Poets who do art: interview with Sam J. Grudgings
A chicken or the egg question, were you a poet first and an artist next, or vice versa?
I always wrote stories and I illustrated them since I was a kid so to me they're very much hand in hand. I focused more on art than writing as a teenager but always harboured dreams of being a famous novelist or comedian or something. Eventually I stumbled across an open mic and found an outlet for all my stories, self deprecating jokes and bad lyrics and now would say I'm more of a poet but they're both very much storytelling mediums that inform one another in my practice at least.
How do you work with both? Do you allocate specific time or do you find they manifest themselves to you?
I find they generally offer lucid responses to one another. Though nowadays I'm more focused on writing and the discipline of writing every day, there are still some days where it's simply not possible, nothing on the page works so I head to the canvas instead. If i'm being thrown up against a brick wall in my head then the answer to that writers block is often found in the different mediums of art and the different applications of it. Whether that's great big sloshes of paint for abstract backgrounds, drip painting or minute detail and monotonous colour blocking there will be a method that rewires my brain and shows me a workaround for the work i'm struggling with. Similarly some days I can't even doodle so writing is a way of engaging a very different area of my brain so I'm still engaging it and keeping it busy just not the same neural pathways. There's no specific time, though often when I'm sleepy or hungry, inspiration strikes until the need to fulfil a need takes over.
Who are your influences today, have they radically changed over time?
Poetry wise i always had a performance slant, my inspiration was heavy metal, the cinematics of horror and the visceral energy of punk, as well as poets who embody the physical like Dan Smith of Listener, Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa, and Joelle Taylor . I still find that physicality informs my work and Safiya particularly is very precise and considered in her movements and so is someone who I consistently check in on to better my performance. Writing wise again I look to the body, the visceral and the gore of it, writers like Fran Lock, Sam Sax and Richard Siken are current favourites. My tastes have refined rather than changed I think, I'm now more specific about what I like and can pin it down better as well as enjoy it critically. In terms of art I like an incredibly varied amount of stuff but favourites include KAZLAND, Francis Bacon, Pola Bee, BUILTFROMSKETCH and Angele Dessin. I'm a big fan of layers of transparency, horror, abstract and weird macabre art. I used to have more of a fondness for comic artists (and Dave Mckean is still an all time favourite) but whilst I still love it the only ones who have stood the test of time are Ben Templesmith, Mike Mignola, Greg Tochinni and Gabriel Hernandez Walta who do amazing work within the limitations of the medium.
Let's talk about the, for want of a better term, "covid era". It seems to have made some people super creative & productive and others less so - how has it impacted on your own work?
I was lucky enough to be furloughed, having never really had any free time to commit to my own work I was incredibly grateful for it. I've been unemployed for stretches of time but the stress of not knowing how you are going to support yourself focuses you on doing something, anything to get a job and leaves you too exhausted to do anything creative. I painted twenty paintings in lockdown and managed to change a run of ten poems into a twentyish page pamphlet that got rejected and then developed into a forty poem odd full collection which I would not have been able to do without the hours of a day needed. My writing style has changed significantly over lockdown too, just because I've been absorbing so much more work and spending time editing, the only worry I have is that a lot of it is largely untested on an audience so I have no idea how the more abstract stuff is going to go down.
Do you listen to music when you create? Which type?
When I'm writing poetry, for first drafts I'll just have a playlist set to shuffle so anything from black metal to jazz to weird dream pop or hip hop comes up and it's sometimes a jumping off point, misheard lyrics find their way into free writes an awful lot. For formalising it and editing I find post rock and instrumentalists like Yann Tiersen and Alexis Ffrench focus my mind. With painting I go between jazzy trip hop playlists and strange doom metal/crust punk ones with stuff like Dawn Ray'd, Fall of Efrafra and Cult of Luna, there's something about the slow, crushing heavy build up that lends itself to my painting style.
What can you tell me about the artwork you shared (above) - how did it come about?
I've been trying to make this bastard work for a long time, it was initially a series of self portraits on a very messy background but then the piano reminded me of an octopus so I scribbled out the self portraits and started messing around with gouache (which is now my preferred medium) but it took SO long to get right because it was my first time. Eventually I had an octopus framed by ghostly portraits and weird lines and I just left it for ages, kinda disgusted and disappointed that nothing came of it. I was then working on a different series of paintings called Unnecessary Saints and there was a vibrant triptych that used the teal, lilac and yellow as the basic palette which I became very fond of. If you follow my paintings chronologically you can generally see when I become obsessed with a new palette (this particular yellow is in every painting of the last year or so I think) and this was such a weirdly bright choice for me I figured I'd just roll with it. I dug up this piece and figured, since I hated it I couldn't do anything wrong with it so I painted over all the pieces of me that were unnecessary and found this wonderfully garish chap who fit just right.
What are you working on next?
My painting is currently on hold for the time being but I've been messing around with clay and light to create immersive set pieces for gigs and create strange museums as installations (when we're allowed out into the real world). Writing wise I'm currently on a course with the poetry school exploring the animal other and editing my debut collection and going through the process of hating it all and then thinking it's possibly the best poetry I've ever written
Find out more about Sam J. Grudgings
Sam J. Grudgings is a queer poet and artist from Bristol, England. His work draws inspiration from the new weird movement and explores addiction, loss, and the complicity of privilege through the lens of horror b-movies, punk and doomsday apocrypha He is in a bitter custody dispute with the moon and is working through the bureaucracy of the end of the world in the form of a feature length Musical. His debut collection “The Bible II” is due out with Verve Poetry Press in November 2021