Sam Shmith: On the art of making art

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Published:  November 16, 2015
Maggie Hellyer

For Australian photo artist Sam Shmith acknowledging success is a very private thing. As we chatted over the phone on a chilly Thursday morning Shmith, who is now based in New York, explained how the process of creating art and having it reflect what you set out to do is what he considers to be the greatest accomplishment of his career. “The best thing is when you look at a work that you’ve made and it reflects something of your experience and is successful in representing what you were trying to achieve in that artwork.”

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Whilst Shmith has a bevy of awards and successful solo exhibitions behind him, (this is his tenth year of exhibitions), his main focus is striving for his own personal recognition when it comes to his work. Shmith maintains that when he has achieved what he set out to do with his artwork it becomes a “deeply satisfying and rewarding experience, and it’s very private.”

Untitled (Cherry Springs 2)

Untitled (Cherry Springs 2)

Shmith, who completed a Bachelor Fine Art and Media Arts at Melbourne’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, married his film-maker wife in late 2011, and after their wedding the newlywed couple made the decision to relocate to New York in early 2012. The choice to do so seemed a natural progression, as New York appeared to be a fertile place for them both to further develop their craft.

When asked about the possibilities in New York in comparison to Australia, Shmith suggests that doing so is ‘problematic.’ His opinion is that population is essentially a key factor, and he attributes the vast amount of artists and people involved in industry in New York to the ability to achieve developmental growth. He points out that New York is a cesspool for contemporary art; “Think of all the artists that are there…300 galleries, campuses of museums and exhibition programs. There’s just so much on offer in terms of finding things that are really interesting and relevant to your work.”

Untitled (Carlisle Drive East)

Untitled (Carlisle Drive East)

Shmith has a great list of achievements behind him with a plethora of awards and his sixth solo exhibition  ‘Cherry Springs’ currently showing at ARC ONE Gallery in Melbourne.  His photography has been featured at the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Galleries UNSW, ARC ONE and the Centre for Contemporary Photography, and much of his work has been acquired by a number of collectors throughout Australia and the UK. With a solid and unceasingly flourishing career Shmith attributes his biggest challenge to remaining truthful to himself when creating art. “It’s important for anyone who’s making anything that they are truthful to themselves…It’s a very personal thing – your voice.”  When asked whether he has any regrets or would have done things differently oven the span of his career Shmith’s immediate response was a very clear no, as he went on to explain that he is a fatalist and finds comfort in all things playing out the way they are supposed to. Shmith attributes an organic evolution to the development of his craft; being his ability to create cinematic imagery that completely captivates you, always with a side serving of intrigue.

In terms of his craft and method Shmith explains that after making his first ‘real work’ at the age of 23, when he looks back at the last 15 years of making art he can see links and developments however most of them were not deliberate. “It’s only something you can really see clearly in retrospect”, he says. “My decision making wasn’t strategic. My visual language and formal elements of my work has largely defined itself.”

Shmith is known for his breathtakingly cinematic photographs but he professes that he views photography as only a medium, which is “just a means to an end.” When asked about his equipment he is the first to admit that he isn’t a ‘gearhead’ and insists that his equipment is “amateurish at best.” Shmith continues to produce bodies of work on his eight-year-old Mac and he maintains that he will not update his computer until it is absolutely necessary.

Untitled (Kittinger, descent)

Untitled (Kittinger, descent)

Whilst Shmith’s journey into the art realm appears to be a series of one success after another he expresses concern for emerging artists in the world’s current technological climate. His advice for aspiring artists is to silence the noise around them; the noise in question being social media and image sharing platforms such as Pinterest which can subject artists to being exposed to a few hundred artworks in an afternoon. Shmith implies that this can be counterproductive to originality and ones own voice. “I think there’s a lot more noise at the moment. I think it’s very important for artists when they’re developing that they try and do it in a quiet environment and listening carefully to your own impulses.”

Untitled (Horizon, night)

Untitled (Horizon, night)

‘Cherry Springs’ explores the illuminated night sky and landscapes at varying elevations of a state park,of the same name as the series, in Pennsylvania. Shmith shot the images for this series over a course of his visits and maintains that the nature of Cherry Springs is very important to this series itself. “Contemplating the night sky is a potentially disorienting and overwhelming experience, and Cherry Springs is this place in very American ways provides a very cozy, fun platform for looking at something that could potentially be very powerful and overwhelming.”

Untitled (Carlisle Drive East 2)

Untitled (Carlisle Drive East 2)

You can visit Sam Shmith’s most recent exhibition Cherry Springs at ARC ONE Gallery, 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne.

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All images are from Cherry Springs and courtesy of Sam Shmith.

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