Reproduction Mutation Selection – RAVEN,

10 March 2015

Wagner Art Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, 7 March – 7 April 2015

Bill Sampson’s paintings and sculptures are more concerned with the act of perception than any narrative within the work itself. Moving away from his usual abstract work, Reproduction Mutation Selectioncomprises pairs of paintings and sculptures, the former recalling Dutch still life paintings of flowers against dark grounds, the latter amorphous resin forms that force our perception into the third dimension. RAVEN at

In all my work I seek the means to reflect the world that we cannot restrain or affect—so as to better understand the relative unimportance of the world perceived only via our constructs or bias—one in which I nevertheless appear to quite contentedly reside… Whilst these ideas and the work are always developing, my processes often allow the mediums to create the work – while I struggle to keep up with it!  (Bill Sampson).

Bill Sampson’s works appear to hover in a state of flux between figuration and abstraction, providing the viewer with an uncanny, unexpected interaction. His works exude energy and life and in each piece one senses the artist’s physical application, as well as the personae of the media and materials used, offering an experience of colour and form that charges the senses.


Reflections on Bill Sampson’s ‘Forces of Nature’ Exhibition – Sid Forsey, Nov. 2013

Counihan Gallery, Brunswick,  October-November 2013.

 In this Exhibition, Sampson continues his Taoist way of questioning the character of the natural world. His respect for the ‘Way’ is shown by the form of his questioning.  He does not interpose his ego, demanding that the Great Way flow and respond within the rigid rectangular boundaries that often frames Western thought.  He has allowed the black and white thinking in the earlier stages of this work to be pressed back to the periphery by the pink of new beginnings. This is the very colour of new flesh that forms under the scab of a wound.  In Bill’s case the ‘scab’ seems to be the lumps of paint that have to be washed off in order to discover the new being.  In Bill’s gentle testing of the power of the new being, it is tempting to think in our combative, Western way that the rigid forms he placed in the matrix were torn apart.  But that is not the Taoist way. These imposed structures on the natural harmony were gently put in their place, and the supposed demonstration of chance and chaos transformed into a particular manifestation of the Great Way.

Sid Forsey

 Battaini’s place – a place, a home, a rupture.  2013

Curatorial Statement by ALEX PANELLI,  descendant of Luigi & Serafini Battaini, resides at ‘Battaini’s Place’, Tara Dale

The name Battaini, a variant Battaglini, is a diminutive of Battaglia, which in Italian means battle

In 1855, less than 20 years after Mitchell (the first white man) crossed this country, Luigi Battaini, a follower of Garibaldi in the unsuccessful 1848/49 campaign to unify Italy, and separately, Serafina Udini, 17 years of age and travelling with her father, found themselves amongst an unprecedented movement of people from Lombardy in Italy and Ticino in Switzerland, to the goldfields of central Victoria. A silence follows – a time from which no words have carried through to their descendants.

In 1862 this ends. Luigi and Serafina marry. They kept (and I still have) the certificate that shows it. They have a child. In 1863 a “Certificate of Naturalisation” is granted and in the same year another child (my great grandmother) is born. Within a few more years: two more children, and a license is issued “to reside on and to cultivate” a “parcel of Crown Land”. And a house is built.

Houses are built. Places are transformed and the past, it would seem, is erased. But before building there is thought, and before thought there is something else; we do not start with thinking. There was a house. I remember. I was carried. Within its walls I slept; I woke to morning. But the thing, a ruin now, is all but gone – and I must face it.

A house is made of parts and their arrangement: solids, openings, rigidities and foldings; with the total thing dependent on a place. But a house is more: it is not formed by place, but arises from and seems to hold a dream. We enter houses. We enter respectfully, for we have dreamed this dream. But the thing dissolves or floats; it does not hold. Yet we believe. Houses are homes for us. Homes are where people come from, and we know well, it’s people that are important. People go out from homes into the world, from where if all is well they should return. Or else they build new houses.

But, what if it’s not like that? What if we (in the steps of our ancestors) come to something that confuses, and there we dream. And then, though we awake, the dream still lingers?

Our houses are intermediaries, having two sides; they stand for us, and yet also with place. Can they be true? Are our houses really for us? What might that mean? Should they help us be with place – on peaceful terms, and lasting? Or should they insulate us from a harsher truth, and help us in naivety to trust that we are quite at home when we are not? Ultimately, could a house yet hold for us what makes this land our own, or can it only ever echo and unfold?

With their thoughts, our ancestors brought residues of houses that arose in other places.They remembered. Growing home-sick, yet choosing not to return to the realms from which they came, they tried to build such houses. They had come to this land believing that they could take from nature and subdue it. They dreamed of gold and houses. The quest for the security that finding gold might bring, and the building of houses, are not such separate things.

What then should my attitude be to this house? This much is clear: the thing itself and the dream from which it came, was flawed and failing. Yet I have come from it and dreamed its dream. So should it be, and in what form, perpetuated?

