Jamie Salmon


Written by Betty Wood
Photos and illustrations by Jamie Salmon
24 Sunday 24th July 2011

Top image: Self Portrait by Jamie Salmon. (Silicone, pigment and hair), 2006.

Chris by Jamie Salmon. (Silicone, acrylic, pigment and hair), 2007.

You're British born though currently live and work in Vancouver, Canada. As much of the North American film industry is filmed in Vancouver and you worked as a commercial artist for the movie industry before becoming a full-time artist, is it fair to assume that's why you headed out there. Or did you take an altogether different route across the pond?

That was exactly the reason for heading out to Canada. My first Canadian experience was actually in Toronto, where I landed my first job working as a sculptor at an FX studio there. I ended staying in Toronto for about three years before heading out to Vancouver.

The Elder by Jamie Salmon. (Silicone, acrylic, pigment and hair), 2006.

What's really interesting from reading your bio is that you're self-taught. How did you learn to sculpt so well and when did the jump come about from 'learning' to getting into the movie effects industry?

I`ve always loved being creative, ever since I was a kid. But it was definitely my sudden interest in makeup FX at a young age that really got me started. I think I read an article somewhere about how sculpture is used in movie FX and that was it, I was hooked and just had to learn how they did it. So I read anything I could find about makeup FX and sculpture and just started practicing. It was harder to find information when I was first starting out in sculpture, there wasn`t any internet back then, so I had to really try to work out a lot of things by trial and error. That was both fun and frustrating and sometime messy. I had very understanding parents!

I did that for several years and tried to copy the work of artists I looked up to. I figured if I wanted to get into the FX industry I had to try and get as good as possible, that was my motivation. Once I'd built up a small portfolio of work I began approaching FX studios and got little jobs here and there. I met and worked with some amazing artists, all of which inspired me further and pushed me to constantly try to improve my own work. It wasn't easy getting regular FX work in the UK at that time, so that`s what pushed me to look overseas; the real jump into doing FX for a living came when I moved to Canada.

Desolation by Jamie Salmon. (Silicone, acrylic, fibreglass and hair), 2008

Your work is hyper-realistic, in fact it's so realistic it goes beyond that and projects a heightened sense of reality that borders on magic. Do you feel partly like you're capturing the magic of life in your sculptures, or does the magic come from the parallel that's drawn between the two?

Magic, I like that - I wish it was! It doesn`t feel like magic when I`m doing it, these things are really hard to create. I think that sense of 'heightened reality' comes from the works being oversized as well as realistic. I think it helps the viewer detach themselves from the work a little and yet still see it as something they can relate to. I think if these works were life-size they would get quite a different reaction; people tend to get more uncomfortable around things that are too much like us.  It`s something called the 'uncanny valley'. It`s when something looks almost real but not quite and it causes a sense of revulsion.

Your work is exhibited in collections such as the Museo Escultura Figurativa Internacional Contemporánea in Portugal, but you also do private commissions. What's the strangest commission you've done to date?

I sometime do get strange requests although most of the weird stuff I've actually done has been in the movie FX industry. But I guess that doesn`t count as it's all weird!  I once had a lady approach me that wanted an exact replica of her baby son; I never took it in the end. I didn't realise at the time there's a whole community called 'Reborners' who collect these sort of things. Another strange commission - quite sad actually - was from a person who wanted me to make them a complete silicone body suit that would disguise a severe skin discolouration problem they had. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to do in the end because of technical problems.

Sumo by Jamie Salmon (silicone, pigment, fibreglass, acrylic, fabric and hair), 2009

When you're putting together a sculpture, what's the first stage of the process? Do you take casts of your subject or do you do it all (even the initial moulding) by hand?

The first stage is gathering as much reference of your subject as possible - taking photos and measurements from life when it`s possible. I never like to use casts of real people in my work - it's all hand sculpted. I`ve always felt that when using casts of real people you tend to lose something in the translation; it just feels kind of 'dead'. There`s something about sculpting something from scratch that gives a sense of life and character that just can`t be achieved by life casting. Having said that, it is handy to have life casts around the studio but just as a reference tool.

What about when you're putting a sculpture together; what's your favourite part of the process? Painting? The sculpting?

Oh definitely the sculpting, closely followed by the painting.

Can you identify a sculpture that was the most challenging for you to complete?

Sumo was very challenging, mainly because of the size. Added to that, I was working out of a smaller second floor studio at the time, so I had to make sure that I could get the thing out of the building! That created quite a few technical issues that had to be overcome. The hair on the Sumo was also incredibly tough to do. I can`t take credit for that, that was done by my incredibly talented wife, Jackie K. Seo.

Detail from Sumo

My favourite of your pieces is Self Portrait; the expression you chose to convey just captures a sense of reality that is eerie. I come back to that image again and again and every time I'm astounded by what you managed to create. Which sculpture are you most proud of - what piece is your personal favourite?

I like Chris and also Self Portrait. Those are the pieces where I feel I captured something that I was proud of.

Watching 'The making of Sumo' video on YouTube, there's a shot when you're pulling the silicon skin off the clay Sumo figure's face and the clay model beneath comes away with it. I found that really hard to watch as a non-artist because that initial moulding was so beautiful and in the process of creating the silicon skin it was ruined. I guess my point is that there's a lot of destruction that goes into the 'creating' process. Do you not find that hard? Do you fight an urge to preserve?

Not so much!   The moulding process is a very tough and time consuming process (not to mention expensive on the big figures). It has to go right, because of all the effort that went into the sculpture itself and then the moulding process. It`s actually a huge relief when pulling the mould off the sculpture and seeing that the mould went well. I guess I`m not really thinking too much about the destruction of the sculpture at that moment.

Finally, the last exhibition you did in 2010 was for the opening of the Two Heads Chicken Gallery. What are you currently working on?

The piece I`m working on at the moment is in interesting project. It's a private commission, a historical likeness. That`s all I can say for now!

If you're interested in finding out more about Jamie and his work, you can visit his website here.

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  • Guest: dach101
    Wed 27 - Jul - 2011, 15:43
    this is amazing work !