An otter drinking a Coors Light. A seagull with a cigarette. A painting called “To me, you’re trash” that could be the front of a Valentine’s Day card given the subject matter behind it.
Like other modern day street artists (Banksy comes to mind), Samuel “Samurai” Rains’ artwork is unconventional, thought-provoking and a fun surprise.
As a 14-year resident of North Lake Tahoe, Rains works as a boat captain, bartender, children’s book creator and artist.
When asked how he got into making art, Rains replies that he’s always sketched and drawn but when it comes to painting on canvas, he began for two reasons: to raise money for Alzheimer’s research and as a social experiment. He started going to thrift stores and buying knockoff paintings of beaches and Tahoe landscapes then adding to them – painting people on cell phones, litter strewn across the shore or pot leaves in a Monet-looking piece. Every one of his repurposed canvases had a political or social message.
“Then I would take it and donate it back to the thrift store and see if people would take it home and notice,” Rains says. He explains that the idea behind this type of art is to create thought awareness by noticing the alterations and thinking about them.
“I would never paint over art that was an original painted by another artist, but a mass media produced piece I would take,” he says. “I’m there every chance I get looking at art and supplies,” he says of the thrift store he frequents in Tahoe City.
He has been making this kind of art for the last seven or eight years, enhanced by a snowboard accident that changed his perspective. Rains broke his spine and arm after a bad landing in a terrain park and was in a coma for a week.
“I woke up with a whole new appreciation for life,” he says. After recovering from his injuries, Rains traveled, spending a year in the Caribbean sketching and drawing, rolling up his work in bottles and throwing them into the ocean. One restauranteur found one of the messages and framed it in his establishment.
He says that his father is a psychologist and his mom is a potter so he tries to mix the two. Rains explains that he also has so many nieces and nephews that it has been easier and more economical to make children’s books for them than to buy presents.
He created a coloring book called “The Amazing Odessa,” featuring his niece’s favorite animal, the whale shark. He also drew a book for one of his nephews featuring a leopard with a top hat and bowtie. Rains is currently working on a coloring book project with a friend and an acquaintance in Lahaina, Hawaii, to help support the victims of the recent fire that engulfed the historic town.
Rains says that helping people and the opportunity to provoke thought are what inspires his artwork.
“Anyone can raise money for big organizations, but you don’t know where that money is going half the time, so I like to contribute on a more direct, local level,” he says. For instance, when his art was featured in the North Tahoe Arts Gallery in Tahoe City, Rains used the money from the sale of his art to buy and personally put up Christmas decorations for an elderly care center in Carson City.
“For me it’s not just signing checks, it’s getting up on a ladder to hang Christmas lights and then seeing the residents’ faces when they walk in the room. They couldn’t go home for Christmas, so I brought Christmas to them. For me it’s about interacting on a local community level,” he says.
Rains has done countless paintings, most of which have been given away or re-donated. He says that every painting has a story. His favorite thing to paint is humor and irony.
“I just put it out there, into the world. It’s about spreading awareness and thought-provoking in a passionate manner,” he says.
Rains turned the tables and asked me to define art. I had to think about it before I said, “Anything creative, I think. There are so many different types of art … writing is art. Something that generates emotion.” He responded, “Exactly.” | rainspaintings.com