I have asked three artists, Frank Veldze, Bill Sampson and Annabel Nowlan, each in their own way, to help me face this challenge.


Artists Statement by Bill Sampson

I was attracted to Alex’s anthropological yet poetic vision from the start. I feel I know this tension between nihilistic sentimentality, the rational, and artistic ineffability. I certainly shared similar experiences – of waking as a young lad in a strange makeshift bed full of expectancy as the day dawned; having baths in a shallow enamel pan in front of the fire at night; potties under the bed; hot mash and cold mutton; finding comfort and the familiar amongst exotic smells and sounds.

I was afraid of being sidetracked by the allure of the past. But I was encouraged by Alex’s attraction to my crushed paintings.

But they are more than that. More like crushed ideas, crushed dreams, ghosts of thoughts and memories, blowing through the landscape, the space, the place, the house, the home – vanquished perhaps or dead, but always replenished, in conflict or belonging, blow-ins and blow-throughs, attractive but flawed, damaging and damaged, always moving on, but always present – elements of a home anchored in our remnant arcadia.

Bill Sampson

Chance Upon Nothing – Opening address by Emeritus Professor Richard Perry, 2013

I first met Bill Sampson, who is responsible for the impressive paintings which loom around you, at a course I gave at the Victorian College of the Arts on Mysticism and the Arts of Asia.  While most of the students either doodled or gaped as I talked and showed slides, Bill would stir from his slouching, seemingly Buddhistic calm to ask keenly pertinent questions that sought some sharper clarity to the received wisdom which I was so blithely dispensing.  He invited me to his cramped studio space at the VCA and, to my stuttering amazement, I saw for the first time his bold and accomplished experimentation with large sheets of paper which he had somehow bathed and extracted from tubs of water, oil, paint and whatnot.  Indeed the mysterious production of these paintings increased their allure. Eventually, his vast paintings (reduced, I think, by the simple term “marbling”) comprised an audacious Ph.D. exhibition at the VCA.  His works have been shown elsewhere in Melbourne and in England and Italy, and have won a number of awards.

If you know Bill, you will be aware that there is a restless, questing fervency in his brain that does not always find easy resolution; rather, his passions, like his aesthetic, take and cede a certain pleasure in contradiction, uncertainty, self-deflation, satiric grandiosity, the ineffable, and a zesty sensuality admixed with introspection. And visa-versa. In his shambolic yet rigorous manner, he works hard to control what seems spontaneous and rather gleefully accepts the accidental that eludes technical control.

Art historians, curators and critics are of course always trying to place any artist’s machinations within the historical development of styles and movements, knowing that contemporary art evolves from art of the past. David O’Halloran, curator of the Glen Eira Gallery, has said of Bill’s marbling work that he sees them “as mind maps or as explorations of a hitherto unseen world. This could be a world of destruction, of an angry earth fighting for its very survival.”  The young critic Justin Clements, faced with providing annotations for Bill’s Ph.D. exhibition catalogue, conjured up an hallucinogenic prose to mirror the painted phantasmagoria: “Behold the sniffling beaks of decapitated parrots, the stripped pennants and ensigns of failed stellar armies, the slop and wobble of biomorphic teratologies, the pallid and silent throne of heaven…fat seamy veins of chocolaty horror, the crinkled spectres of not-so-fresh brains, the kitschy rip and crack of paper and bone!”  Clements said that “Bill Sampson gives us soft-horror, cheesy sci-fi, disappointingly grainy porn, a kind of squishy generic implosion of degraded techniques…”  I think not, somehow, but Clements at least implies the exhilaration one feels in front of these paintings, the kaleidoscopic multiplicity of possible visualizations, and the koan-like challenge to rational understanding.

If we stand back, the vista is cosmic; if we bend in and look closely, the view may be cellular.  As Bill himself states, “nano or macro – anyone’s guess. They sometimes scare me.”   Although he acknowledges the struggle of his own technical intercession in the birth of these most natural looking paintings, Bill owns enough of the philosopher’s penchant for detached reflection on their meaning.  Again, I quote the artist: “These works literally represent the uncaring movement of nature as it alone swarms and spills the paint into its chaotic patterns on the surface of the marbling bath.  For this reason the marbling is nihilistic, meaningless and as absurd as nature is.  It represents a universe that appears to me confusing, complex, confounding and ultimately uncaring – despite, or because of the horrid logic of its physics – and beautiful as such. I think of it as a peep at the Real, the illusion of our constructed and fantastic reality momentarily wiped away – and a peep at our future.”  Furthermore, he says that,  “In all my work I seek the means to reflect the world that we cannot restrain or affect – so as to better understand the relative unimportance of the world perceived only via our constructs or bias – one in which I nevertheless appear to quite contentedly reside!”

