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Interview with Sam Nejati

In my work, I seek to externalize the internal realm and the spiritual elements of human existence by visualizing and defining a sense of space, mood, and atmospheric themes. I am a prolific photographer. However, the photographs I produce are not ends in themselves, but raw source material, that affects my painting process. At times, I am drawn to literary references that extract and illuminate the spiritual properties that reside within and form the narrative structure in the piece.

I am fascinated by the cognitive experience, in which humanist and spiritual conditions coalesce to bring something more meaningful to the surface. To me, a painting is like a living being, in which the whole is more significant than the sum of its parts. The finished artwork is a blend of perfect imperfections in terms of surface and compositional qualities, which alludes to a personal journey that accentuates universal human conditions, mindfulness, ethics, and memory.

In my work, I contend with the contrary notions of flatness and depth, solidity and fluidity, permanence, and transience to spark emotions. Evoking a redemptive experience as well as a sense of transformation is what I yearn for through the medium of paint.

The Wee Hour, acrylic on canavs, 72×72 in (182.88 x 182.88 cm), 2020

Who or what has a lasting influence on your art practice?

I go to museums, artist exhibitions, lectures, and enjoy reading poetry extensively. All of these activities permeate my mind and have a direct effect on how I perceive the world and my work but in a very indirect way. I Live every day and go through life by being mindful. In a direct way, for me, going through life is like a living, breathing, and dreaming painting. I am particularly interested in spiritual elements of human existence as well as cognitive experience which emanates from living life with a hope to make some sense out of it.

Nothing comes from nothing. Even the most abstract subjects come from somewhere. My interest is to trace dots and find relations that are at the core and emerge them to the surface as my narratives. I try to show the essence of beings without showing them but creating an atmosphere that alludes to their presence.

What is the most challenging of being an artist?

To be open to experiment and willful to challenge yourself. Be self-critical while staying honest with yourself. World seems a very tempting place for many. It’s so simple to be influenced in today’s world, especially with all the social media, news, and a lot more data blitze. Almost Everyone wants to get a snippet of your attention and that can be hard not to fall for. The challenge is to stay focused. It appears that it’s easier more than ever for an individual to give in so perhaps to fit in.

It’s imperative for one to remind oneself of what and why one is here for and what are the motives beyond all the hard work one puts in. This can be extremely challenging but for me, that’s how things work, or I make them work. To be open, to accept to not get too comfortable with the work and not seek the accolades which you may or may not deserve. Remembering that artist is the only one who has to feel comfortable with his or her creation before anyone else. Being able to let go at times and to create new problems to solve and to extract meaning from can be very challenging. It is not easy to be hard on yourself. I look at it as an internal battle. I understand if I am not hard on myself no one else will and in turn, nothing will come out of it. Oftentimes what I create comes from stories that I see in the world and I try to develop that on canvas. So, I am dealing with stories from the outside world plus my own stories. When these two collide, there is going to be tension to make one narrative out of these two stories. To me, this sounds like giving birth to a visual narrative that in my case, happens to be a painting. Being an artist can be extremely challenging depending on how one takes it and to what degree one can embody a level of truthfulness. The process can be incredibly self-rewarding. I look at it as a labor of love and also remind myself that art is going to outlive you because of this very long practice so just enjoy the process.

Adagio, acrylic on canvas, 75 x 73 in (190.0 x185.42 cm), 2019

In your opinion what does art mean in contemporary culture?

This can be a very broad realm. Art can have different definitions depending on who is answering it. I can only speak for myself and my experiences. I think every period on its own is contemporary. Velasquez was contemporary of his time and now Anish Kapoor is contemporary. There seem to be three ways to look at this; some of the artists’ works are more relevant to their times. While Other artists who live at the same time and produce artwork may not be so relevant to events of their time. The third group and most interesting group, in my opinion, are the creative minds whose works lean toward certain universality and timelessness which can transcend beyond their time. For me, all these three groups are contemporary and again it all depends on how one looks at it. What is more surprising in recent years is how much the term contemporary has become a trend and misused as much as the word organic.

What do you like/dislike about the art world?

The term art world is so immense and can be confusing at times. The so-called art world has a certain level of enormity that may be ungraspable. I tend to envision it more like a vast garden where you have different plants with different characteristics and beauties as well as some not so appealing. It has many areas and circles, and I am sure everyone will look at it differently. For me, the art world is a sort of arena where I can create and be able to exchange ideas with like-minded people and create discourse with other artists from a different array of disciplines, with the hopes to build a certain level of the community.

What I don’t like is that I see a systematic level of trendiness happening. It feels that there was a time that the artist created the work of art from necessity. Now that’s hardly the case. I see many works that their main intentions are just to fill the niche. In recent years, certain individuals entered the art world for not the right reasons. Meaning they are here, in the name of art but in actuality, they are aiming for everything else other than art but with a veneer of art. There are so many influences out there and they are very tempting, however, in the end, it all depends on the artist and what path one is interested in which can result in how that artist will define the art world. All the entries seem to be open. One needs to know what he or she wants and go for it.

Name three artists you admire.

I am interested in many things, life, nature, books, and many great artists. To name a few. Morandi, Anish Kapoor, Anthony Gormley, Enrique Marinez Celaya

Spirit Drifting, acrylic on canvas, 75 x 90 in(190.5 x 228.6 cm), 2020


What are your future plans?

No one knows what the future holds for us. I can have so many plans cooking in the back of my mind, but all these can go down the drain in a split second. Look at how the COVID-19 impacted the world. But what I do know is that what I do now will be going to have a direct impact on my future. What I do now will be the stepping stone for the future in the making. For instance, I have been working on fifteen large canvases since March. The whole art world is pretty much shut down and no one can predict when things will sort themselves out. I have these paintings ready to unveil when the right opportunity will present itself. So basically, I worked on these pieces and that is to say as if I worked on my future. In a way, everything you do for yourself is an investment in yourself on so many levels, and keep in mind that not all investments have to be financial. I also think it’s extremely important to have hope and the desire to reach whatever you define as hope. I see desire as more practical than passion. One needs to decide how one will make one’s future and be comfortable to live with oneself. Others and outside forces can indeed have a tremendous impact on you as an artist and on your career. It’s very important to know that without your hard work, self-drive and knowing what you may want from life none of these outside forces will ultimately put a step forward.

Sam Nejati

Sam Nejati was born and raised in Tehran. He attended the Tehran Visual Academy of Arts. In 1999 he moved to Los Angeles and Later on to San Francisco Bay area. He eventually went on to study art at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Since his graduation in 2012, he has been living and pursuing his painting practice in the San Francisco Bay area.

Sam Nejati official website

Interview for Art Reveal Magazine Issue 56


Shades of Wisdom, acrylic on canvas, 36×48 in (91.44 x 121.92 cm), 2020

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