Sam Rachamin was born in Israel in 1986 to a mixed Israeli American couple. He grew up in Jerusalem and Motza Illit, a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, notorious for its beautiful landscape and home to the well-known painter Anna Ticho. His painting The New Bridge to Jerusalem was shortlisted for the Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2019, and was recognised for the artist’s masterful handling of paint, utilising a subtle and harmonious earth palette. In this interview Sam shares the materials he loves to work with and describes the attitude he takes to his painting practice to ensure the creative journey never stops.
Lisa: Where did you first find your passion for painting?
Sam: I have been drawing and painting before I learned to speak. There are photos of me from age 3 painting with an easel. I was encouraged by my mother to do so – I was always very visually oriented.
Lisa: How has your upbringing informed your painting practice?
Sam: I always drew and scribbled superheroes, dragons and imaginary figures. At first it was a very innate, instinctive, inexplicable reaction towards reality! At age 12 for some reason it was all the rage amongst my friends to draw grotesque faces and he who drew the most hideous face won.
I grew up in Israel with many uncertainties & family problems, I had to serve in the military and that helped my personal growth. At age 22 I remembered the story of Oedipus who gorged out his eyes in an act of showing how blind he was. To an extent I felt the same, but my resolution was different, I chose to use my gift of sight & talent to depict the world I inhabit.
I didn’t want to harm anyone or waste more of my time in anger and frustration, so I chose to show how easy it is to fool the eye; Trompe l’Oeil and by doing so come closer towards truth.
It was also a way to focus on the positive, since I am a realistic painter, I try to find beauty in everything, there is an Arabic saying that translates for those who see beauty the world is beautiful.
Lisa: Can you tell us about the making of your painting The New Bridge to Jerusalem as you remember it? Did you paint it en plein air in front of the motif? What challenges did you face during the process?
Sam: My father’s house is on the outskirts of Jerusalem in a pastoral small village called Mozta Illit. It is considered to be near the forest of Jerusalem, but now a lot of that area had become reduced to a very small amount of territory due to human inhabitants. We were also part of the relative newcomers there, it is a very ancient place for human dwellings, it even pre-dates the Roman Empire who had paved one of the main roads to Jerusalem.
As part of Israel’s government attempt to improve the infrastructure and roads, they created many garish massive reconstruction of highways to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, exactly in front of my father’s house. Since I finished school I tried to work and paint every day religiously, both to improve my technique but also to improve my mindset and understanding of reality. I’m always searching for new stuff to paint, and one day while walking my dog, after painting The Bridge To Be and other sketches of the construction going on, I decided to take on something more ambitious. At first I had a square canvas 75 x 75 cm, and as always, I went out to start painting (I usually paint in front of the motif out in plein air, or in front of the model – rarely do I paint from photos but I do not exclude that possibility).
After filling out the square canvas and feeling that something was off, I realised that the composition wasn’t working, so I did a small paper sketch to see what it would look like if I added in the sky, and rest assured it made all the difference, and so like Antonio Garcia Lopez, Edgar Degas and many other painters, I just connected another canvas to the top of my square, and started filling that in as well, stepping back frequently trying to see the big composition. Then I realised I had a fundamental perspective problem with one of the lines of the bridge, and so I corrected it. At some point I started connecting the upper and lower canvases to make them feel like one image. I was painting it between long intervals travelling to Paris and working on an offshore gas platform in the Mediterranean Sea. It was a bit frustrating at times to not be able to solve the stuff that was wrong in the painting. But I did alla prima paintings in the meantime, and there was also a positive side to the long intervals; it gave the paint time to dry and when I came back it I had a fresh view about it that allowed me to make large changes to it.
Also, since I had the job on the platform, I wasn’t dependent financially on the painting for income, a thing that gave me a larger amount of security and risk taking.
Lisa: What materials would we expect to find in your studio? Do you have favourite brands of brushes, paints or surface, and if so for what reason?
For the wet medium: I have an ink set, watercolours, acrylics and oil paints, for the oil paint I have pine tree distilled Turpentine, dammar varnish, linseed oil, cobalt siccative, white chalk, gamsol odourless spirit, & plenty more,
The oil colours I usually use are
Lead White by RGH
And all the rest are by a company called Marine
Cadmium Yellow Medium
Purple Violet sometimes
Green Light by Michel Harding
I love experimenting and trying new and different types of materials tools and surfaces, but as far as paints go these are ones I rely on.
