Chance Upon Nothing : Bill Sampson

Have you been to [MARS] lately?

I’ve been known to travel great distances to see something that piques my interest.

An ardent admirer of the work of artist Bill Sampson, I was on shpilkes*  to see this particular exhibition. ( the etymological noun of this Yiddish expression relates this as “a state of impatience or agitation” or as “on pins & needles” or “ant in one’s pants” !! )

MARS-Next door!

The opening last night, was held at [MARS] Melbourne Art Rooms, situated on Bay Street in Port Melbourne – next door to the petrol station on Dorcas St, this guy isn’t a permanent installation sadly.

Powerhouse pocket-rocket director,  Andy Dinan, saw a significant gap in the art market for a downtown-styled space which offers inclusion rather than exclusive membership to art explorers and afficionado’s alike.

MARS-Andy-contemplativeAbove: a contemplative Ms.Dinan listens attentively to Bill Sampson’s spiel on his latest body of works.

Congratulations are in order I might add, this morning Andy has joined forces with an elite group nominated formally as “women who rock the joint” ( The Age’s columnist Suzanne Carbone touted this morning) attending an event taking place now at the State Library for International Women’s Day. 


Originally an old dairy, the [MARS] building was neglected and run down during its use as a warehouse and a mechanical workshop. Blending aspects of the old and the new, Andy Dinan remarkably reincarnated the building and now MARS a unique space that offers a backdrop of simplicity and generous proportions to showcase outstanding Australian and International contemporary art from emerging and established artists.

MARS-Sampson signageAbove: [MARS] Gallery Manager, Claire La Greca doing the do.

MARS-Bill Sampson- Chance upon nothing

Bill Sampson is an artist with a rigorous contemporary practice.  His interest in materials and process, and the use of everyday materials, has continued to break down the life/art frontier.

Chance x Nothing_webChance x Nothing, 2012, synthetic polymer on paper, 101 x 101cm. – Described by Sampson as “Philip Guston pink”.

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…

… The result of this chemical combat? A phantasmagoria of acidic colour and kaleidoscopic collisions. 

Dr Sophie Knezic, 2013


MARS-Bill-Energy Above: Dr. Bill Sampson attained a Bachelor of Art degree with Honours at the Victorian College of Art before attaining his Doctor of philosophy at Melbourne University. Watch him wax lyrical and at length here !

The author and critic Ruth Learner observed, ‘Sampson’s interest in materials and process, and a use of everyday materials, continues to break down the life/art frontier and lends the work an organic physicality and open endedness. This tradition too links Sampson’s work with that of sculptor Hany Armanious, but Sampson’s exploration is perhaps more oblique, tending towards an alchemic process and an emphasis on dissolving, coagulation and transmutation.’[1]

And similarly Dr Alison Inglis observed that, ‘Despite Sampson’s mission to drain all meaning from his images, their painterly pyrotechnics, playful titles and gentle subversion of our expectations ultimately only underline our determination to find significance in visual expression. ‘

Just so you’re reading this right, Ted Colless has too observed so perceptively, Bill Sampson’s marbled paintings are “a mirror to our own desire for a meaningful relationship with art”.’[2]

[1] Ruth Learner, Longer Little Deaths: Moulds for Anamonitored Experiences, May 2011.

untitled_web copyuntitled, 2012, synthetic polymer on paper, 101 x 101cm.

“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! 

Paint floats on the surface of a fluid onto which I place my paper and take a (mono) print of the result. But there the similarity with marbling ends for I ensure that I do not have the control of the paint on the surface. That is my wild horse.

I let the paint do the painting – like a jockey lets their horse do the galloping. I am a jockey on a wild horse and I cannot tell which way it is going to run.

But just as a scientist does not know the result he/she will expose, he/she or I do not rely on chance. Like the scientist I have created parameters for my horses, and within those I make my discoveries.” Bill Sampson, March 2013.

MARS-Tabitha [MARS] Gallery Intern, Tabitha Hocking.

The Imposibility of #BB127D copyThe Impossibility of Balance, 2012, synthetic polymer on paper, 101 x 101cm.

“In these works, when I drop my paper on the bath the horse is still running amok through the environments of our lives or minds. The paper takes a snapshot of this heaving mass, momentarily stilling it, but the pressures and movement remains apparent.

The light shapes are without paint for they were once objects, like myself, floating in the environments of the surface of the bath – and have been pushed into their present location by the forces of the paints as they expand and contract. They have ended up in a different location from which they started, and not necessarily the one in which they intended to be.

For me, they are metaphors on whatever level for the environment in which we try to locate our desires, or make plans and expectations in the course of our lives – and sometimes kid ourselves we have achieved it, or even had any control at all.”

MARS-Bill & friend

Icarus_webIcarus, 2012, synthetic polymer on paper, 101 x 101cm.

At this time I endeavour to create ‘nothing’, with things left to chance, devoid of control, and I seek to better comprehend the importance of that. The notion of nothing locates no landscape, no notion, no structure. And so it is a liberating space, but demanding oneself to construct a meaning, purpose, priority, significance and value. My work seeks to touch this world without constructs – the ‘nothing world’ with its wide horizon. And at the same time it asks of the unimportance of the concrete world in which I quite contentedly reside!

MARS-Bill & clients

MARS-Bill-GT SewellBill with GT Sewell, the next big THANG!

Expressed another way, my process harkens philosophically to both Zen as well as a more nihilistic western understanding, yet my experience is they have an aesthetic appreciation in both spheres. My practice revolves around how meaning, significance and value are constructed.

I endeavour to critically challenge aesthetic doctrines of form, expression and gesture by proposing a new value for inexpressive art, and by emphasizing the significance of chaos in the contemporary creative act.

In my work I seek a tension between a visual seductiveness and their nihilistic means of production, for they are created predominately without control – either by means of an anachronistic marbling-like process, or a dynamic fluid means of production, or in the sculptural work with uncontrollable solvents then reined into form.


Sampson has been the recipient of numerous prizes throughout his career, most notably the Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship.

The exhibition will run until Sunday 7 April 2013. [MARS] Melbourne Art Rooms, 418 Bay Street, Port Melbourne VIC 3207.


2 thoughts on “Chance Upon Nothing : Bill Sampson

  1. Dear Vicki I’m glad you enjoyed last night at MARS , what a relaxed and lovely night together , definitely a magic mars night , hope to see you soon for a big big catch up, happy international women’s day to you and my sisters everywhere x

  2. thanks Andy – I love that I’m sure you are the only gallerist I know who feels most comforatble going barefoot @ her own openings whilst looking relaxed yet resplendant in Pantone’s 2013 colour of the year, Emerald green! x

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