Interview: Samantha Wiley

Julian Jimenez checks in with local artist Samantha Wiley. She is gearing up to show fifteen portraits of Galveston-based musicians at the Proletariat Gallery and Public House at the corner of 23rd and Market Street. The show opens during ArtWalk on Saturday, June 3rd, and will remain up through July 12th.

Julian: So, you’re doing this project where you’re painting portraits of musicians of the island?

Samantha: Yeah, it’s going to be all Galveston musicians, 15 total, actually. I’ve painted some of them from real life, others I’ve met with and done a little photo shoot.

Cool! And how did the idea for this come about?

The original idea came from Louis Morales, [of] the band DEM, here in Galveston. They had a CD release party at the [Galveston Island] Brewery. They had asked me if I had wanted to put some of my art on display there for the show. And I remember hanging out and talking and it was like, “Oh, maybe I can do portraits of you guys for the release party and have them on display.” So then I got with each one of them, painted each one of them, and it was just really neat getting to know them and I liked the way the project turned out. So then, after that, I was like, you know, “I want to paint even more musicians, I want to get to know even more people.” So I approached Becky, at the Proletariat, because for some reason I thought of the Proletariat immediately for the show.

Portrait of Matt Mejia by Samantha Wiley, courtesy of the artist.

Yeah, I mean, it totally makes sense to me. That is a really good idea.

Right? So I emailed her and asked if she would be willing to have the show over there, maybe even have some live music in conjunction with it, though I’m not sure if that aspect of it is gonna happen yet or not.

So you’ve done the band DEM, but who else is featured in the project?

I’ve done Robert Kuhn, Margaret Elmore, Mamady…

Are there any other artists on the island that you still want to paint for the project?

Well, not for this project, but I would definitely like to paint more musicians. I’d still want to paint Lauren [Eddy] but she isn’t in this one. *laughs*

A lot of the artists you’ve hit are in genres that I don’t see as much of on the island. How would you characterize the music scenes that you’re exposing in the project?

Certainly a lot of singer-songwriters. People who hit open mikes, like Matt Mejia. But most of these people I’ve known for a long time growing up in Galveston, people like Josh Duke, [who] I grew up with.

You’ve lived in the Galveston area for a long time, like me, as a local. What has that experience been like?

Well, when I first moved here from Conroe I was 15. I was so excited to wander around. At the time I was really into abandoned places, and I was really into photography when I was in high school, too. So I’d wander around downtown or go down to Sea-O-Rama. Do you remember Sea-O-Rama?

Oh, yeah! The abandoned park there at the west end!

We’d go there all the time to take photos. Anything that was abandoned. Those old hotels downtown, too. I loved the old creepy factor. The old brewery, pretty much anything like that. So for me, Galveston has that old, decrepit style. Now, I don’t care that much about that stuff.

But the island has changed dramatically over the past five, maybe ten years, right? Ever since Hurricane Ike. Can you describe what the difference has been like?

Well, we have a lot of new restaurants, new venues and stuff. All around, the island seems just more polished and prettier. A lot more houses are fixed up. I think it’s a good thing in this case, for sure. Because when I was a kid, when we used to go down here, all these neighborhoods that are really pretty now weren’t. All those historical homes have been fixed up and from what I can tell, it’s a good thing.

And what has that change in the art scene been like? Artwalk is booming and it feels like we’ve got a ton of art galleries for a city this size.

Yeah, we definitely have some really cool stuff as far as contemporary spaces go. We have the Galveston Arts Center, which I’ve worked with pretty much my whole life. I started volunteering there when I was in high school. I’ve done some teaching there too, when I got hired with the outreach program with Ronald McDonald House, UTMB, the Women’s Shelter.

Cyanotype-making class at Galveston Arts Center, photo courtesy of the artist.

But anyway, I don’t think we have as much contemporary art as other cities, but we definitely have a lot of variety going. We have the contemporary and then we have the more traditional art like [Wiley Gallery], and the Art League. It’s getting cooler all the time.

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6/3 at the Proletariat Gallery & Public House

Portraits of Louis Morales of Dem, Nellie Cornett, and Robert Kuhn by Samantha Wiley. Photo: Samantha Wiley