrop to the art it aims to feature.

“The space in the SCA gallery is so large and historic and beautiful. My goal for this particular site was to create something that would be minimal and large scale. Something to enhance the space and make people look around at their surroundings, because it’s really something worthy of their attention,” said Samman.

“It’s linear form in the third dimension, and the perception of those lines, and the space it creates in the mind of the viewer. It’s non-representational and rather a jumping off point for further critique into the space and architecture,” said Samman.

“It’s what you as a member of the audience are making it to be in your mind. It can create space and it can occupy space,” said Samman.

Although Samman’s work is linear, her creative process wasn’t.

Samman began her career working with acrylic, oil and watercolour painting. She explored photography and sculpture before exploring interior architecture through wall paint. Eventually, inspired by artists from the original Minimalist Movement, Fred Sandback and Dan Flavin, and the minimalist painter Robert Ryman, Samman began paring her work back.

Robert Ryman
Robert Ryman for The New York Times

“My work in the years leading up to my honours was slowly progressing into something really spatial and experience-orientated and I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going. All I knew was it was quite linear.”

“In my honours year I moved away from any tactile paint and was creating installation pieces that worked with the architectural elements in the gallery.  They mirror the materials present in the space,” said Samman.

“My medium changes depending on the space and what I choose to focus on. It’s completely site-specific, and usually quite industrial. Think lights, wire, nails, string. I tend to buy my art supplies at Bunnings and not at an art store,” said Samman.

“I definitely don’t make works on canvas anymore, it’s just too small for me and not fulfilling. I tried painting on walls for a while and then my work just became less and less about the paint,” said Samman.

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Art students face the perpetual dilemma of wanting to follow their own artistic direction yet having to balance this with pleasing their teachers.

“It can be quite difficult at art school because your work is developing and you’re trying to follow what feels right for you to find your artistic style. At the same time you’re getting graded on it. It’s difficult to separate roadblocks in your creative process from a full-blown reflection on your self and your self-worth,” said Samman.

Samman’s plans for the future, much like the direction she took with her art, aren’t yet structured.

“I would love to do a Masters in Europe – Berlin would be amazing,” said Samman. “Work wise, I’m about to launch my small business, Bondi Bub, selling all natural baby products. I’m currently working on that from my new home in Hawaii. It’s all a bit random but that’s exciting to me. I’m just trying to get some life experience for now and then I’ll decide where to go next.”

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