Interview by Jenkin Au
Words by Amie Nguyen
Photography by Patrick Leung
Straight from Sweden comes this artist of Asian descent, Sam Laufer. What brings him to justalilhype! is his unique and interesting art, which currently features scenery from Vancouver. Sam uses mixed media to create canvases of paintings over top of photography. Not to knock his photography, the imperfect photography achieved by a simple point and shoot digital camera works out to fit in well with his paintings, and we love it. His style of painting incorporates elements of graffiti, with the most obvious element, the drips.
Sam, can you tell us a little more about yourself?
Yeah, I’m from Sweden. I’m 31 years old and I’ve been here for about seven months now. I am really loving Vancouver. I’m a pretty normal guy, I think. I’m pretty average and I like creative stuff, like painting and sculptures. I love music and soccer is my passion.
What brings you here all the way from Sweden?
A friend from back home in Sweden dated a Canadian girl and I met my girlfriend through her.
Were you here on a trip or did you meet her online?
I met her here on a trip. I have been here before a few times and just travelled around here.
Sweet. Moving onto your art, can you tell us about the style and what it is all about?
Yes, I call it contemporary art, mixed media. I like the urban, mixed in with nature, calm and quiet.
Yeah, I see that through a few of your pictures, especially the one with the hummingbird.
Yes. I like to have both of those elements in my pictures with a lot of urban life and a lot of crowded people. At the same time, I like to have some quiet and calmness. That kind of scares me too.
I’m not sure. I don’t like to be alone maybe? I like to have people around me and hear sounds.
Yeah, now that you mention it, I remember you telling me that at the craft fair where I met you. With your artwork, you typically use acrylic paints over top of photography on canvass. Is there a reason why you stuck to photography and acrylics?
I haven’t really been into photography myself. I’ve never gotten really into it. I like to look at pictures though. I used to paint graffiti with stencils and that’s how I came into the whole Photoshop thing, but I’m not a professional photographer. I have a small digital camera and I like to capture things really quick and take hundreds of pictures. When I’m looking through it later and I find something good, I would just use it.
And have you thought of using different types of mixed media?
I am working on different things at the moment and I don’t know if I’m going to show them to anyone, depending on whether or not they come out.
Can you describe them?
It’s the same as what I have but more people or faces and maybe adding stuff to their faces. It’s pretty crazy and I don’t know if I can pull it off in the end.
Well, if you do, you’d better show us when you’re done.
Can you tell us how you usually go through and pick the right pictures for the right purposes?
It depends on the mood and what kind of mood I’m in. For me, everything I do these days is thinking as if it’s art. I try to see if it fits in different things and then it just sort of comes through feelings I get. Mostly, I have a bunch of pictures and thoughts that I have in my head. Out of nowhere, I get this image and know how I want it to look like and then just choose from what I have.
Right. And branching off from that, from our chat beforehand, you told me you worked for Google doing some search engine optimization. Many people use art to get away from stress from their regular lives or to move onto a different phase in life. Was this the case for you?
Yeah, in one way. Painting for me is sort of like therapy. I like to just be by myself and put on music and then I can just paint for hours. It’s definitely a stress reliever for me. I think of nothing but painting.
A lot of your art is Vancouver based. I don’t see much, or anything at all, from other countries. Did you start only when you came over here?
No. It is sort of mixed, actually. If I take my old pictures that have moved me visually in the past, I like to add bits and pieces into my paintings now. Now, I’m sort of in a Vancouver mood, since I’m new here and impressions come from everywhere. I’m more into Vancouver stuff and sort of like what you said, your magazine is local. I like to do local stuff too and I also did Swedish stuff in Sweden. When you show things to people, it moves them more when they can see where it is and [relate to it].
Are there any Swedish influences in the paintings you do of Vancouver?
Maybe. I don’t know if it’s typically Swedish, because it’s got a lot of graffiti style to it, but there are definitely influences from back home on how I do my graffiti. I wouldn’t say it’s typically Swedish, though.
