We had the good fortune of connecting with Samara Barks and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Samara, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
Originally from Detroit, MI, my mother raised my siblings and me in a very creative environment. She is a fantastic artist. She was not only a seamstress, but a sculptor, a painter, and just an all-around artist. She encouraged me to explore my artistic side when she noticed I had a knack for it. With my mother’s steady encouragement and work ethic, those things lent themselves to the artist I am today. If she didn’t know how to do something, she worked at it and learned how. As a child, I felt like there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. We’d always watch Saturday morning cartoons together. Mix that with a healthy dose of video games, you have the foundation for my early art life.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
In my youth, I was heavily influenced by Ernie Barne’s art. His elongated bodies and forced perspectives drew me into his work. Barnes showcased the everyday life of black Americans for a mainstream audience. Through my art, I illustrate that black people are not a monolith by creating work with people of color, specifically black people, in spaces where we aren’t likely to be seen. By showcasing diverse subjects in these spaces, I hope to bridge gaps in those subjects’ perceptions. As a result of that early influence, my art is a mix of exaggerated realism with a cartoon and graffiti feel. The majority of my work lives in watercolors and inks, but I’ve recently added spray paint to my arsenal as well. I love to work in watercolors because it’s fluid and flexible. It has a lighter quality than my darker ink pieces, which tend to be of more somber and macabre subjects. Working on more large-scale murals led me to experiment with spray paint and it’s fast-drying capabilities. It allows me the freedom to achieve some of the same results as brushwork more efficiently and with fewer supplies. Currently, the thing I’m most excited about is diving into learning to use spray paint in more of my work. I’m a novice right now, but I’ve done a few murals around Austin using that medium, and it’s got me hungry to learn and do more. I just completed my largest mural project this month with Raasin in the Sun, a non-profit in Austin, TX, specializing in beautification and restoration of East Austin. The Be Well Mural project commissioned six artists to paint uplifting messages to the city as we all navigate this pandemic. I’m proud of this project, not only for its scale but the fact that I sprayed the whole 186′ space. Completing a project of this size, let’s me know that I can do work like this and energizes me to look for more opportunities. My road to where I am professionally is a winding one. After college, my original goal was to work in the video game industry. I got degrees in media arts and animation but quickly found out that gaming wasn’t for me. So I took my 3D skills to product design and architectural visualization. That eventually led me to Houston and work in exhibit design and the oil and gas industry. After being laid off when that industry took a hit in 2016, I decided to strike out on my own and try being a full-time independent artist. As many know, working for oneself isn’t an easy task. I ran into what many creatives deal with when first starting, building my brand, and finding my voice. I find that’s an ever-continuing challenge. But I work on conquering that by always striving to create work that’s true to me first. If an audience finds it appealing enough to engage with it, that’s the bonus. The other challenges are things everyone faces, like finding and keeping clients, how to think of myself as a business, and how to navigate the financial side of being a working artist. I couldn’t navigate all of these things without a support system. Having mentors, friends, and partners that understand what I’m working towards is a vast part of creating what success looks like for me. If I have anything to impart on other creatives just starting, it’s to find your circle. It’s challenging to go at this alone. And I have a community of good folks where we all help each other out. I’m just getting to the point where I feel like I’m hitting my stride. I’m eager to do more work on a broader stage, and it’s just the beginning.
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.
That’s a difficult one. I’m a bit of a homebody, but I’ll give it a go. I’d take them to a roller derby bout to kick off the visit with some fun. Then I’d take them to on a few day hikes through the city’s parks. And a trip wouldn’t be complete without stopping at the best Pan-Asian restaurant in Austin, 888. I’d round the trip out with an art tour of all the cool mural work throughout Austin.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are quite a few people that have been a part of my support system throughout my art career. To my mentors, the people that helped guide me in this sometimes intimidating art life, I thank you. Dan Flores for helping me find my direction, Nguyen Tom Griggs for encouraging me to invest in myself and my art, and Jay and Riki of Laced and Found for showing me the ropes. This is in no way an exhaustive list of people that have helped and encouraged me to grow into the artist I am today. I’d be here all day thanking everyone who’s supported me thus far. But I wanted to give a special shout out to my mentors for letting me know that I had it in me to do this.
Reach for the Stars Window Art: Photo by Morris Malakoff