Thursday, June 07, 2007

Art Space Talk: Bruce Samuelson

Kocot and Hatton introduced me to Bruce Samuelson. Mr. Samuelson's interest with the figure reveals itself more as an interest in, or an accumulation of shifting glimpses. Torsos and appendages turn and twist as a result of Samuelson's search for a formal resolution that seems determined to remain open to the flux of process and discovery. One thing is certain, we end up in the presence of human form and activity.

Bruce Samuelson is a Professor of Painting and Drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA. He is represented in numerous public collections which include: the Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University, NY; William Penn Museum, Harrisburg, PA; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Rutgers University, NJ; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.

Mr. Samuelson is represented by J. Cacciola Galleries (, Rosenfeld Gallery ( and Wendt Gallery (

Brian Sherwin: Bruce, Kocot and Hatton introduced me to you. How did you meet them? Have they influenced your art?

Bruce Samuelson: We met in the early 60’s while we were students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine arts. Yes they have and still do influence me...perhaps inspire is a better word. Kocot and Hatton’s work ethics, fearless experimentation with ideas and mediums and exceptional technical execution is constant in their collaborations.

BS: Have you collaborated with others? Kocot and Hatton make a great team. It is rare for artists to work so well together. Do you agree?

BS: No, I have not collaborated with anyone. The closest I ever came to it was when I was a student at the Academy. The film director David Lynch and I, from what I recall, wanted our paintings to move. We talked about collaborating on a very strange animated film. Unfortunately I chickened out. I agree, Marcia and Tom make a great team. They are very strong individuals that are highly synchronized. Who ever reads this interview might want to read your excellent recent interview with Kocot and Hatton.

BS: I notice that you often work on ragboard. Do you prefer that surface?

BS: My works on paper are on high quality papers, however, ragboard is my preferred support...It can take whatever I can throw at it.

BS: When I view your figures I'm reminded of Egon Schiele's work. Is he an influence?

BS: He is definitely one of my Gods. But I would have to include influences from Michelangelo, Goya, Rembrandt, de Kooning, Le Brun and Bacon.

BS: In regards to your figurative work... I notice that the bodies are often fragmented- limbs are often missing- this conveys a sense of decay. Is that intentional?

BS: I never thought of it as decay. However, my work does involve destruction. My work usually begins in chaos, and develops an organic structure by chance. This structure is often destroyed and rebuilt again and again until there is nothing more that I can do.

BS: I also noticed that the faces of your figures often run off the page, so to speak. Psychologically it conveys a sense of loss... or disconnection. Can you go into further detail about that? Is that your intention?

BS: I would not say that it is a sense of loss, but more of something not yet found. Seeing the completeness in the fragment has been an interest to me since I was a student at the Academy. One of the first and most powerful images that I studied at the Academy was a life size plaster cast of the fragmented Torso Belvedere. Other great works of Art that have inspired me are Michelangelo's late crucifixion drawings and his late pietas, also Rodan’s Walking Man, Cesanne’s Large Bathers and works of Giacometti. These works and many others that have an incompleteness about them are of extreme interest to me. This unfinished quality suggest a continuation...the viewer in essence completes the work.

BS: Do you ever push your figures too far, so to speak? It would seem that you see the creation of them as a gamble... they either work or they don't. Is that so? Would you say that your work controls you as much as you control the tools of its creation?

BS: It is always hard for me to decide when a work has gone too far or not far enough. Every mark is a beginning and every mark is an ending. But if I do sense that a work has gone too far, becomes too explicit and has lost its mystery, then it is dead. I have to destroy part or all of it so that I can rebuild it and hopefully bring it back to life. Yes, it is often a gamble, however, nothing is left by chance but left by judgment. I would not consider working as a form of control but rather a dialogue. I have to allow the work to point the way. And I must respect the intrinsic nature of the material and let it do its own thing. If I don’t do this then the work will be contrived and unsuccessful.

BS: Bruce, I understand that you are an instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Can you describe your instructional style?

BS: Addressing the individual is most important. I believe it is critical to identify the student’s strengths, weaknesses and personal interests. I feel technical skills and formal issues are very important and they should be encouraged on all student levels. However, I also feel that personal ways of seeing and expressing personal ideas should also be encouraged. Basically I try to instill in the student the qualities I described as Kocot and Hatton having.

BS: Do your students ever influence your personal work? Is instructing art a 'give and take' of information?

BS: I do not think they influence my work directly. Although their energy often rubs off on me...they also drain me. It takes at least a day to clear my head of two very full days of teaching. Yes it is a ‘give and take’. I think I have learned more from teaching than I have from being taught.

BS: Do you have any suggestions for current art students or anyone who is considering art school?

BS: My usual advice is keep your mind open and work your ass off. This is probably not a sufficient amount of advice. so I would like to include three of my favorite quotes that have greatly inspired me. ‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.’ -Henry David Thoreau ‘We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’ -T. S. Eliot ‘people who have found true knowledge fall silent. If I were a philosopher I would stop painting; I’d do nothing at all. That would be the silence of Zen. The only thing to do is to carry on searching for the light; I haven’t found it yet, and that’s why I paint.’ - Antoni Tapies

BS: What about self-taught artists... any advice for them?

BS: Same as the above. I would add that your best teachers are nature, history [Libraries, Museums etc.] and experience.

BS: Finally, where can we see more of your work? Do you have any exhibitions planned in the near future?

BS: I recently ended an exhibition at the J. Cacciola Gallery, however, the three galleries that represent me always have examples of my work on hand.

J. Cacciola Galleries, 531 West 25thStreet, New York, NY, 10011,

Rosenfeld Gallery, 113 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106,
Wendt Gallery 1550 South Coast HWY Suite 102 Laguna Beach,CA 92651

I hope that you have enjoyed learning about Bruce Samuelson and his art. Feel free to leave a comment.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

2 comments: said...

As a former student of Bruce Samuelson, and an ardent admirer of his work, I am impressed by the cogent, concise, and sensitive interview posted here. His responses are consistent with the very fine teacher he is, and demonstrates clearly why he enjoys immeasurable popularity, and intense gratitude from the many students with whom he has worked during his many years at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Anonymous said...

As a former classmate of Bruce Samuelson's at the Academy, I continually marvel at his vision and the progression of his work. I have always admired Bruce's intellect and focus. While the rest of us were standing around talking and laughing, Bruce was diligently working. His work always suprises me with it's power and technical expertise. He truly is one of the greatest American artists today.