Speaking of that, your pictures are clearly infused with graffiti, visible through all the drips. Is there a reason why you stuck with graffiti, other than the fact that you did graffiti in the past?
It’s how I started painting and how I started art, so it’s always been there. I’ve tried different things, painting landscapes and more traditional paintings, but somehow, the graffiti influence always came out, one way or another.
How would it show up in a landscape?
I think it’s the choice of colours. For example, I tried to make a landscape with trees and mountains, like you see here, but it doesn’t come out as realistic as it should; I always end up adding drips and highlight a few things.
Did you grow up in Sweden?
How different is the graffiti scene in Sweden compared to North America?
I think the graffiti scene in Sweden was really big, maybe 10 years ago. Now, it’s kind of dying out because of more control from the police and CCT (closed circuit television) cameras. The really talented artists in Sweden went on to do more legal stuff. The graffiti scene is still there, but it was just bigger 10 years ago.
A lot of the owners of the buildings that got tagged see it as damage to their buildings and also a large cost to remove it. But on the flip side, it’s almost like artistic talent is restricted. What is your view on this?
In one way, I can see it from the side of people saying no to graffiti, like if it was your house or whatever. But like you said, it is a way to express yourself. I like graffiti pretty much anywhere and I would like to see it come out more.
Through your artwork, what is one of the goals that you want to achieve?
I always try to strive for perfection. I also want to be as creative as possible and come up with new things. There are a lot of goals and things I look forward to doing and I can’t really describe it; it’s more like things that want to come out.
Yeah, I understand. So can you take us through some of your paintings?
Let’s see. Let’s start with this one.
Yeah, this was one of the ones I wanted to ask you about. Where did this guy come from?
This guy just ended up being in a photograph that I took.
Was it a real man or was it a mural?
It was a real man. I zoomed in and just found him in the corner. That’s how I find most of my things and a lot of my pictures. I take a picture of one thing and just look through it and find random things.
And what’s the longest time you’ve spent looking at one picture?
I can go for hours. I look at one thing and put it aside and then move on. So this is done in Chinatown. My thoughts with this painting were to capture the roughness of the suburbs and then have the glamour or the inner city life in the background.
Where is this bridge from?
That bridge… I’m actually not sure where it’s from. It was on my computer and it crashed. I have it saved on a memory stick but it didn’t say where it was from. It’s not from here – it might be from Australia, actually!
Cool. What else do you have?
This is the most recent one. I was trying to do a series or whatever you call it. This one came out with the season; fall.
Yeah, this one and the other ones that I’ve seen are very different from the first one that you just showed us.
Yes, they are. These ones were made in the spring or the summer and this one was made for my girlfriend.
Is this her in the picture?
No, it’s not. The same with this girl; I found her in a picture and it’s sort of representing this girl walking alone. You can say that it’s a sad picture because she’s walking alone and it’s raining, but in another way, it could be a happy picture where she’s leaving something behind and walking towards something new. I like the mouth and you can see it as if she’s scared or nervous and at the same time, she’s looking back and it seems like she’s smiling a bit.
[Next], these two came out from personal thoughts. It must have been around August when it was super warm and I was walking around downtown when I came up with these. I thought that it would be so nice to just go swim in the ocean so this image just got stuck in my head.
Is that you pointing?
Where are you pointing off to?
I was pointing to the ocean and just having that feeling of wanting to dive into somewhere. That’s how I get the images in my head: they are stupid, simple thoughts, but I would know that I wanted it painted down.
And the last one?
The last one is actually from here.
Yeah. I go here quite a lot and it’s always nice to do something personal. I like how [the owner] has a lot of pink in the store and I thought it would be a nice colour combination.
You know what I’ve actually noticed? The pictures, you told us, were taken using a crappy camera and then blown up. The pictures aren’t of great quality, but when you paint on top of them, it’s almost as if the pictures themselves are painted as well. So it really matches what you’re doing.
Yeah! That’s sort of what I’m aiming for as well.
What is HYPE?
Good question! I would say HYPE for me is something new and upcoming and just extremely good.