Born in 1982, Samuel Bassett comes from Cornwall, more specifically the town of St Ives steeped in fishing and artistic heritage. His family have been there as fishermen and working on the land, mining and farming for hundreds of years and until recently he occupied a studio above his grandfathers former net loft at Porthmeor studios a few minutes walk from the Tate Gallery within the hustle and bustle.

Contemporary stories from his own experience and family lore, and snippets or news from the ups and downs of his everyday social life combine with nuanced vulnerability and an expressive and experimental hand to create psychologically layered paintings about the human condition and his/our place within the madness of contemporary life. His sensitive and questioning introspection and emotional flip-flopping means nothing is too obvious or too pretty in his paintings.

Melancholic self-portraits merge with real and imagined characters adapted to the story and how he is feeling at the time. The paintings often feel like they are questioning themselves and himself and this questioning and blurring of recollection combined with the artist’s joy of exploring painting for paintings sake make for images that have longevity and a strongly recognisable yet ever transient voice. A gregarious and engaging character his mind nevertheless seems to be questioning the bigger harder issues and to flit excitedly between concern and celebration.

Like many in Cornwall, he grapples with the stark economics of housing and employment opportunity afforded to his friends and family yet at the same time he is gregarious and really fun/ funny to be around. This dichotomy is evident in the many selves he reveals in what are essentially self- portraits – the naughty one, the worried one, the diligent one, the curious one, the drunk one, the sexy one. There is surface and underbelly on display, sentient moments collaged into a story, the narrative coming from the everyday trials and tribulations he experiences.

Cornwall’s traditional industries of fishing and mining have been in slow decline for decades and the County is heavily dependent on tourism. It is also one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world so there is a predictable affordability problem for locals on low wages and a migration from the coast inland. It is a haven for escapees from Britain’s cities who come to surf, swim and eat in stunning surroundings. Thoughts and counter thoughts on these issues weave in and out of the imagery like complex internal conversations.

These paintings are for the most part self-portraits combining many states of being and narratives in one frame. He loves the idea that as he ages they will ‘become more grotesque, fatter, balder, odder.’

Toby Clarke, 2021

An insightful question and answer session between art critic and artist Matthew Collings and Samuel can be viewed here.