“I want my work to be reflective of my generation”: Samuel Rees Price’s artful portraits merge the contemporary with the historical
If you’ve ever wondered what you and your mates would look like painted as Renaissance portraits, Samuel’s work is a good place to start.
- Olivia Hingley
- 15 December 2021
In 2020 the AI Gahaku website – the one that turns your selfies into Renaissance portraits – blew up big time. Samuel Rees Price’s paintings, however, are one step further. With his immensely detailed and finely tuned pieces, Samuel’s work is steeped in historicism. Often focusing on series of “interconnected” portraits, he endeavours to “create a sense of unity between my subjects in a way that is idealistic and empowering”.
Growing up near Bristol, Samuel later gained a fine art degree from Leeds Arts University and is now based in Manchester. With his dad being a fellow painter, Samuel’s interest in painting began at an early age. “I've been taken to art galleries for as long as I remember and my house has always been cluttered with paintings,” he says. He only landed on portraiture in his second year of university however, and he has been captivated by the medium ever since.
Throughout his project Hello/Goodbye Samuel applies “compositional reference to the history of European portraiture, such as the rigid side profile”. And certainly, viewing the series, with its centrally composed subjects, carefully applied brushstrokes and use of a rich, muted colour palettes, the reference is instantaneously apparent. Choosing to place his subjects within these historical frameworks, Samuel hopes to “empower them and elevate them with a sense of grandeur”. But whilst Samuel looks to the Renaissance period for inspiration, he also wants to challenge its conventions. Where Renaissance portrait artists tended toward “sprawling grassy landscapes” for their backdrops, Samuel instead uses the inner city streets of Leeds, where his portraits were created. Moreover, whilst Renaissance figures predominantly depicted aristocracy, Samuel seeks to create paintings that are “a celebration of progress” and that “immortalise today's generation in a way that is far more diverse and inclusive than the paintings of the past that they reference”.
We can't get enough of how the Hello/Goodbye series exudes such positivity. Samuel’s portraits seem to perfectly capture fleeting moments; someone simply passing by, in the midst of a funny phone call or catching up with a friend. This was very important for Samuel, who tells us that because the series was completed during the pandemic he wanted to create work that felt “hopeful and positive”. What’s more, Samuel didn’t only want to paint young people in a positive light, but technology too: “I wanted the paintings to celebrate progress, not only of inclusivity but also of innovations in technology that allow humans to be more connected than ever.”
Samuel also explained to us the difficulties he faced when painting throughout the pandemic. With the various lockdowns making it impossible to paint anyone who wasn’t in his close circle, his flatmates became his biggest muses. This sense of intimacy and familiarity is best explored in his Lockdown Series. In the project – which fittingly includes a self portrait – his subjects are placed against pitch black backgrounds, looking out intently from the canvas. With such fine attention to detail and use of light and shade, the pieces evoke such feeling and realism. And whilst the works offer so much as stand-alone pieces, when placed together, they exhibit a sense of togetherness perfectly.
Often adorned with various accessories, from sunglasses, headscarves and hats, a key influence for Samuel is his subjects keen interest in fashion. Such an array of styles allows him to capture “the fleeing trends of my generation” and, once again, Samuel draws parallels between his past influences and his contemporary style. With aristocracy often using portraits to “flaunt jewellery and expensive textiles," Samuel thinks that the fashion in his pieces “should be celebrated as an exhibition of people’s individuality”. With such optimism and artistry at its core, we think everyone deserves to immerse themselves in Samuel’s brilliant work.
Samuel Price: Hello/Goodbye (Copyright © Samuel Price, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.