We had the good fortune of connecting with Samantha Combs and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Samantha, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I believe risk-taking is essential to making good art. Taking risks enables an artist to discover new materials and modes of expression that are typically more visually and conceptually compelling.
Since undergrad and especially during grad school, I pushed myself out of the confines of the painting discipline to explore other methods of creation. I had visionary ideas and needed to find a new, unique way to physically manifest them. So instead of using paint as a medium, I began making soap as an alternate painting material, along with performance and immersive installation work. Taking these artistic risks allowed me to learn more about my creative instincts, produce unique and perceptive work more attuned to my interests and ideas, and most importantly, to feel empowered.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My art takes on various forms including painting, sculpture, mixed-media, immersive installation and performance. Having an interdisciplinary art practice encourages me to stay playful in the studio, always experiment and have a wider breadth of research motivations.
In my current body of work, I use soap and self-help book paper to create 2D and 3D work. Both of these materials function as metaphors for the act of self-care, and the lack thereof. Each work functions as a cross-section of an imagined subterranean landscape set in our shower drain pipes, where residual soap, emotions and thoughts collect metaphorically as they are washed off our minds and bodies. In other words, an individual’s internal life is so much more rich and telling than their external appearances. Using soap as an art material is exciting because it’s so versatile. You can melt it, burn it, carve it, etc. It’s an ever changing material that I am still finding new discoveries about.
I completed my MFA in 2020, which as you may assume, was not the best experience in light of CoVid. Aside from the pandemic, graduate school was a very important period of artistic and personal growth for me. It showed me my short-comings and allowed me time and space to work through them. As of now, I am a visual arts professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA.
For a good portion of my life, I saw my sensitivity and vulnerability as a liability to myself, where I couldn’t fully express who I was with confidence. After my experience in graduate school and generally maturing over the years, I’ve come to find that this very vulnerability is what makes me a strong individual. Instead of hiding behind it, I’ve learned to fiercely and humbly articulate it. And with that, I’ve earned respect, friendship and connection; all things needed for a person to be successful.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I currently live in Baton Rouge, LA. It’s certainly not as happening as New Orleans, but there are still things to do in the area.
So, my friend is coming down for a trip to visit me in the Deep South… what do we do??
1. Relax! Order in a delicious pepperoni pizza from a pizza joint called City Slice and watch horror movies all night at the house.
2. Go on a Bayou kayak tour! Get up close and personal with alligators, reptiles and a wide range of bird species.
3. Drive out to New Orleans and get a hotel for a couple days. Go to art galleries on Julia street and CAC (Contemporary Art Center), all while intermittently day drinking at bars. During the night, we’d go to bars like The Goat and Santos to dance and clown around. Karaoke is a must. On the last night, we go check out live music at One Eyed Jacks.
4. Head back to Baton Rouge- check out a performance at the Black Box Theater at LSU.
5. Head to mid-City Biergarten for dinner and drinks.
6. Next day, head to the gulf-shores to go to the beach for the day.
7. Last day, relax! Walk the LSU lakes and enjoy the warm weather by the pool!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are a couple of key people that have supported me through these recent years:
My partner, Peter Smith has always been there to help me with my work by giving me critical advice, helping with installations and fabrication, and providing a shoulder to cry on when times were tough.
My graduate school professor, Denyce Celentano was a key mentor for me. She challenged me to think deeply about my work and to embrace my eccentricities.
My friendships with Stephanie Cobb, Clare Samani and Heather Molecke have been crucial to my well-being these past few years. Each one of these fine human beings has made me laugh to the point of choking on my own spit.