Instagram is, for the most part, a plague on humanity. Countless Love Island stars and narcissistic lovers of voyeurism were made on the platform. Banal jobs such as “Instagram influencers,” which make far more money than they have any right to, what with the care-workers and miners of the world toiling for next to nothing, were born on it. But the one plus-side of the platform is that it allows artists to promote their work without the previously necessary physical platforms. And sometimes, I think, this might be worth it.
Sam Pickett is an artist from Surrey, whose work is promoted through Instagram. I found him through the #surreyart hashtag whilst looking for posts to comment on in order to expand my reach and boost blog viewership. One of his drawings caught my eye, and when I looked at the rest of his body of work, it was really quite striking. I would never have discovered it without Instagram.
Indeed, for artists like Pickett, the platform is often a vital surrogate to physical exhibitions. “I’m an utter virgin,” in terms of these exhibitions, he says. “I was speaking to a London artist and curator, Gary Mansfield, a while back and he pointed out that with social media we can all exhibit in the biggest gallery in the world. It’s just a shame you can’t get across the full effect without seeing art up close (or behind a bunch of idiots taking selfies in front of it like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre).” He was planning an exhibition, along with a boxing match, for later this year, but “the old pandemic scuppered that for now.” It is, of course, difficult to replicate the effect of art through pixels alone. But it’s a damn sight better than nothing.
Has lockdown changed the way he works? “In a word, yes.” He describes being able to fill entire days with work; unlike for photographers, who are limited by lockdown, for those who draw, the quarantine has provided nothing but an excess of time in which to flesh out there art with leisure. “Being able to dedicate so much time to my art has done wonders with my drawing becoming almost like automatic writing at times. The themes and tone have broadened exponentially as well as whilst I work I listen to a lot of podcasts and thought pieces exposing myself to all sorts of weird and wonderful new concepts.”
So what influences his work? “In short, everything.” He talks about the creative proccesses of Francis Bacon, who “liked to imagine everything he saw being ground into a sort of potent imagination dust that he reconstructed through his personal filter into things we’ve never seen before.” He also cites Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Picasso and the guitarist John Frusciante “for his ascetic devotion to art,” something which he takes on board in his full-on working schedule. In fact, all music is a big influence, as he has the colour Chromesthesia, a sound-to-colour form of synaesthesia.
I ask him to pick a particular piece and describe it. He chooses one called Every Hour of Every Minute I Feel Seconds from Crying but there is Hope Eternal (pictured below). He admits that this is “not my most short and succinct of titles” but goes on to describe the piece as “a combination of something to do with space and a creative self-portrait,” not giving much more away than this. Indeed, such an eerie, melancholic piece might be ruined by too much analysis. It conveys mood more than anything; a gothic natural beauty seeping into the breathless vacuum of space, it feels not like a clash of these two opposing forces, but a détente.
Finally, Pickett talks about art itself, and what drove him to it. Art, with the exception of music, is the first thing “that truly feels worthwhile with my limited amount of time on this earth. I have constant doubts though as art doesn’t feed, shelter or heal people (at least physically) however I can’t help wondering what state people would have been after lockdown without (it) . . . No matter how much society beats into my head that slaving away shifting binary code between different terminals and consuming as much as possible is what I should be doing in order to be a ‘productive citizen’, something just doesn’t sit right. I smell a rat.” Time, he says, is his “most precious commodity,” and he wonders why he shouldn’t spend it on “something I love that sometimes makes other people happy.” Indeed, it’s a difficult profession to be in, especially with little progress and even less money, but with enough passion, it’s got to be worth it. There’s nothing more valuable than happiness.