I make my own medium if needed from the materials mentioned above.
Surfaces; I am very diverse and have a large range of surfaces I like. As a student tried to be as opened minded as possible experimenting on almost every surface I could get my hands on from the thickest linen/uta/canvas I could find to the smoothest linen or wood I could produce, I also experiment with the types of coatings I put on the surface, shellac, rabbit skin glue, gesso, or acrylic paint.
The 2 main gesso companies I usually use are Utrecht and a Lascaux.
Fabric – lately I am really starting to appreciate smaller pieces of fine portrait linen.
Brushes, in general, I would say that I have of almost any type of brush but to make it more specific…I think we can divide them in to 3 groups
Bristles – usually Raphael/high quality ones
Synthetic – all types sometimes really cheap ones
Sables – the affordable red sables I found are from the da Vinci brand, I kind of like the Raphael red sables as well, I think that their brushes are richer in hair per brush.
The shapes divide again into different categories
Flat Filbert round, Long flat, long Filbert, and long round,
Then there are different sizes of handles, the majority are long, for the more precise details I use short handled small brushes.
Lisa: Do you keep a sketchbook and if so, how important is it to you, and what materials do you most like to draw with?
Sam: Yes I have several sketchbooks, changing them depending on the size I want to work with, and thickness of the paper, I usually just use graphite pencils from HB to 8B. I try to keep it simple in the sketch books, it usually helps me for questions of composition or a way to break the ice when starting a new painting.
Lisa: Do you have any mantras that you return to when you feel stuck with your painting practice?
Sam: Stuck is a mindset, I meditate regularly and that helps me remove myself from the need to produce. I don’t get stuck, it’s just either not finished or it’s garbage. I’m always working, if a painting doesn’t work I start a new one, if suddenly I have a solution for an old painting I might try that idea, but I don’t believe in being static, if you are not moving forward you are going backwards.
As far as mantras I have many but for the most part it isn’t necessarily literate mantras. I usually just think of the old masters or paintings I love and the painters I love, and as insane as it might sound I tell myself that if they managed to paint the way they did, at times with no penicillin or modern medicine, I at our present day can surely do as well. Like my father I am a workaholic. I commit myself to my profession, beyond that I feel painting for me is a compulsion, it’s almost an animalistic need of mine. I become crazy if I don’t draw or paint.
I have functioning eyes and hands and the nature is so abundant in its richness, the “monkey see monkey do” sentence kind of resonates with me. I see nature and I feel compelled to try and copy it or represent it. In the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she speaks about how creating is our gift back to the creator.
Lisa: How do you judge if a painting is finished yet or not?
Sam: Early on thanks to my teacher mentor and friend Israel Hershberg I have learned not to care for finishing, but to complete a painting.
Finish can be a kiss of death for a painting, It’s like choosing the furniture for a new house without even having the foundations of the buildings erected. When I start a painting it’s usually very wild and full of energy, towards the end I slow down, and when I start fiddling around too much I realise I need to stop and even erase my last session/s. I try to not overwork, but usually when there is nothing left to do, that’s when it’s complete. There is also a great book called notes on colour by Charles Webster Hawthorn that I would recommend on this topic.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Sam: So first of all you are all welcome to my studio in Paris! I do workshops and guided tours in the Louvre and other museums, where we learn to speak the language of painting by drawing sketching and even painting. Besides that my own studio is obviously open for visitors most of time when I’m there, and my work is pretty international since it is in private collections in the UK, USA, France, and Israel, but I am working on a solo exhibition for the Rothschild Fine Art Gallery in Tel Aviv in the moment, and I have been represented by several galleries up until now. To see the list you can visit my website www.samrachamin.com, and I would even encourage you become a member in order to receive more specific information, discounts, and information about events near you like exhibitions and more.
Besides that I’m also on social media – Facebook and Instagram, but to receive the fullest advantage of my knowledge work demonstrations videos and tutorials I would suggest to become a member at www.samrachamin.com.
Header Image: Jocasta’s Overdose by Sam Rachamin, Oil on linen, 162 X 65 cm
Click here to find out more about Jackson’s Painting Prize 2020