with Cameron Jennings
Interview with Ben Skinner
Ben Skinner is arguably at the forefront of the aesthetic art movement in Vancouver, BC. Working as a installation designer for the retail company, Aritzia by day, and experimenting with weird and wonderful materials by night, Ben has constructed a strikingly unique style through his practise. Filled to the brim with references from popular culture combined with innovative techniques, textures and colors, Ben’s work is nothing if not conspicuous.
CJ : Your practise throughout the years has continued to incorporate elements from popular culture, be that textual, atheistic use of colour, or more conceptually. Do you, however, consider yourself a ‘pop artist’?
BS: No. I’ve never considered myself a POP artist. I think of myself primarily as a text based artist who is inspired by popular culture.
CJ: Text is an integral element to your practise. Do you find that it is often the case with text based art, that what isn’t said, rather than what is, is what defines the work?
BS: Is this question a text-based artwork? I know what you mean. I'm not sure about often, but I think sometimes the text is alluding to something it's not coming right out and saying. Just like the way to do with our own speech. "YOU WERE NICE WHILE I LASTED" is a play on a common colloquialism but the suggestion can come off as overtly sexual without actually saying anything explicit. Also "THE THOUGHT YOU THOUGHT AND THE THOUGHT YOU THOUGHT YOU THOUGHT" has little inherent content other than word repetition. But by thinking about and processing the whole phrase you go through at least a couple levels of understanding the sentence and are then kind of acting out the piece in your head. I love discovering these little examples of the plasticity of language and the nuances of speech and interpretation.
CJ: The installations you create through your profession at Aritzia experiment with materials and process, but it seems the aesthetics and final form is what takes priority. Does your personal practise differ? How do they inform one another?
BS:Yes, I have a different process for Aritzia creative that involves specific considerations and perimeters. My personal work also has considerations and parameters but they come from a very different place. The two practices definitely inform one another and sometimes there is a freely flowing exchange of material interest and process knowledge that results in across-pollination beneficial for both creative streams.
CJ: Despite this continuing experimentation, there seems to be an almost chronological return to paint as a medium. Is there a particular attribute to paint you enjoy? Its versatility perhaps, or do you feel it has the same malleability all mediums have?
BS: I think it’s immediacy and range of colour, makes “paint” a convenient medium. I often use latex house paint from Home Depot when I want to have an even finish and good coverage. I use paint more like a sign-painter than a portrait or landscape painter.
CJ: How important to you is the final physical product of your concepts? Is the work more about the experimentation of materials, or perhaps the formal elements as they present themselves in a gallery space.
BS: I’m personally drawn to artists’ works that give me a sense of wonderment. Whether it makes me think “Wow! How’d they do that?” or “That is so well done”. I want to be impressed by the execution and or the concept, and I hold myself to that same standard. It pushes me to keep thinking and exploring new things. The process and the final result are both important, although sometimes one outweighs the other from project to project. Iusually make a test piece at a smaller scale of something I’m planning on doing larger. Sometimes the experimental pieces are interesting artworks in their own right, and Iusually design them with a little more thought than a simple material sample.
CJ: Extend projects seem to play a vital role in your practise, how do you use these to inform your work? For example your 2” inch squares or 'Ben’s Pen Exchange', there is no final outcome to these works, do they function more as an investigation?
BS: I sometimes have ideas that have no fixed end or don’t result in a final work that can be displayed or sold. The 2 inch solid cube collection is a life long project. It’s really about feeding my love of materials and an obsession with collecting. the size is a necessary constraint, to keep cost and storage space reasonable; but it’s also a size that is easy to hold in your hand and display in a cabinet. Even if the collection grows to be 50,000samples one day, that would still only take up a space a little more than 6’ x 6’ x 6’. TheBen’s Pen Exchange project went on for several years and came to a natural end when I moved to Chicago to pursue my MFA. By that time I was receiving an average of 15 pieces of mail a day from strangers who wanted to trade pens with me via the mail. I sent them all back a pen of equal or lesser value as promised.
CJ: Much like your extended projects, a lot of your work appears based around audience participation, with some pieces affording the audience to physically interact. Is the relationship between the audience and the art a key consideration in your practise?
BS: Yeah. I think it should be a key consideration for anyone who’s interested in making art as a form of communication. Having text in the work makes it interactive by asking the viewer to engage by reading and processing the words. I try to woo the passive viewer into stopping and taking a closer look or thinking about what the meaning or nuances behind the words are.
CJ: Your work is extremely innovative in the way of aesthetics, material use and processes. How do you see your practise developing from where it is today?
BS: I believe my practice is continually developing and expanding into new territories. I would ever be happy making plaster cast blocks with words on them for the remainder of my career. Next I want to continue experimenting with cut laserdiscs, waxes and foams, controlled masking in marbling, and mould making processes. I intend to further explore the world of plastics because I love the intrinsically mechanical, inhuman perfection of it; It challenges me to breathe life into it, to give the material a voice.
All Photography Provided by Cameron Jennings, Lesartefact.com