Student Spotlight: Visual artist Sam Modder ’17

by Sophia Siu | 5/12/16 5:59pm

Growing up with an uncle and a half-sister who are both artists, Sam Modder ’17 naturally became involved with studio art at a young age.

“Some of my earlier pieces were just my trying to copy my sister a little, but then I developed my own style,” Modder said. “She’s definitely one of my big influences.”

Modder started out by drawing cartoons and playing around with felt pens, but found her passion for art after learning the cross-hatching and scribble techniques in her school’s art class at age 13.

“I had a great art teacher as a kid, she taught us a lot of technique,” Modder said. “It was probably pretty basic but at the time, it opened my eye to this whole new world of actually taking my art seriously.”

Even after taking studio art classes that introduced her to various mediums, including sculpture, painting and printmaking, the mediums that Modder feels most comfortable are oil pastels and pen — the first mediums she worked with growing up.

Modder explained that oil pastels and ball-point pens were easily accessible, and after working with them over the years, they have become her go-to when she is working on personal projects.

Although Modder’s style is constantly changing, she often uses contrasting blocks of color and thick, bold lines in her works.

“I want you to see it across the room and walk towards it,” Modder said.

When starting a new project, Modder normally has an image or idea in her head of what she envisions the work to be. After toying around with the picture in her head for a period of time, she finally puts it on paper.

“When I put it on paper, it’s never quite what I want to see,” Modder said. “There’s this compromise that goes back and forth between this image in my head and the image that I have.”

Although Modder doesn’t draw inspiration from a particular artist or style, she finds herself inspired by various works or photos that she sees and decides to put her own spin on them.

Regarding the subjects of her works, Modder prefers to draw people and faces. In her works, she often reflects on her identity as someone who is half-Nigerian and half-Sri-Lankan.

“It tends to go around issues about identity, blackness, certain issues that are close to my heart like domestic violence or the media,” Modder said.

Diane Jang ’15 took a sculpture class and “Drawing I” with Modder and noted the personal nature of Modder’s art.

“A lot of her artwork deals with her cultural heritage and background,” Jang said. “I think it’s really passionate, and you can tell there’s a lot of warmth in it, and that her culture matters to her a lot. That’s where her heart is.”

Modder’s final project for “Drawing II” consisted of a series of three drawings on newspapers articles that she had cut out and stitched together. Each drawing featured a woman’s face, seemingly in anguish, in bold, contrasting colors. The newspaper articles Modder chose to incorporate in her work were articles describing tragic events that had happened recently, including articles covering the Syrian refugee crisis, the Paris bombing, as well as the Black Lives Matter protests.

Modder began looking for articles before the Paris bombing, and when it happened she became frustrated by the idea that, while the bombing was a tragic event, in the papers it overshadowed other bad things that were happening.

“I got really angry when I was looking through the newspapers because I couldn’t find the articles about bad stuff that was happening. It wasn’t just the bombing of Paris, there was other bad stuff that happened that week, and that was what dominated the news that week,” Modder said. “That became what the piece was about, as I was working on it, being consumed by media that was not even doing its job of reporting the right news.”

Studio art professor Colleen Randall, who taught Modder in “Drawing II,” commented on the personal nature of Modder’s work.

“[Modder] employs a very imaginative language of mark-making and mixes media to create imagery that is very personal to her emotionally,” Randall said.

Before the start of her freshman year, Modder had originally intended to be an engineering major modified with studio art. However, Modder eventually decided to fully take advantage of the opportunities offered to studio art majors and is now a double major in engineering and studio art.

“I think I take my art as seriously as I take my engineering so I’m a double major. One isn’t a hobby. They are both equal,” Modder said.

After graduation, Modder hopes that art will continue to be more than just a hobby in her life. Although she isn’t sure exactly how she will incorporate art into her career, she said that even if she were to be an engineer, she would still want there to be a creative element to her work.

“I don’t think I would be happy if it were just engineering. I like the logic of engineering. I like making useful things,” Modder said. “Art doesn’t have the purpose the same way that product does, so I like the idea of combining the two.”

Quick quotes:

Favorite snack: Grapes

Favorite TV show: “Dr. Who,” “Sherlock”

Favorite museum: Dalí Theatre and Museum