Maybe we like Sam Winston because his artwork is pretty. Or maybe we like it because we’re just jealous of how effortlessly he blends images and words in his own unique way. The UK-based artist’s work uses both words and traditional art forms to examine communication in a world inundated with messages. With layer upon layer of meticulous detail, Winston tells stories with a rare brand of patience and discipline that demands more than a 15-second page visit.
Alyssa Bluhm: Each piece of your artwork has a deeper meaning behind it, in a way that gets people to think about the world in ways they might not usually think about it. Do you think it's the responsibility of the artist to do this, or do artists have another role entirely?
Sam Winston: I can only talk from my own experience, but I think, firstly, this is the order that it happens—my responsibility initially was for a personal exploration. I was trying to work out how I understood the world, and how I wanted to both understand myself and how I fit into that. A lot of trying to work out bits of my subconscious. And that’s really useful because an arts practice gives you kind of abstract ways of getting into elements of things that don’t fit so well in language or in words.
And then the second role for me about the creativity…I have a very healthy dialogue with that kind of creative thing, exploring what’s underneath, and then it is about how that fits into the culture. So firstly it’s personal, and then it becomes cultural.
AB: A lot of your artwork relies heavily on words and letters. Do you ever get writer's block as an artist?
SW: Not so much of writer’s block. I get format block. I often hop between the three movements—the physical craft-led strategies, like drawing; writing, intellectual activity; and then the listening format.
If I’m in the practice of, say, working in collage, then I would say the qualities of collage is craft-based, is intuition-led. It’s unconscious and it’s a physical process and it’s slow. The physical act of sculpture or collage is using the body as a form of intelligence.
And if that becomes limiting—if I find myself repeating something and its just gone into pattern—then I’ll move back into something like writing, which is a lot more concept-based. And vice-versa. If I’m stuck in ideas and I’ve just been thinking all this time, then I need to get back into my body.
And the third format that I would swap between is silence. Even though I think silence and listening is probably the most creative and the most unexplainable format for making work in. It’s pointless saying it’s work—it’s very hard to say that silence is a creative process. But the amount that happens when you just listen is amazing.
AB: How did you discover your talent for art?
SW: I don’t think it’s a talent. I think you develop a longstanding relationship with something, and for me it comes from problems. Because I’m dyslexic, there’s a language thing, and because I had trouble with linear writing, I started drawing and looking at different ways of communicating.
It’s not necessarily just dyslexia. I think a lot of problems are basically the starting point for many creative endeavors. And it’s the exploration of a question that produces interesting work. My talent from art came from being prepared to explore what this problem was for me.
AB: For your "Drawing on Memory" series, you interviewed someone being held in prison in the UK. Do you enjoy watching any prison-themed television shows? How did this experience change how you watch prison-themed TV programs?
SW: [laughs] I don’t have a TV! I’m far too boring. A friend of mine’s a prison psychologist, and I watched a documentary about him interviewing psychopaths, and that was interesting. But I haven’t watched any—sorry.
I did see a billboard for [Orange Is the New Black] over by the petrol station…and I did wonder what Orange Is the New Black is. My only aversion to TV series is that once you’ve done one, you’re like, “Oh, my god, I’ve committed to eight days of this!” but I shouldn’t be afraid. I should just dive in, right?
AB: What is your current obsession?
SW: I’m really into breathing at the moment. That’s such a crap answer. I’m doing a lot of it. I’m spending a lot of time drawing the breath, as in doing artwork around breathing.
I haven’t been listening to much either. I’m scoring no points on this question. I’ve been listening to Nula, which is music that’s kind of on the edge of abstract soundscapes.
AB: Sorry for the macabre question, but—when you die, would you like your tombstone to be a piece of your artwork that you designed for that purpose? What would it look like?
SW: Spike Milligan, an English poet, on his tombstone, he just has: “I told you I was ill.” I think I’d like mine to be a substance that wears away, so I’d like it to disappear at some point. Sand is probably too much, but something that definitely slowly wears away. Or maybe this idea of layers, where there’s something else underneath it.
At the moment, maybe because I’m young, I don’t feel strongly attached to my body. When it goes, it just goes. And I don’t think we’re as solid as we like to think we are. Ideas aren’t really ours anyway, and when we make work, it doesn’t really belong to us the moment it’s consumed by someone else. So I like the idea of a tombstone that isn’t permanent; that becomes something else.