Samia Singh’s The Storms Within launches our new section Micro Gallery, where we host a small, specially curated exhibition by a visual artist. The Storms Within is a series of etchings created by Punjab-based Singh during a residency in Florence. She tells the story of how the prints came about and what she learned during her time in Italy.
THE STORMS WITHIN is a short poem I wrote at the end of a course I took in Florence at Il Bisonte Instituto de Arte Grafica. I had left my job and put my savings together along with a loan from my family to go and study printmaking after winning a scholarship. I had already had experience with digital illustration for over two years through my job as associate art director at Tehelka, a leading news magazine in India at the time. But I was longing for something analog and a place where I could smell the paint and not have to stare at a computer screen.
For the first few days, all we learned was how to clean the studio and where the different tools were kept. Classic Italian—everything is about the method. Rightly so. This was the first time I was in Europe and was able to experience pure artistic freedom in the studios of Bisonte with artists like myself. It was a whirlwind of exposure and inspiration. We would step out of the studio in the middle of the afternoon, wired on the third caffè macchiato of the day, and suddenly be right in front of a master like Rembrandt.
I had only ever seen these works on a screen before, so it felt so precious to savor these moments because soon again they would not be available to me. I remember the first time I saw Rembrandt’s etchings, I couldn’t draw for a whole week. I had absolutely no courage after seeing such masterful details, the light and sheer ethereal glory.
We were all so moved. Nobody could speak afterwards. Where could I even begin after having seen the level of dedication in the anatomy studies of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci? What was the point? I could never dream of reaching anywhere close to that understanding of light and line and tone. I thought I should reconsider my profession.
I felt so small after seeing the masters’ works. Something runs very deep from the Renaissance glory in Florence. Every day you see a fountain, a doorknob and it continues to baffle you. The beauty and the study of beauty.
What I had were these tiny plates and a small, warped understanding of anatomy. I had what I could output with my hands from the methods used in etching, and I had the design history of letterpress type. With these tools, I wanted to capture the magic, inspiration and memories of my time in the beautiful city of Firenze.
A reminder of conversations, the feeling of support from my teachers and friends, the expansive soul, of the human spirit and what it can achieve in the right frame of mind. I couldn’t think of a title until the very end and that’s why I couldn’t put the words together and letterpress it in time.
But one still has to show up, despite the imperfection.
I struggle a lot with self doubt. I also repeatedly question how not to be a starving artist. In this sort of a space, it’s easy to get badly stuck. I am fortunate to have studied art and design at the wonderful Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore. One professor Avy, would always ask me: “Are you an artist or a designer?” I kept flitting between two answers for four years. It was such a strange question to keep being asked, I used to think.
Some words from my professors still ring in my ears in my more existentially vulnerable moments. One of my foundation course teachers, Ramesh Kalkur, said “sitting between art and design is the most interesting place.” I had no idea what he meant and even years after I’m only just understanding a bit more.
Design and art give each other immense support, and I study the logical and the emotional side of both. They somehow guide each other.
Another professor from our cross-disciplinary course, Rustam Vania, said “You should be making big illustrations, huge paintings; hang them from bridges, from buildings, but you won’t—you don’t have the courage.” I was so ashamed then, it destroyed me a bit, temporarily. I’m dramatic, like that, <ha ha>. But slowly, I tried to understand more; what he meant by these words.
Art needs immense courage and I work on building that everyday. I feel that the act of learning breaks apart my self doubt logically. Learning from others gives perspective and makes us question the patterns that are not only limited to our work.
Vincenzo, my teacher at Il Bisonte told me to never fully finish a sketch. “Otherwise, how will you have fun making the final product if you are so busy matching every detail of the sketch?”
SAMIA SINGH is an illustrator, graphic designer, artist and musician based in Punjab, India. Samia is also the creative director at Preet Nagar Residency where she works with her family, this artists’ and writers’ residency was established as an intended community with artist colleagues and friends by her great grandfather in the 1930s. Samia hates loudness and patriarchy. She is a coffee worshipper and a dog lover. She’s nocturnal half the year and an early riser for the other half. These days Samia enjoys curious moments like crying and listening to Florence and The Machine live in the Royal Albert hall whilst working on her illustrations way later than midnight than should be allowed. Samia is obsessed with creating playlists for every imaginable mood.
Samia’s work has been exhibited in India, Singapore, Spain, Japan, UK & Italy. Her clients include UNFPA, The Economist, Huffington Post, National Geographic, Pan Macmillan, Standard Chartered, Tourism Australia, Clinique and Japan Foundation.