Samantha Watson was first featured on Profile Gallery 1.0 in Space #2 and #3. She then went on to work with PG's curatorial and creative team to produce 3D rendered fantasy art environments for social media. These uncanny renderings allowed us to rethink curation, consuming art and social media content strategy.

Over the last few months, I (and I’m sure many others) have been increasingly conscious of how I’m spending my time online. This digital wave has forced a continuous battle between energy and apathy. As has been repeated time and time again, lockdown has forced us all into varying states of self-reflection, questioning our own ideas about our autonomy and our surroundings. It has no doubt left some of us feeling a profound and deep dissatisfaction with various aspects of our lives.

Discovering the work of Samantha Watson, who is an early-career digital artist has been a balm for my psyche in these chaotic times. Her uniquely stylised 3D rendered dreamscapes are populated with avatars that invite us to revel with them in the seductive fantasy of the digital realm and provide the escapism I’m craving.  

I spoke to Samantha about her practice and creative process. Influenced by our preoccupation with digital and social media culture, Samantha started creating digital art at uni: “I did a lot of research into Second Life and I was interested in the way people in the game designed their avatars, so from that I ended up getting into 3D work.” The avatars in Samantha’s work are seen to inhabit ethereal spaces and have a mysterious and elusive quality that allows us to project ourselves into these spaces to join them.

What stood out to me about Samantha’s work was the appropriation of what could be described as a nostalgic digital style and a fetishising of past versions of technology. From adopting early noughties video game visual tropes like a retro colour palette and stylised forms, Samantha creates a unique sense of tranquillity and retrospection.                              

The focus of Samantha’s work at the moment is “the heterotopic setting, using materials, objects and colour schemes that aren’t relative to the physical world.” It is these formal features – the seductive compositions, playful colour palette and interplay of solid and fluid forms - that come together to generate an extraordinary visual energy within her work. The rippling blue waters, translucent textures and reflective forms create a mesmeric and hypnotic experience – qualities that for me, seem to be the language of escapism in the digital age.

Through Samantha’s work I am reminded of digital artist Paul Milinski. Although distinct in their styles as Paul’s work is heavily environment focused and influenced by his background in what he calls ‘immersive experience design’, it conveys a similar notion of escapism through constructing his own versions of a virtual arcadia. The subsequent feeling of serenity experienced through his minimalist interiors and architectural structures which reside in lush greenery and sleek terrains may be visually simple, but achieves profoundly meditative response.    

Since its conception, digital art has often provided a kind of virtual sanctuary - an escape from the physical world - and offers a field of speculation about methods of display and accessibility that are deeply ingrained in the critical discourse of art as an institution. As Samantha notes: “companies are cutting back so there’s not as much work for artists, but I think it could be beneficial when the economy has recovered because creativity has had to adapt during Covid- digital work is more fashionable.” With arts funding slashed and huge declines in engagement, the pandemic has forced many artists to think outside the box in terms of display and accessibility. These issues are slowly dissolving with the digital age - now more than ever. Ways of displaying and engaging with art are being drastically altered as artists are fighting the institutional forces that dictate how art is being displayed and experienced.

However, as I’m sure most of us would agree, there are inevitable issues with relying on technology to define our contemporary experience. The digital medium has the potential for creating a great disconnect, with older generations and those more familiar with traditional creative methods being less likely to engage with it. It contributes to disembodied realities which can cause a back log of issues with trying to relate to the IRL.

Younger artists have their share of issues with working with technology. For Samantha, these issues are centred around the technical process of production: “It can be quite frustrating trying to learn new skills within the software, and the software and technology is really expensive. You can spend hours and hours making a scene that might just be viewed on someone’s phone screen that’s a few inches big.” As an audience and as consumers, we are often oblivious to the adversities many early-career artists face, particularly given how much visual content we expose ourselves to on a daily basis.

Samantha’s frustration will resonate with a lot of artists. But what is the solution? For me, Samantha’s work is a step in the right direction. By creating 3D virtual havens, the audience is given space and time to reflect on both our individual experience of viewing as well as recognising that the experience is created by an individual artist. Through these moments of reflection there is a necessary resistance present: a resistance to the art establishment’s monopolisation of display and experience and a way of reconnecting art to life whilst reenergising digital aesthetics.