Ben Venom: Precious object hanging
Ben Venom graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2007 with a Master of Fine Arts degree. His work has been shown both nationally and internationally including the Levi Strauss Museum, Jonathan LeVine Gallery, Charlotte Fogh Gallery and the Craft and Folk Museum to name but few. Recently he was the artist in residence at San Francisco’s de Young Museum and is currently visiting faculty at the San Francisco Art Institute.
In this interview Ben tells us why he became interested in quilting as an art form and how his designs differ the expected. We learn about his influences, both past and present, and the unique techniques he’s developed to create his contemporary and off beat body of work.
A collection of memories
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Ben Venom: Textiles has allowed to push my art past just being a precious object hanging on the wall to becoming the perfect fusion of Art, Fashion, and especially Function. By stitching donated fabrics into a unified piece the quilts are able to display a multitude of personal histories. Everyone’s unexplained stain, tear, or rip will be included and when displayed visitors will be able to see a piece of themselves woven into this larger history. A collection of memories, dreams, and past experiences will be on view in the form of a functional quilt.
And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by Quilts?
The work I do today was directly inspired by the quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibition I saw at the de Young Museum back in 2006. These quilts are made from used clothing in and around the rural community of Gees’ Bend. I was immediately drawn to the designs, use of materials, and skill by these very talented women living in a very rural part of Alabama. They primarily used recycled denim, fabric, and scraps from family clothing. I like the idea of up cycling or re-use…Nothing is thrown away!
What or who were your early influences?
My early influences come from the puck rock, heavy metal, and skateboard community. Looking at band flyers and skateboard deck designs lead me to draw and paint while in high school.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
The majority of my work is appliqued onto the top layer then quilted using a machine stitch with my sewing machine. The designs are hand drawn then cut and sewn together in my studio. I do all the work entirely myself on a Juki f-600.
A new wave of craft
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
In one word my work can be described as a COLLISION between fine art, craft, and the fringes of society. Imagery found in vintage tattoos, the occult, and motorcycle gangs are stitched together with recycled materials using techniques usually relegated to your Grandmothers sewing circle.
I see a new wave of craft within the fine art world where artists are using many hand-made techniques to construct their work. The artist’s hand has shown up again and is very evident within this wave. My art fits well within this new contemporary art sphere alongside a great many talented artists.
Make good art
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
Yes, I use a sketchbook to work out ideas and brainstorm designs. It’s basically a lot of lists and various versions of a design drawn out page after page.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
Everything I do begins with some amount of research into a particular topic or interest. I will come up with a general idea in my sketchbook by taking notes and doing some quick drawings to work out my idea. From there I move the design into Photoshop or Illustrator and refine the design to its final size.
The next step involves cutting all the shirts/denim/leather into pre-determined shapes that fit into the overall design much like a puzzle.
Finally, I sew all the pieces together with the quilting stitch that holds all 3 layers of the quilt together.
What environment do you like to work in?
My studio is located in the back part of my wife and I’s apartment. I enjoy working from home because it allows me to work whenever and how long I want. Always working!
What currently inspires you?
Lately I’ve really been into looking through old typeface and tapestry books.
Who have been your major influences and why?
Lari Pittman, Sara Rahbar, Banks Violette, Dennis McNett, AJ Fosik, Kevin Taylor, Lucien Shapiro, Megan Gorham, Erin Riley, Richard Colman, Lisa Anne Auerbach, etc. All of their work possesses a very unique and original quality to crosses many mediums.
Telling a distinct story
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
This first quilt I made contained my collection of Heavy Metal band shirts. For years I had amassed a large pile of torn up and threadbare band shirts that I could never throw away. It’s not cool when your Slayer shirt turns to mesh. Ha!
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work has progressed to include all types of material including donated/recycled fabric, denim, and leather. I see it moving towards larger detailed tapestry like designs that tell a very distinct story to the viewer.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
In order to succeed in life, you need to do 2 of 3 things:
Make good art….duh!
Be on time!
Be easy to work with…always
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
Yes…I have given numerous artist lectures all around the world and have taught a few workshops from time to time. Information can be found by getting on my email list: [email protected]
Where can readers see your work this year?
Constructed Communication exhibition opens April 7 at the Museum of Craft and Design
Collaboration with Creature Skateboard deck release Spring 2016
EMA Show via Hellion Gallery will be exhibited in Paris, Tokyo, and Portland
West Coast Craft is June 11-12 in San Francisco, CA
Weave Wars is September 23 at the Indianapolis Art Center
Let us know what your favourite aspect of the artist’s work is by leaving a comment below.