Words by Kate Thompson
Brick walls, conventional canvas or his own skin – Southsea based artist Samo White is using all of these surfaces to get his message across. Regular visitors to Highland Road can’t have failed to spot the ever changing wall outside his Playdead Studio where thought provoking street art can be seen.
Inside Samo hosts a calendar of edgy events and exhibitions bringing together Southsea’s most creative people and the gallery walls are ever changing. Out the back is the tattoo studio where Samo swaps brush and paint for needle and ink to create delicate and beautiful designs.
His own body is adorned with an infinite variety of designs – his favourite is his back piece which depicts his hero Frida Kahlo.“She had a way of communicating, connecting and sharing her story through her art, which I really admire,“ he explained. Samo has an understanding of the physical and emotional pain Kahlo endured throughout her life and admires her strength.
For 30 years Samo lived as a woman, and his transitional journey has given Samo a public profile that means he is proud to speak out for the LGBTQ community. “As a Trans-person, I have been massively visible in this space. I couldn’t just hide myself away and not have my say.
“I was so public about my journey there was no way I could privately transition; I had to do it publicly. It did allow the whole community to support me. Part of my purpose now is to normalise the conversation around transition and gender. Having LGBTQ taught in schools will be helpful,” he said.
Samo has been a keen supporter of street art in Southsea and is delighted that fans are now travelling from all over the UK and beyond to see the art on our streets.
World Pride, sponsored by HSBC and Macy’s recently hired Samo to be one of 50 artists painting on the streets in New York. “It was such an honour as a queer artist to be part of something so special,” he said.
Being a tattoo artist allows Samo to leave his mark on others, and he saw it as a natural transition for an artist. “Socially tattoos are much more acceptable. I read somewhere that Portsmouth is the most tattooed city in the UK and that harks back to the naval tradition. But the art of tattoo has changed so much. There are 400 types of ink, you can mix them and you can create all sorts of techniques. It’s great to see people experimenting – I want to have full-arms of black and that means having many layers of ink,” he said.
A real champion for Southsea, Samo doesn’t miss a beat when asked to name his favourite spot. “Canoe Lake – I love the fact that nothing has changed since I was a child, and I enjoy walking there in the morning,” he said.