Art by PoPsee
PoPsee, real name Barry Samms, is a contemporary artist melding digital art with contemporary cultural references.
The work is ironic, humorous, playful, nostalgic, and thought provoking – using the dichotomy of known historical moments, pop icons, and luxury brands to make a visual statement on what is valued in society.
In 1973, Barry Samms was born in Barking East London. Growing up with very little, Barry went to a very strict catholic school. Barry is generation X and was fascinated with the emergence of BMXing, breakdancing, hip hop & rap as well as skateboarding, Nike, and Adidas basketball boots, & the emerging football association with fashion. Barry enjoyed the freedom to party amidst the acid house movement within late 80’s Britain’s “Second Summer of Love”. During this time as a teenager, Barry was designing flyers for those parties.
At the age of 16, Barry loved attending all night unlicensed raves during the “Second Summer of Love” in the UK. He would go out all night and morning with his friends from The Dungeons beneath The Greyhound pub on Lea Bridge Road, Bournemouth, Milton Keynes to abandoned warehouses and aircraft hangers, traveling around the UK in the height of the pills’ scene.
Barry was inspired by the artist David Shrigley and decided to study art and design after leaving school. He then went on to work for twenty years for his father who created a shipping business from their dining room table. The shipping business won The Queen’s Award for International Trade in 2009 and was sold in 2012.
In 2009, whilst still involved in shipping, Barry created BR Republic Jewellery with The Prodigy’s Maxim and Bobby White Jeweller and sold jewellery through department store Harvey Nichols. Through music industry connections, Barry’s jewellery was bought and worn by Beyonce and Jay Z. Beyonce was even featured wearing a BR Republic ring in Vogue.
PoPsee is now a full-time artist and has recently launched a digital series influenced by his nostalgia for the “Second Summer of Love” in the UK.
I read you have a background in shipping; what made you want to pursue a career as a full-time artist?
PoPsee: When I left school, I studied general art and design at college for a few years, I decided not to continue to a degree course because I was tired of having no money all the time and the thought another 3 years of that was not going to work for me.
And were you always interested in digital art?
PoPsee: Yes, I would say from my teenage years definitely, I would always experiment with different techniques, I was particularly good at ceramics at one point but always preferred messing about with graphics and fonts.
Can you tell us a bit about your new series celebrating the “Second Summer of Love”?
PoPsee: Well, it certainly is not glorifying drugs in anyway, it’s about an era and a generation of teenagers upwards really sticking two fingers up to what was a really dull United Kingdom, under the government there were plenty of job losses, new taxes, and general greyness in people’s lives, I suppose nothing much has changed. My mum was a hippy in the 60’s and always said how magical those days were so I guess this was our turn, we went from heavy drinking in pubs and the local Palais to huge warehouses with spaceships projected on the walls listening to Balearic beats. If you were there, you would know.
Can you describe what the “Second Summer of Love” was like and how it shaped you? Can you share any interesting stories from this period for you?
PoPsee: The first party I went to was in an old amusement arcade in Southend, me and a few friends like to have a smoke back then and I couldn’t believe you could just roll one up and nobody would stop you, the music was new and fresh and the girls were all super friendly, gone was the 1am search for a girl to have a slow dance with, it felt like the Sergio Tachinni and Fila tracksuits were hung up and our clothing went to kickers, dungarees and chippie tops. It changed all of us, nobody was looking for trouble anymore everyone was just loving life, it’s no wonder so many creatives came from that’s short period.
How do you feel about the music, drugs, and party scene today?
PoPsee: I gave up clubbing when the sparklers started coming out on vodka bottles so I don’t really know, what I hear a lot sounds like rehashed older tracks, drugs sound different, harder, so much more coke, it’s become like an aperitif for people now, you can walk past a house and smell the weed being smoked inside its so strong, you’d normally say I wish I was in my 20’s now but I look and to me it all looks a bit lame with everyone filming average DJs on their phones to post up on social media, in 3 years of partying I literally have 2 pictures taken in Ibiza and I am glad, who had time for phones and Instagram when you were shuffling about pulling faces listening to Franke Knuckles.
Your new body of work draws on your nostalgia for the acid house culture of the late 80’s in Britain. While working on this series, which artists or art movements would you say inspired you the most?
PoPsee: My real only inspiration art wise has been David Shrigley, I saw his stuff and thought this guy is doing his thing, it’s unique and loads of people love his word. That gave me the green light to stop thinking I might not be good enough. Back years ago, I loved flyer designers for parties, they were artworks in their own right, check out works by Pez or Junior Tomlin, designers like Vivienne Westwood and McQueen were changing fashion up as well.
The themes of luxury brands and iconic pictures are central to a lot of your art pieces; What first inspired you to explore these themes? What do they mean?
PoPsee: I have said this before but I have a love hate relationship with luxury brands, I come from East London from pretty humble pickings so we were like magpies, anything shiny with a name on gave us some sort of recognition, I have come to know that’s not where pure happiness comes from but I still get how wearing something designer can make you feel good, even give you an element of confidence. The brands know we are magpies, and we can’t resist the glare, when I started to earn a few quid once a month I would go to Harrods and buy something from Dior, those shirts and all but one suit all ended up in the charity show when I came out of the office environment. I did a series of large paintings with magpies flying, one was holding a LV handbag in its beak with the wording “let the magpies have your designer bags.”
How do you feel the current generation values luxury brands and what do they mean to you?
PoPsee: I think that brands always have to come with something new, that’s not changed for years, at times it feels like they just say go on make those trainers 800 quid and drip feed them out, get the demand and we will sell them for years just tweaking the odd colour way, you see school girls with 3 grand bags now so I would say that the pressure on parents at times must be quite hard, spend on the label and your kid is in the club, don’t and they’re running the risk of getting picked on. My stance has changed if I see something that is a great design, I will go in for it but that’s rare these days mainly because a lot is just pretty lazy and overpriced.
How do you approach a new work? What is your working process like?
PoPsee: Most of the time it’s a waiting game for me, I will go weeks and do very little then bang I hear a song, see something, overhear a conversation or simply have a memory or pick something out about myself and it’s full systems go and I will do 3 or 4 pieces in a couple of days, at the moment I would love to do a couple of collaborations and see how that goes.
And finally, what can we expect from you in the near future?
PoPsee: Possibly a couple of collabs, I have put it out there and just waiting, I am still exploring the renaissance mixed with more modern designs, it intrigues me how a couple hundred years ago there were all these amazing costumes for both men and women with incredible materials but there wasn’t a designer badge in sight, I like the duality and the flip, like the airplane windows I have just done, that moment you come into land in a new country and lift up the visor on the window I always found a car looking so small and think who is in that, where are they going or where have they been, I’ve not been a lover of flying for a while since a particularly bad flight so I am showing my vulnerability a bit as well I suppose.