— From the pages of FLL Issue #15 • Written by Becca Gregg
Like the weather of summers past, Matthew Samuel’s drawings are unpredictable. From hybrid monsters to animal figurines and human shapes worthy of a Shel Silverstein classic, the Lebanon Valley College art professor’s strokes are as varied as the blended backdrop of his childhood.
“The stuff I’ve been doing recently is kind of an obsessive compulsion,” laughs Samuel, speaking over the telephone while on vacation in Miami. “It’s just very character-driven and a very freeform take on not over thinking and just doing it. Most of the drawings are just one line to start, and all the characters are connected to each other.”
With diversity as his muse, Samuel’s imagination appears as an endless abyss into the land of modern artistic genius. “These characters kind of look like monsters… inner demons,” he says of his drawings. “But it’s not meant to be this scary take on things; it’s just to put people on the same playing field or same level. It’s kind of just to break away from the set stuff that I’ve been doing… just loose line drawings on top of a lot of characters in a subconscious way.”
A fine artist in his own right, Samuel credits his multicultural upbringing as the catalyst for his artistic dreams. Born in India, he moved to Miami with his parents at the young age of 7.
“Most of my fine art stuff has been a lot of mixed media work, primarily based around my Indian culture and cross cultural problems that I’ve faced.” Samuel says, explaining that he began taking art classes in the fifth grade. “They really stress the arts [in Miami].”
Throughout adolescence, art provided Samuel with a necessary escape from the challenges and trivialities of life as a teenage foreign transplant. “In a way, it’s an easy way to deal with some stuff in life. It’s just an escape.” Samuel says, continuing, “I grew up and didn’t have any brothers or sisters. My parents were always working. It was kind of my way of escaping, so it just helped me in a lot of different ways. And it was something I really just enjoyed. Eventually, it was just what I did and what identified me.”
Following high school, the budding artist headed north to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where he earned both his undergraduate and master’s degrees.
It was there that he met his future wife, Stephanie (of Lancaster, who runs Sugar Whipped Bakery).
Today, the Samuels make their permanent home in Lancaster with their three children — Sanjay, Raya, and Nahla. In the fall (of 2010), Samuel, who previously taught art at Kutztown University, will begin a stint as a design professor at Lebanon Valley College.
“Part of the reason that I teach and do design work is so we can eat,” Samuel laughs, before explaining. “One of the things I’ve noticed, coming from Miami (which was very culturally diverse) to Lancaster was a very big shift to me. My wife is white; my kids are mixed. So [my art] is just a take on the things I see…on how people perceive and take in initially. In a way it’s kind of to combat that whole [perception of diversity] thing.”
Recently, Samuel and his wife began silk screening t-shirts and products based off of his work. Soon, their Etsy.com shop will be up and running as a platform to sell their artsy merchandise.
“We’re trying to market beyond just being a fine artist. I’m excited…I’m finally getting everything together,” he says. Adding, “My wife helps with a lot of the products and silk screening and setting up the business. So we work on this stuff together now. And I love that she’s involved. We’ve been trying to put together stuff that we can do together.”
Despite everything on Samuel’s plate at the moment, he still finds time to ensure that his art works to benefit and to help, more so than to just entertain. “I’ve been doing a lot of charity stuff, not only to give back, [but] I finally feel like art, design, or whatever I’m doing should help someone else in some manner, rather than just myself,” Samuel says. “Design is so commercially based; we should do things that benefit others and the world in general.”