Discussion with Cinga Samson
How did art enter your life?
I started to draw at an early age, to use pencils, colors… I was drawing constantly. But at around 20 years old (2007) I decided to dedicate my life to art. For me, the magic started the moment I first entered an artist studio (2007). It was clear to me that this was what I wanted to spend my life doing! Even though at that time I didn’t knew much about being an artist and the industry itself, and it was more a ‘naïve’ attraction than anything, I just loved drawing. I loved the colors… I’ve never been interested in sales or the business aspects of art; I just wanted to do it purely for the enjoyment.
Did you receive an art education?
I was very lucky to walk into this studio which was, at the time, run by 3 artists: Luthando Laphuwano, Xolile Mtakatya and Gerald Tabata. I received a very casual training there and learned a lot with them in those 3 years. While working there, I was exposed to many techniques, media and concepts… I didn’t choose one particular master I just went from one artist to the other and tried to find out what I could gain out of this.
These 3 artists shared a lot with me: their advice and the exposure to their practices were instrumental. I was the youngest in the studio, but they treated me with respect
Why did you choose painting over other techniques?
At the very beginning, I started making sculptures out of plastic, wood, and paint… I tried out various media. Then I decided to focus only on painting. Now, I keep on experimenting within painting as well as outside painting. I’m trying to expand what I do, while still relating to my main practice.
Could you speak in detail about your technique and/or process? How would you define the evolution of your work, from the first paintings to what you are making now?
There are different stages in my creative process: first I draw a rough, mini, silly sketch out of a basic idea that I have. Then, I organize a proper photoshoot. For the photoshoots, I work with a team. The last one we did a few days ago involved 19 models, a stylist, a photographer… I always use myself as a model, and now my brother participates as well. Decors are made of objects I find in my own environment or in the Jungle (palms, flowers etc…). After that, I use the photo we produce to paint with oil on canvas. I don’t invent I mostly use elements that already exist in the picture.
There is a difference between the sketch, which is very playful and cartoonish, and the photograph, which is very detailed and clear. The final painting, however, is not as detailed as the photograph; it brings a different background and atmosphere.
Where did you source your inspirations?
My inspiration streams out of my youth and my desires. It also comes from my very spiritual background. I use everything around me: the source of my desires and aspirations, my relatives, my nature, my background… I dig inspiration from who I am ; I am a young African male.
I don’t want to stand for the youth of South Africa… I don’t want to put this kind of pressure on my practice. I don’t want to speak for everyone. I am just responding to my own experiences, but I am hoping that some Africans see themselves in my work.
Take the fake Louis Vuitton jacket in Ivory II: it’s an inspiration and an object of desire for me, but also for many male figures around me. Fashion matters. It represents, aspiration for us. The young generation wants to keep up with the trends, wants to keep up with what’s fashionable. They want to present themselves as desirable and attractive. That is why these fashion items appear in the paintings. They refer to this process of feeling better, of aspiring to a better position in life.
Can you let us know more about the blank eyes of the characters in your paintings?
I grew up in a village called Ethembeni in the countryside of South Africa. It was around 1990, at that time we were supposed to look after the cows all day long. There was a rule: we weren’t allowed to come home and sleep before we had gathered all the cows. I remember one particular night, I was with my cousin, and we had lost a cow. While searching for it, we walked by a river in a small forest. The moon was low and very bright, it was shinning on us and reflecting the white of our eyes. It remains such a strong memory that every time I work on a painting, I remember this night. The eyes of my characters reminds me of this moonlight; it’s a spiritual reference.
My work is deeply influenced by our spiritual background, superstitions, heritage, and beliefs. We don’t leave it behind. It’s still very relevant and true for us. I think that almost every African has experienced that kind of spirituality in their own family and community. I don’t know if spirituality is as much part of the everyday life anywhere else in the world, but here it is definitely part of who we are.
Do you identify to other contemporary or historic painters/artists, and why? Is there an artistic movement you feel attached to, either historic or contemporary?
Most of the time, I admire artists for one specific thing they excel in. It’s usually something very precise. Not just technique, but also the atmosphere, the concept… For instance, I very much like Paul Gauguin who made exotic, gorgeous paintings on Tahiti island. I am interested in the notion of exoticism in his work. He made his paintings desirable, and I have learned a lot from his work.
I also feel close to Andrew Wyeth who managed to introduce the notion of silence into his work. And I like Nicolas Hlobo for the softness, the gentleness, the mystical quality he puts into his work. Nicolas is one of those artists that manage to express a gentleness that is not weak, that is beautiful. He creates soft sculptures.
There is also another artist that I respect so much philosophically: Peter Clarke, who passed away. He belongs to a different time in South Africa’s history: the apartheid era. He included strong and poetic writings in his paintings: politically coded messages. For instance, in one painting the message was that black people were everywhere. It was very subtle and, at the same time, very strong. This blew my mind! It was a great inspiration to me in the way I present the subjects of my work.
Is your work meant to convey a message of any kind?
In the past, it used to be important for me to convey a message in my work. But now I feel I don’t have to put that pressure on myself anymore. The fact that I am African and black doesn’t mean I need to speak for all Africans. Every time I have a conversation about my work, I feel pushed in that direction.
I don’t have to put these topics in my work: I make art for the love of doing it. I am not an activist, I am not involved in any political movement: I am just an African man. I don’t want to bring the stigmas of Africa into my work… As soon as we engage those topics, people think it’s our identity, and it becomes our identity. Our goal as the young generation is to get ourselves out of the black people stereotype such as sickness or racism. We are part of the new identity of the African Continent.