Studio Visit Interview: Sam Spano

A few weeks back we visited the studio of Oakland based artist Sam Spano as he prepares a new series of works for "Calico Sunset" opening this July at Part 2 Gallery.  We spent time digging through old drawings, talking about process, and outside inspirations for his new works. Be sure to learn more about Sam and his process in the studio visit interview with Gallery Curator / Director Brock Brake below!

Brock Brake: You draw and sketch a lot. How often do you revisit older drawings and turn them into paintings?
Sam Spano: I have been doing more frequently lately, revisiting finished drawings as a source for paintings. For this show in particular I revisited a few drawings that I have always wanted to paint, and I stayed very close to the original drawing. Drawing is always the starting point for me, but I do not always translate it exactly as is. Usually something changes during the process that makes it a new thing, otherwise it seems pointless and less exciting. That is why usually my process is to work from sketches and less resolved drawings that allow me to inject something new during the painting process. But there are periods where I am only making work on paper, and sometimes months later I’ll revisit those and see the opening for a painting, as I did here for Painter and Model. And the one thing that did change in that, is what really makes it. I don’t think I would have done it without that time passing in between. So, it’s really good to revisit older work.

Where do you pull a lot of the image that show up in your paintings?
It begins with my drawings, where I let myself explore imagery and themes with less criticality than I do painting. I try to draw every day to keep the ideas flowing as well as keep my chops up. I feel like if I miss a more than a day I forget how to draw. When you’re drawing so often you inevitably find yourself repeating things unconsciously. Then I start to question why I’m doing so, and that can lead to the opening up of a body of work. Then I make more drawings. I try to draw a lot of things from memory, so it looks unique to me, but having a lot of stuff to look at helps with the flow and can lead to interesting ideas sometimes. I’ll try to make a lot of loose quick drawings, where the energy and idea is more important than how it looks. This is a way to surprise myself and make something I did not expect. If I need to reference anything most commonly I’m going back through old movies, art history, advertisements (particularly perfume/fashion spreads) and stock photos. During this process images are becoming more refined, drawings are becoming compositions for paintings, and I’m starting to think of the paintings like scenes from a larger story.  The mood or feeling around that story will inform my color choices and how I execute the painting, or even what type of “scenes” I still need to make.

Does routine play a role in your creative process?
Absolutely. My process relies a lot on momentum, and the more involved I am in working the deeper I can get into creating imagery and stories. It’s about getting into a flow state where there is less hesitation around what I’m doing, and everything is connecting and leading into something new. I find that my hand/eye coordination is better, and my sense of color is sharper when I’m working more. I would imagine most artists feel something similar. So, in order to try to keep that feeling going as much as possible, a fairly routine life is important to me. It’s like that old cliché about living orderly in order to create wildly. There’s something to that, but to me it’s mostly about energy and momentum. That being said, there is no set routine to how I work or when, it’s just that I need to do something every day. I’m a night owl and prefer late nights or really early mornings; having a home studio makes that possible.

What do you do outside of the studio to learn and grow as a creative?
The thing I do outside of the studio that fuels my own creativity the most is watch movies. Nothing transports me to another world and wakes up my creative senses like movies, or rgood tv. I think that interest is reflected in the type of work I make. Going to see art my friends and peers are making show me what else is being made and what the conversation is. I’m always inspired by going to museums and seeing paintings I may already know but love or have never seen in person. I used to be a much better reader, but books still inform my work because most importantly, I need to learn about things outside of art, to read stories having nothing to do with art, to read about the world and not think about myself. I listen to a lot of comedy, pop culture and current events podcasts. Being a painter is so solitary that unless I’m taking in all of these types of things and other art forms I will lapse into a humorlessness that kills my creativity.

What can people expect in this new series of works for “Calico Sunset”?
Like I mentioned earlier, some of these paintings were made directly from older finished drawings which is new for me. In general, the work I’m showing here reference different types of coupled relationships; we see lovers, sisters, the artist and their work. The title of the show made me think of day turning to night and evoked conflicting moods of calm and uncertainty which I tried to reflect in certain scenes. I was also interested in exploring more specific color palettes, reflected in the “red” pieces here. 


Be sure to join us on Saturday, July 14th for the opening reception of "Calico Sunset" a group exhibition featuring the works of Sam Spano, Ben Quinn, Caleb Hahne, Emma Webster, Erik Bender, Kenichi Hoshine, Maja Ruznic, and Paige Valentine.  Part 2 Gallery is located at 1523b Webster St. in Downtown Oakland, right off both 12th and 19th st. Bart Stations.  To receive a preview of the exhibition contact