Recently we interviewed artist Samantha Nye for our podcast, and we are excited to share highlights from that conversation here with you today.
Samantha Nye is a painter and video maker from Florida. Her work explores re-enactment, performance, and identity. Through her creative and funny paintings and videos, she highlights aging bodies, celebrates queer kinship, and facilitates an intergenerational dialogue between queer women and their mothers and grandmothers. In juxtaposition to our cultural preoccupation with youth and white bikini-clad women, Samantha's poolside paintings feature elderly women, including her mother, grandmother, their lifelong friends, and elders from her queer community. Her pictures and videos are designed as love letters to queer spaces past, present, and future. Her work imagines the future while also referencing lesbian legacies and failures. She mashes up incongruent references, such as Slim Aaron's photographs of the 1960s, lesbian separatists spaces of the 1970s, Bar Mitzvah parties from the 90s, and the Miami club scene of the early 2000s.
From Samantha: "I make paintings and videos. Both aspects of my work approach utopia through the remaking of pop culture from the 60s. They do that by filling up the spaces of those pop cultural images with a paradise full of queer women and trans-inclusive lesbian spaces. I'm a queer Jewish woman but not a religious Jewish woman, but can't take that cultural Judaism out of a gal. I feel that people that I was raised the closest to were the elders in my family and not so much the parental units. That influences the work. I'm trying to make this ideal future because I would like this queer women's pool party to go on when I'm 60, 70 and 80, and hopefully 90. I'm trying to make that happen and at least image it.
When I was in undergrad, there were like three different classes throughout my four years that were like, "Is Painting Dead? Maybe Painting's Dead: Part Two." So you thought painting was dead, you know, number three, but I have for a long time felt like it wouldn't have mattered at all what I made because figuration wasn't valued. For what I do and what I'm the most invested in, we're having a moment with figuration and figurative painting, so I'm feeling pretty good about it right now.
We've been working with aging bodies for probably 10 years, starting off making work in undergrad with my grandmother and my mother. Through that, ended up making work with my grandmother's like, buddies, my mom's buddies, and I thought of that work as queer, creating sort of a queer relationship with these women and their sexuality and seeing what it was like for them to perform their sexuality for me. And then from there, I was working within a framework of Playboy, then I started thinking about pool parties, because naturally Playboy loves a pool party. And then I started thinking, well, these women may not identify as queer, and I'm trying to queer them through this work. What about working with people who identify as queer?
Simultaneously, the video work was doing the same thing: focusing on the women that were kinship to me and not in a family way, and then it's spreading out to be more of like queer kin. Looking for lineage isn't the straight relationship of like, what I learned from women before me, like what I would learn from queer women, rather than what I would learn from familial ties.
In the beginning, I was thinking a lot about inheriting trauma and inheriting quite literally like a gender expression from my mother and grandmother. I was fascinated by this, like, thing that we would all do or the thing that they were upset I wasn't doing. And then I started working with both of their bodies. And I included myself in it, which I've tried doing throughout the years. I stopped caring about my body or painting my body or bringing in like my peers. Anytime I decided to bring in someone of my generation or my age, I wasn't as interested. And I think that led me to realizing the space that I wanted these women to occupy. And there's, of course, this empowerment idea. I'm into that, but I'm also not trying to make like a Dove Beauty campaign. So I'm trying to walk the line of understanding that this can be empowering for them, but I'm more interested in honestly what leisure would think like if women 60 and up were allowed like a truly like, sexual or a leisure experience and were unbothered by the weights of the worlds.
In the paintings, they're coming from all different sources. So sometimes they are women that I know. And then I'm finding a lot of women online through maybe reaching out to like an online kink page, you know, can I use some of your images? Can you send me pictures? But everyone's around 60 and up so that there's this like, beautiful utopian space that they get to be genuinely queer or genuinely empowered.
When I first was making this sort of like, remaking of the Playboy where somebody approached me—I was living in Miami—and they were like, "You know, we could get the Miami housewives on here, and this could be this marketable thing for you." It didn't feel right. That's not my interest either. Leisure isn't afforded to women as much, especially aging women, and I think like we see… I think a lot about like Instagram now being a way that people give like an image of full leisure. What is it like if we take the capitalist part out of it? What if these women were creating the capital to have a life of fucking or drinking or reading or lying by the pool? What if that was also important? What does time and presence afford you in terms of like deepening your relationships and your friendships? We think of this like queer opulence from a white male monied perspective. I'm using a lot of Slim Aaron's photographs to make the spaces that I'm placing these women into. Slim Aaron's photos have become a white gay male aesthetic in its opulence. One of my intentions is flipping that. Not so much to say, "All the queer women: you get a mansion, and you get a mansion," but more like, what happens if this was also valuable, or created value? I'm working with a visual language, so to indicate that I'm using opulent places, but I'm trying to queer them as I go. I'm changing some of the sculptures and obviously, the people and the things that they're doing. Sometimes hard to communicate that and make it clear that I'm not like, talking about fantastic capitalist wealth.
Any time a painting ends, or I have to switch studios, or I have a moment where there's a blank canvas, I have a weird paralyzed fear as if I've never made a painting before. I've talked to several artists of all different—like, anyone who makes anything. So many of us have all described the same feeling of being like, why have I made paintings or written poems or whatever for 15 years, and I like, can't deal with this blank page or this blank canvas and…Now I'm a professor, so I'm talking a lot to painting students. I'm thinking a lot about how to talk them through that moment. Talking them through that moment is reminding me that that is actually something we do in life, get lost in the question or the fear of the beginning of something, and then near two feet into it, and it's totally fine. You're questioning why you're ever worried about it.
My recommendation for other artists is: go to some paint, look at books that have painters, look at different work. Look at the colors Hockney used for one painting. Remember to think about color and not think about the burden of the beginning of the painting. He had all those burdens, but I'm looking at these two colors too. I'm using him in this example because he paints pools — but he could be anyone. Because you don't know how to do something does not mean you shouldn't do it. What you should be doing is presenting yourself with all the problems to learn how to get through them. Many people will say, "Well, I don't know how to do that, so I'm going to wait till you learn how to do it." But I think if you make yourself have all of the problems, you can't get better at solving them unless you continuously have them. Be okay — completely okay — with the fact that you don't know what you're doing. You don't have to pretend to know. It's better to learn to actually admit to yourself that you're learning. You don't have to pretend to the world that you already know how to make it."
You can watch Samantha's videos and see her incredible paintings at www.samanthanye.com or on Instagram @samantha_nye_studio.