Sam Zhao’s passions dictate what he paints, and this makes for a broad repertoire of work. Delicious food of all kinds in vivid still life. The subtle sheen of black leather as it curls around musculature, depicted as both rugged and graceful. Dancers performing sensual dips and drops. His penchant for creating contrast and shadow manifests in bold acrylic brushstrokes, gentle sweeps across the canvas, highly textured monochromatic abstracts, or simply through the use of a painting knife.
Born in Fushun in northeast China, Sam moved from Beijing to the Netherlands in 2004 as a student. He shifted his initial focus to graphic design, completing his Multimedia Design degree at the SAE Institute Amsterdam. As a graphic designer both in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, he went on to establish Kukko Graphic Design. His graphic art renders cleanly modern yet expressive logos for restaurants and clever motion graphics for companies including NDT(Nederlands Dans Theater).
Not long ago, a visit to Level 3 at the Tate Modern called Transformed Visions did just as it claimed and aroused a new sense of creation beyond graphic design. Like Gerhard Richter, some of Sam’s works focus on how thick layers of paint apply to the canvas and form their own meaning. Picasso’s Weeping Woman, Sergio de Camargo’s Large Split Relief No.34/4/74, and Niki de Saint Phalle’s abstract Shooting Picture all lend inspiration to Sam’s first experiments with colour and texture on canvas. Since then, he tends to create more on canvas than on a computer screen.
Today Sam paints from his studio on the Prinsengracht, one of Amsterdam’s 17th century grand canals, with a lofty view of the gabled, brick facades of merchant’s houses. The Jordaan neighbourhood’s classic alleys, art galleries, and boutiques are seen just across the stone bridge. Artistic inspiration wafts into the studio’s open window, once a large warehouse portal receiving goods collected along the Spice Trail and the farthest reaches of China.
There in the studio, leaning against the wall underneath solid wood support beams, is one artistic nod to that connection: Sam’s painting of the Yunnan rice fields. Each terraced rice paddy glinting in warm hues under the eastern sunwhich seems to set over China (and the Netherlands) in one single, colourrich stroke.