Donning a grey jumper spattered with paint, Sam Holt pulls open the gate to his shared inner west studio, and into a small workroom separated from the rest of the house. Canvases and painted perspex lean against the walls, paint splatters the drop sheet covering the floor and at the back of the room a linen canvas almost as wide as the wall is propped up on two milk crates. This is what a painter’s studio looks like the weekend out from their first Sydney solo exhibition since 2015.

“I’ve been holding off on the big one because everything was changing so much,” says Holt, as he steps forward and peels a piece of tape off the canvas. He picked up some spray-painting techniques from a graffiti artist while he was on a six-month residency in Berlin and this is the result. Billowing clouds formed by “Dulux house paint, sprayed from an angle so it gets quite thin but looks optically thick,” says Holt.

This work is a progression from Holt’s vibrant line paintings that sold out at his debut solo show at Artereal Gallery two years ago. “I’ve pared back the palette, its really earthy and quite concrete now,” says Holt. This time around he’s also experimenting with different materials; it’s no longer just oil paint on linen canvas, but industrial materials like chrome vinyl wrap, shards of mirror and yellow gaffer tape.

He excitedly pulls out the new painting supplies he’s bought: a feather duster and a small broom. “I’m buying different things to paint with because the canvas is so big,” says Holt. For Holt this experimentation is accidental and intuitive. “New work just comes about by doing and exploring things,” he says.

Having always been an “arty kid”, Holt left his career in creative advertising to enrol in art school and pursue painting full time. “I think a lot of people have made that swap at 26 or 27, and I thought the time is now,” says Holt.

A few years on and he has sold out work at Sydney Contemporary, spent a month on a residency in China, completed a six-month exchange program in Berlin and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Sydney College of the Arts (SCA). In the coming month he will travel to Art Central Hong Kong as one of Artereal Gallery’s eight selected exhibition artists.

His upcoming show, The distance between, is personal and reflective. “In Western society we have this idea that we can gain happiness by doing things, so it’s always a construct,” says Holt. We see these internal reflections in the gestural sweeps of his brush, the spontaneous paint application balanced by personal musings and societal quandaries.

Holt paints quickly, “they always turn out the best because you can see the movement in them.” Their titles, like the paintings themselves, read like a stream of consciousness – I couldn’t tell you what he does to be honest – and are embedded with clever commentary on Holt’s lived experience.

“My paintings have an energy, I want people to live with it and have a relationship with it and look at it when they’re eating their cereal,” says Holt.

Sam Holt will exhibit at Artereal Gallery from March 2 to April 1.

He will be giving an artist talk as a part of Art Month at 4pm on Saturday March 4 at Artereal gallery.

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