Most importantly, Bill keeps experimenting, keeps finding new ways to use the bath, new methods to spruik chance, new intrusions into the chemistry of his medium, new surprises in the outcome.  No longer content to bring us molecular microcosms and galactic macrocosms, in this fascinating new exhibition he introduces foreign materials into the marbling bath, plays with them, and welcomes the thrills, and perhaps groans, at the results.  It’s a crap shoot in a way, with the dice only half loaded.    As Bill puts it, in this exhibition he is “orchestrating the paint so that the paint itself is moving and pushing around what appears to be ‘negative’ spaces – those parts in the images that appear as white spaces, until it finds a stillness at which there is balance – but not necessarily the place at which we…intended.”  He goes on, “each paint acts differently owing to its chemical difference and fluidity etc. Some spreads out but when another is added they are compressed and stretched and sometimes almost obliterated.  In this exhibition I am using these forces to push around and tear apart concrete objects (they’re paper actually) floating in the bath.  Happily enough, and for all truly intensive purposes, we the viewers are invited both to stand back to admire the formal (de)construction but also to draw near to observe a million little flow charts.

Ambroise Vollard once told Degas of a painter who had come to him, exclaiming, “At last I have found my true style!”  “Well,” said Degas, “I’m glad I haven’t found my true style yet.  I’d be bored to death.”  Bill Sampson, I suspect, will never be bored.  He continues to explore ‘the bath’ as he terms it with undiminished curiosity, technical prowess, and startling result.

Bill Sampson’s paintings are unique, intelligent, sensual, endlessly engaging, profound and fun.  It is a pleasure for me to declare the exhibition, “chance upon nothing,” open.

Richard Perry
Emeritus Professor of Fine Arts
York University, Toronto
7 March, 2013

Essay by Sophie Knezic re Chance Upon Nothing – Chemical Combat               

Bill Sampson’s paintings – if we can call them that – are not contrived formal images, cadences of colour carefully orchestrated into iridescent compositions. Rather, they are paper-thin stage sets for liquid acts of ruin and destruction. Using and abusing a technique known as marbling, Sampson pours thin skeins of paint onto the skin-like surface of water then lets the paint take over, spooling in all directions with reckless assertion; little motors of churning colour.Part-impresario/part-artist, Sampson harnesses the invisible chemical constitution of paint to unleash its kinetic power. Coaxing unpredictable assaults between water, paper and paint, he subjugates artistic will to instead play addictive games of a different kind of chemical warfare. Adding stencils for masking, using bitumen, oil or acrylic, the artist spars with his materials. He flicks tiny balls of water onto the paper before placing it in the bath to create galactic splotches of white, drowns parts of the paper to allow the pigment to seep and curdle.Who would have thought that colour has actual acceleration? A literal force of propulsion specific to its hue? Indeed it does; the spectrum of paint is a series of individual profiles of mobile chemical agency. The act of marbling reveals the sheer brunt of the paint as it propels itself across the water’s meniscus, hotly fuelling its way until it hits an obstruction – pooling paint of another colour. Pink has the greatest puissance. Yellow is only just subordinate. Black is tractable; a push-over to fulgent colour’s chemical might. Annihilated by the high keys of colorant, black is sequestered into thin perimeters, shadowy residues around more powerful zones of pigment.The result of this chemical combat? A phantasmagoria of acidic colour and kaleidoscopic collisions. On parts of the paper, paint shrinks into sticky craters, elsewhere it stretches into bubblegum balloons. Paper stencils create white tectonic forms which, subjected to the action of the paint’s pressure, crack and tumble like shattering piano keys. There is fury here as well as torpor; a convergence of energy and inertia, coalescing as the chromatic legions reach their painterly détente, a final accord of visual blaze.
Sophie Knezic, January 2013 
Radio National 621, Books and Arts Daily, Debate: The Pen is mightier than the Brush, (Sampson is third speaker for ‘the Brush’)
Radio National 621, Books & Arts Daily, 26 April 2012 National website – Collector Collector what’s On

Radio National 621, Diary of an Artist, (in 4 parts)

Pt. 1.

Pt. 2.

Pt. 3.

Pt. 4. (final episode)

Dr. Justin Clemens, ABC Radio National, May 2011

Ruth Learner, Longer Little Deaths: Moulds for Anamonitored Experiences, May 2011

Art Collector, July/September 2012, Dr. Edward Colless


Australian Art Collector – ‘undiscovered’, April 2007, Dr Edward Colless

‘…as a viewer you can put abstract expressionism aside as the main reference point and see them as mind maps or as explorations of a hitherto unseen world. This could be a world of destruction, of an angry earth fighting for its very survival.’ David O’Halloran, 2007

David O’Halloran is an Australian visual art curator of 25 years experience working with some of the country’s most important visual arts organisations including the Biennale of Sydney, the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Contemporary Art Services Tasmania, and the Adelaide Festival.