Thursday, February 4, 2016

Seth Camm-"Humanist Painter of Life"

It's been a while since I've updated the ol' blog! Been busy with art projects that I will update soon! Here is a throwback to an article I wrote last year, an artist interview I did for arts magazine, Plumage-TX featuring San Antonio-based artist, Seth Camm.  If you don't know about his work and impassioned art, you should take a moment and do so, you won't regret it. :)


Plumage-TX August 2015 Issue

Seth Camm: Humanist Painter of Life
By: Katherine Shevchenko, Art Consultant, Boerne, TX     
No matter what subject San Antonio-based artist Seth Camm is portraying, there is always an utter rawness to his execution that leads to discoveries that break the bounds of the medium of paint itself.  Whether it is portraiture, still lives, florals, or a distinguished home, Camm can show the viewer an undeniable honesty.
For Camm, the path of the arts has been a lifelong endeavor. “Well to begin, up until my teenage years, I didn’t know there was such a thing as an artist. I always expressed myself on paper growing up all thru elementary school and middle school. I never really concentrated on school work, usually always getting just barely getting by, with the teachers wanting to hold me back a year and my mom fighting them. I was in Special Ed. classes until 7th grade. I believe it was in high school, sitting in art class as my art teacher spoke that the light clicked on. The teacher described what an artist actually was, one who devoted themselves to art their entire life making paintings, etc. It was at that moment, with the first understanding of what an artist was, that I knew I wanted to be an artist. Reading a large book on art history and Modern art, I saturated myself in the understandings of art. I also started to visit the McNay art museum and copied the pictures there in pencil and paint, realizing in great astonishment that the artists I had read about were the same artists that were hanging on the wall.”
 Camm received his formal art training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he received his MFA. Afterwards his studies continued with master figurative painter Nelson Shanks and then to Norway to study with eminent painter, Odd Nerdrum. “Watching Odd Nerdrum work, being in my early 20’s and having this experience--no words can describe the impact that this has had on my life and career. From watching how he worked, to seeing how he accepted students from all over the world, without charging a penny to study under him. Truly something amazing to witness and to strive for [sic ].”
Camm has had many one man shows and received many awards for his art, of recent distinction the San Antonio Artist League Museum’s Artist of the Year of 2014.  Camm reflects, “Being under 40 and having now two museum shows under my belt that I have shown at, it has braced me to reach out with my work more out into galleries throughout world and hold my work with better appreciation.” 
Even though Camm tends to paint directly from life, the conceptual potential for his subject matter is never limited.  “As a general rule, I work exclusively from life. Lately, I have been feeling the urge to embrace more of a religious tone in my work.  That said, I do at times feel a freedom in portraying what is in front of me yet pushing a theme and story into the work... It is a little bit, well, when working from life and you have something very good in front of you, adding elements to the work and pushing it into more of a narrative.  This can either make a painting average, great, or you can ruin it.  I’m working on my batting average, so to speak.”  With every painting he does, Camm “tries to surpass his previous work and to continually raise the bar.”
When a client commissions Camm for a portrait, in his own words, “They can usually expect an enjoyable conversation that naturally ebbs and flows from one spectrum to another, a glass of wine if desired, and a painting they are thrilled with.”  When they commission a house portrait or a still life, they can expect me to pour my entire self into the project, filling it with nuance and mystery.”
In a compassionate manner, Camm has chronicled the homeless and collected their stories, time and time again through his unflinching and raw portrayal in paint strokes.  “I started to document the homeless originally because as a beginning artist at the age of 18, I was constantly in search of people to sit for paintings. So I did a few paintings of homeless people in the park.  As time grew, and conversations intensified, I realized that many of these stories I was hearing were so foreign from my middle class single parent family. Then one day it hit me, I had to get a tape recorder and record these stories, to act as a bridge in a way, for all walks of life to be able to hear and understand these stories of the Homeless.”
 Documenting humanity that has been dispossessed has affected his artistic growth to embrace a transcendent humanist vision.  “Many of the stories and themes I run across within the homeless community I start to accept as part of a tragedy, a tragedy that I wish to tell in as many ways as possible from film to theater, seeing as the themes that affect the homeless run into all walks of society. Eventually I hope my work can be a catalyst in transitioning the stories into universal themes of hope, redemption, and all sorts of emotions that make life so great.”  This has coalesced into The Homeless Project, also known as 7 Years Forgotten, which is currently a collaboration between himself and writer Danielle Gomes, who transcribes the stories to accompany the portraits, that are on display and available for purchase online. Camm has exhibited his series at the Noyes Museum in New Jersey and Trinity University, San Antonio, TX.  There was an ambition for the Homeless Project to become a nonprofit at one point, but Camm since decided to not pursue the status, stating, “In part, I am becoming a bit hesitant in forming a non-profit in that it would take my focus away from the main thrust of my homeless project and storytelling, as one friend put it, ‘You would always be chasing the dollar.’”  In my work I wish to make it about the people, not spending a large portion of my time trying to raise funds to work on the project so, it’s back to a shoe string budget and working on it when I am able to.”
In hopes of going beyond the confines of the canvas, Camm’s ambition is to present the stories to wider audiences, “As this project continues, I have hopes to turn this into a TV Series documenting the homeless through painting and retelling parts of their life with actors and scenes set up. This aspect of the project still needs funding. I’d also like to work with the live theater, to create events at which we can collect donations and go out on cold nights to give warmth and food to the homeless.”
Possible ways that volunteers can reach out and assist in the Homeless Project, “So from the stand point of help, I would love any and all help from writers, to people that would want to listen to the stories and rewrite the story, editing it, to people volunteering as actors, to locations to use. To individuals wishing to go out and feed the homeless. I am still very far away from being able to accomplish some of these dreams but hoping to God that as I keep these dreams alive for 9 years, that they will have their time to be born.”
Having witnessed humanity at its most despairing, Camm unwaveringly upholds a hopeful and empathic perspective on the human condition, “It has never made me in the least bit pessimistic. I guess it has made me more amazed to see just how we have been able to survive when faced with adversity.”

Originally appeared in Plumage-TX online:
Seth Camm’s artist website
Learn more about the Homeless Project

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