Sam White does it all: from poetry to illustration to murals to an interactive “Selfie Center,” he consistently creates exciting, often interactive work. He founded and directed Wooly Fair, a massive art carnival at the Steel Yard, from 2005-13. As a muralist and illustrator, he’s produced work for PVDFest, The Dean Hotel (be sure to stop by and see his 8-bit “Octopus Song” mural on the rear wall of The Boombox), and Brown University. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next, which is why we’ve chosen Sam White as our 2018 2-D Resident Local Artist.
For those who don’t know you, or maybe only know you from Wooly Fair, tell us a bit about your background.
I was always someone who could work in multiple disciplines. In college, I majored in studio art (painting) and minored in creative writing (poetry). I switched gears in graduate school and went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for poetry. After graduate school I was on the poetry circuit for a while. I published a book. Taught some adjunct at various colleges, including URI. I was quite serious about it.
So what brought you back to art?
In moving to Providence, and in falling in with all the folks at Monohasset Mill, The Steel Yard, and the visual art community, my love of visual art was rekindled and I’ve swung hard back over to that side. For the last few years I’ve been making a living through commissions: painting murals, illustrating books, and selling my own screenprints and paintings. I also just designed, built and staged the Selfie Center at the PVD Fest this year, which was a nice return to interactive/experiential art.
Like Wooly Fair?
Both in college and in graduate school, I created these variety show party/events – which looking back, were the seeds for Wooly Fair. Whether it’s Wooly Fair, or The Selfie Center, or The Octopus Song – those projects all share the qualities of being aesthetic environments that seek to disarm the viewer through humor, warmth, spectacle – as a means of chipping away at ego and personal identity.
What’s your goal in doing that?
If it leads people to interact with each other in a positive way, then that, for me, is gold. After creating that The Octopus Song, I was struck by how many people were taking selfies with it. That, in part, lead me to create The Selfie Center to see whether I could bring the public into closer quarters and get them to interact with each other as they took selfies in various environments. I think what underpins all of this for me is a real desire to get people to meet on unfamiliar ground and talk to each other.
How did you get involved with The Avenue Concept?
The Avenue Concept has been on my radar for a long time, but they really piqued my interest a couple years back with a few of the really big murals that went up Downtown. I like the boldness. I like that they support the local community and are also actively recruiting international artists to come to PVD and make the city their canvas. I think as much as any organization The Avenue Concept can claim a stake in PVD defining itself as the Creative Capitol.
What are your plans for this residency?
I’m excited to put up another piece in downtown PVD. But I’m also excited to see how I can mesh with TAC’s ongoing projects and their planned roll-out this summer. TAC was generous in providing me with space and materials to create the Selfie Center. I like their sky’s-the-limit approach to public art in Providence.
You’re finishing it with a gallery show in the fall. What can we expect from that?
This will be my first solo show in PVD. I think this will be different for me, because it will give me the opportunity to synthesize many of these themes at stake in my artwork into a more traditional gallery setting. It will also give me the impetus to make work on canvas, which is something I’ve been wanting to get back to for a while. I think the event will be a mix of Wooly Fair and a gallery show – but maybe it will be entirely different. I’m not sure. I’m excited to see where my work with takes me.