Beauty in Darkness: An Interview with Artist Samantha Shumaker
Samantha Shumaker is a young, self-taught artist reinventing age-old tales: from the folklore of countless cultures to the fear of doomsday and what the future has in store for mankind. Combining the classical and surreal with her commanding female protagonists, Samantha’s meticulous paintings deeply resonate with people from all walks of life.
Dear Darkling had the privilege of sitting down with Samantha to discuss how she creates her striking paintings and the beauty in darkness.
Dear Darkling: Please tell us a bit about your newest series of art.
Samantha: My latest series of paintings have been centered around the beauty of darkness. I’m drawn to folklore and stories that are twisted and grim. I like to make the darker themes of my paintings ambiguous by juxtaposing it with beautiful women and landscapes. The allure of tragedy is a common theme throughout historical tales and I consider myself a visual extension of a storyteller.
Has visual storytelling always come naturally to you?
I have been making art since I can remember. As a young child, I used to take a big stack of computer paper and scribble/draw on everything I could get my hands on. My desire to create went so far as me falling off a chair as I tried to reach for the computer paper that my parents thought they had cleverly hidden on the top shelf of their closet. As I grew up and began to make more sense of the world, the scribbles turned into figures and eventually rendered into rough guesses at human anatomy complete with triangle breasts.
My love of creating began to manifest even when I wasn’t drawing. On several occasions I would create my own horror films with the neighborhood children as a preteen and using my father’s camcorder to record cooking shows and music videos for my “band” where the instruments were pots and pans. I think that all of these ways in which I expressed my inclination towards creativity form an important precursor to my current creative state.
“Death of a Woman” is inspired by my frustration with the church’s martyrization of Maria Goretti. It represents a woman caged and oppressed in the façade of the beautiful and imposing church. It also represents an obsession with controlling sexuality; namely, the sexuality of women.
You pull inspiration from many different historical and fictional references, from Greco-Roman, Asian, Native American, and even Voodoo influences. How are you combining elements and characters of known stories to produce a new narrative in your own work?
By combining different folklore spanning human history, I am expressing the common underlying human story in a visual format. This is largely driven by my interest in mythology and psychology. Stories are, by nature, one of the oldest and most universal forms of communication. By expressing folklore that is primitive in nature and yet complex as I develop it in my own perspective, I can share a cohesive human narrative that feeds our primal yearning for hearing a good story. By being a visual storyteller, I seek to understand humans and their most deep-rooted fears or desires and communicate this through each piece.
What’s the most powerful work of art by another person you’ve seen, and how has it reflected your own creations?
The most powerful piece I have seen in person is most certainly “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea“ by Salvador Dali. In fact, seeing the piece in person was one of the events that fueled my intense childlike re-awakening to create, and my obsession with surrealism. At the time, I was studying Psychology in college and I was reading the label about how Dali was expressing the way our minds are designed to discern a human face by using the lowest quantity of information needed to do this. Not only is it visually impactful, but it also brought me the realization that art can tell so much more than just a pretty picture.
Do you think that your education in Psychology affects your art or the content you portray in other ways?
My education in Psychology does affect my art in many other ways. Currently, I’m working on a painting called “Pareidolia” which is going to be inspired by the phenomenon in which we see faces in patterns where it doesn’t really exist. The trees and foliage in the painting morph into skulls and grotesque faces to demonstrate how visual stimuli are processed by the brain to perceive recognizable objects. Or, more specifically, our brains are hardwired to see faces even when there aren’t any. When I discover interesting psychological processes, I try to portray my interpretation of this discovery through a painting.
Do you think of your art as a way to escape our world, or as a way to enhance it?
I think of art as an escape; or rather, a portal to another world. These portals show us lessons that can help us to understand our perception of reality better. I like to view art like Wonderland. When Alice returns from her fantastical adventures, she comes back with newfound knowledge of herself. Art can be very similar in that it holds a looking glass to the people who decide to delve themselves into the art they view.
While you were artistically creative from an early age, you didn’t begin pursuing it professionally for yourself until fairly recently. How have your social media presences, like your YouTube Channel, played a role in your artistic development?
Social media played a huge role in my artistic development. I do wish I would have started my professional art career earlier, but I didn’t think it was possible until I realized the power of social media. Social platforms helped me learn how to put myself out there and how to present my work to the world at large. While it began as a way to express myself when I was going to college, I became engulfed by the world of art online and I felt a great yearning to create every day and share my work with the world. As I began to get feedback on my work, I became enamored by the response and wanted to continue to inspire others and improve at my own craft simultaneously. It’s been a very wonderful journey for me and I have the community of supporters to thank for pushing me along the way.
What artists out there are inspiring you right now?
Lately, I’ve really been loving ball jointed doll sculptors. Their ability to combine sculpting, painting, engineering, sewing, and photography is something I greatly admire. Some of my favorites at the moment are the Popovy sisters and Marina Bychkova. They go beyond sculpting dolls by turning their work into a multidisciplinary art form that combines the surreal style with every part of the process.
In your short time in the art scene, you are already making some serious waves. What are your next goals (artistically or otherwise)?
My next goals artistically are to experiment with different mediums and to work larger. Lately, I’ve been trying to make my own ball jointed doll, and working with clay is such an interesting medium because you are essentially making your own dimensional canvas to paint on. I gained interest in clay recently because I wanted to start sculpting and carving my own frames. I also want to make massive paintings and try my first wall mural. Overall, my biggest goal in life is to always compete against my previous creation by being more detailed and come up with stronger concepts. It’s so difficult what to choose to do next because I want to do everything at once!