Arts Writing Artist Features

Samantha Wall

Samantha Wall. 2014 Individual Artist Fellow, Oregon Arts Commission.

Photo: Sabina Poole

Originally published January, 2014

The subjects of Samantha Wall’s finely wrought portraits in charcoal and graphite are exclusively women. Some aspects, most often the face, are rendered in sharp, nearly photographic detail while others are blended into the background. In each of the faces, one has the sense that Wall has captured some essence of the individual, that beyond visual portraiture, this is something else. Some years ago, she made wall-sized drawings in which the artist was also the subject, that captured an almost violent emotional energy. Her recent work with a series of multiracial models is more subtle, enigmatic.

Wall has talked about how she begins a work with a photoshoot. The shoot functions to capture the exchange of emotion and idea between the artist and model. Wall then scours the images she collects for one that “captures the figure between expression and release.” And although the recent drawings do not feature an image of Wall, they are in some measure self-portraits as much as they are portraits of others. Yes, any portrait is in some way a blending of artist and subject, but the fact that these drawings that have their genesis in the collaborative nature of her photoshoots and the sensitivity she has for subject and form results in something different.

From the moment she received her MFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2011, Wall has accumulated honors beginning with the Joan Mitchell Foundation, MFA Grant Award and the First Look III exhibition at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, and continuing with nominations for the Henry Art Gallery’s Brink Award and the Portland Art Museum’s Contemporary Northwest Art Awards (CNAA). The Brink recognizes an emerging artist, but the CNAA recognizes established artists, as does the Art Gym at Marylhurst University where she had a show, Laid to Rest, in 2013 and The Oregon Arts Commission and The Ford Family Foundation which awarded her an opportunity grant. This means that those who pay attention to such things have recognized that she is a particularly evolved recent graduate. The venerable Laura Russo Gallery in Portland, whose stable primarily includes mid- and late-career regional artists, as well as representing the estates of the region’s most notable artists, recently picked up Wall.

Last year, Wall was one of the inaugural residents at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans. She calls the experience transformative. “My fondest memories are the late night conversations on the back porch by the pool, drunk on the smell of jasmine and the night insect sounds of the South, which on occasion were interrupted by the cloud to cloud lightening,” says Wall. “It was amazing!” It was there she developed her series of drawings of multiracial women, Indivisible. Late in the year, she showed these drawings at Ampersand Gallery in Portland which also resulted in a book of the same name. It is a series she plans to continue. “I’ve discovered that I enjoy moving back and forth, working and spending time researching a specific idea or interest, developing work, and then revisiting past projects or unfinished drawings,” she says. “I love walking around an idea for a while, spending time just looking at it from different perspectives and allowing it to reveal itself over time.” Wall was born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States at the age of four. She has written that her experience navigating multiraciality in both Korea and the United States has informed her work.

Wall has just recently concluded a solo exhibition her new works, Only Part of the Story at the Fairbanks Gallery at Oregon State University and this year she will return to New Orleans for a show of her work at Stella Jones Gallery as part of the Loving Festival.

Courtesy of The Oregon Arts Commission.

Artist Credit: Samantha Wall

Exhibition: Oregon Arts Commission Fellows

Project Website

Oregon Arts Commission