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Melbourne artist/illustrator Sam Octigan initally got his start creating hand drawn artwork for bands in Melbourne’s hardcore punk scene. Today he splits his time and creative energy between freelance commercial work and personal exhibitions in a broad range of techniques and mediums while still fronting his band Iron Mind. Sam’s has been busy creating a new body of works on canvas for his solo show next week at the Tate Gallery in Glebe, I caught up with him at his studio while he was putting the finishing touches on his pieces.

How did you initially get into art and design field of work?

Basically like a lot of artists I’ve always drawn and I’ve always been creative, I’ve always gravitated towards those sorts of things. In high school I was really interested in animation so when I finished high school I studied multimedia and design and majored in animation. When I graduated I got a really good internship with an animation house but just didn’t enjoy it. I was still pretty young and it just wasn’t for me. So I took a bit of time to figure stuff out, I knew I wanted to do something creative, but at the time I just wasn’t sure what it was.

Focusing on exhibitions and personal work came up a little bit later but initially I’ve always been into music and always been involved in the hardcore and punk scene in Melbourne. The first job I did for anyone was basically some friends asked me to do a t-shirt design for their hardcore band Bear Trap. That was 2003 or something now, but I remember I got a real buzz out of that. From there, that’s how I got started doing illustration work with bands. I made a little bit of a name for myself, bands contacted me, it just went from there. Initially I did a lot of work for the band 50 Lions, and did their 7-inch and their first LP. At the time though, they were the hardcore band so I got some exposure.

Then I went and studied illustration and sort of figured out that okay, this is what I want to do, this is a great place for me to sort of start from, so I studied illustration I was doing work for bands. A part of the illustration course was you learning how to exhibit your work because it was tied in really closely with the fine art course at the same institute. There was a big emphasis on exhibiting your work and being an illustrator, but being an artist as well, having your own style and pushing your own work. And that’s how I got into the idea that I can be a commercial artist and a fine artist as well’

You work with many different mediums; do you approach each one differently?

I guess my mind works the same when coming up with any image; in my head I’ll put it together the same way. But I’m always experimenting with different mediums, and always trying different things. I draw a lot, I paint a lot but I’m always experimenting with sculptures and collages and different things. I want to do heaps of different stuff, but I’m always trying to keep it all connected if that makes sense? I’d get bored if I just did the same thing every single time, but on the other hand I don’t want my work to be too all over the place. I always try to find that balance of having no limits on what I use and what I do and always coming up with new methods, but at the same time always looking for my own voice. It doesn’t matter whether I’m painting or sketching with a pencil or using the computer, I’m always trying to make sure that my style is coming through.

Do you find it difficult working on ideas given to you by clients that you’re not used to?

I always love a challenge, I do a lot of commercial and corporate work and I never get people approaching me saying “hey we want you to copy this guy’s stuff” or “we want you to do this thing that’s totally foreign to you”. They always come to me because they want my style, they want Sam Octigan, but the subject or the content may be completely new and foreign and I love that, I love taking a new subject and making it mine. I’m always 100% satisfied when the client is satisfied and it’s something that I want to add to my folio.

So let’s talk about your new show. How did you approach this group of works differently to what you do normally?

In the past I’ve been known to do work that’s really time consuming and super detailed with both my drawing work and my painted works. When the Tate approached me for this show I thought, in the past I’ve kind of stressed myself out by putting a lot of pressure on myself to make every piece as detailed and as full on as possible and this time I wanted to take that pressure off, approach these works differently by having them be heaps looser, and just a lot more experimental and enjoy the process a lot more. In the past I’ve approached a piece and over thought it and over designed it and you know, planned it out too much, and really stiffened up.

You stripped it back this time around.

Yeah stripped it back, and I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed throwing the paint on and not being too precious about it. But at the same time these pieces still had my kind of illustrative style you know what I mean, they weren’t completely haphazard.

Did you feel like working at Studio SixFifteen with looser artists like Sean Park and Silkroy influenced you?

Yeah absolutely. Sean, that’s really what he’s all about to the extreme and me and Silkroy collaborated on a mural at Blue Bar earlier this year and just watching how Sahil work, Sahil is a guy that really enjoys the process. He loves every second and I’ve been in situations where I just stress myself out, and I haven’t enjoyed it because I’ve been too stressed out. So for sure watching Sahil work and like watching him build an image and kind of like see where it takes him, without having a solid plan, it definitely influenced me for sure. So with this work, that’s kind of how I approached it. The other side to it was I still wanted it to be a Sam Octigan piece and to have my, you know, illustrative style in there. That’s kind of where the name Of Two Minds for the Tate show came from, it’s the balance between the spontaneous and the intuitive, the balance with the planned and the calculated…

Well between your artwork, design work for clients and band stuff with Iron Mind you have a pretty full plate.

Yeah I’m definitely a busy dude! Again the music is sort of the third element really, especially my band Iron Mind is a live band, it’s best to hear us live and to see us live. I’m the vocalist, the front man and like that’s a completely different creative outlet to painting altogether.

Your music feels very raw- I’ve never seen your gigs, but I’ve seen videos of it and you are a completely different person when it comes to performing live.

Yeah, that’s fair to say…I’ll pay that (laughs).

Because you’re quite reserved compared to when you’re on the stage when you’re screaming your tits off.

I consider myself humble in everything I do, especially with my art work, I don’t like to over promote myself and big note myself, that’s not my style. I like to put it out there and let people enjoy it and keep being quiet about it, whereas with the band and performing live it’s a physical outlet, you go as hard as possible and you’re yelling and you’re moving around 100% of the time. I guess it’s sort of the ying to that yang…again my two sides. I guess in a way I approach writing the music and writing the lyrics to the band, I approach that in a really similar way to how I approach my artwork. I like to break everything down, come up with certain elements and then bring them all together. The guys write the music, I like to come up with different parts, different ideas and different vocal patterns and then bring them all together to make a good song. It’s kind of how I approach building an image.

Well, you’re a five-piece band so at the end of the day you’re not working for yourself anymore.

No and that’s the other thing that’s different about it. Being an artist or an illustrator it’s a very solo thing you know, always on your own. It all falls down to you, when you’re in a band it’s super important to be collaborative, to work with other people, and use everyone’s talents.  Again if you look at my work I like to collaborate, I mean that’s why I enjoy the commercial work because really, you’re collaborating with a client you know what I mean? They bring their ideas, and you take their ideas and bounce back with your solution and that’s why I love that. I don’t think I’d ever just be a fine artist, I think I’d always want to be collaborating with brands and companies. And that’s why I get so much out of the band because there’s five different guys, it’s a different pay off, it’s a different kind of enjoyment.

Lastly, what are your plans for the future after this exhibition?

Just not slowing down. Aside from my freelance commitments I’m collaborating with fellow Studio SixFifteen colleague Mike Danchewski at the moment, we’re doing creating a set of works that’s going to be shown at the People’s Market in collingwood in January. For that he’s taken a some photos and together we’re going to build up a collage based mix media body of work that I’m really excited about. Iron Mind are writing our next LP and we’re touring Australia with Expire from the U.S. in January, so a busy start to 2013.

Sam Octigan’s show Of Two Minds will launch next week at 6pm on November 14th and runs until the 19th. Visit Sam’s site www.samoctigan.com to see more of his work.
The Tate @ The Toxeth
345 Glebe Point Road
Glebe Sydney NSW 2037