Written and Edited by Jes Reyes
Benjamin Brockman, Arist & Ae guest curator
Play, protest, and narrative are significant threads in Benjamin Brockman's artwork. "I want my work to have a deep well of symbols and motifs that form the structure of this world - flowers, rabbits, tubes, comets, and mysterious impossible growth," he says. As Brockman moves from project to project, art is his defense mechanism. Art is an extension of his voice and it is where he explores feelings and his need to create. In this interview, Brockman expands upon his discomforts, his passions, and his recent experience as an Ae Guest Curator.
Jes: Hi Ben! Thank you for being a guest curator for Altered Esthetics. It has been great working with you on exploring Fabled Mechanisms’ theme and selecting artists to exhibit. I am interested in learning more about your background in art and when you first decided to pursue art professionally.
Ben: Thanks for this amazing opportunity. I seem incapable of escaping art as a practice and as a way of living. It’s in my blood - I come from a theater family, and was raised in a home which celebrated creativity in many forms. I always got praise for my creative projects as a kid - and it seemed like the thing I was best at. I went to film school for a few years but found it very stifling and was creatively very unfulfilled. I just wanted to tell stories - but the stories that I felt mattered - not the ones that got filtered through some machine and wound up cookie cutter mediocrity. So I jumped into art school - and since then I’ve taken my creative practices very seriously. It’s my way of telling the stories - or in the past few years - the primary story that I have felt compelled to tell. But I can’t lie - art is play for me. It’s where I go to make sense of the world and myself, and it’s where I get to be as messy or intricate as I like. It’s self-indulgent for sure, and it’s how I heal from being a human being. As hard as I try - it’s impossible for me to separate Ben the artist from Ben the human being. That can be tricky and costly at times - but at some point I guess I just kind of knew that was a fact for me. I’m not happy unless I’m making something. Constantly. It’s all I want to do. I title my practice The Sacred Trust because it’s my feeling about life and art that I have no choice but to take risks and move into the unknown - on your own. It takes a lot to keep going - because the fact is 9 out 10 people aren’t going to care what you’re doing. But that’s part of the gig.
As an artist and outside of doing your own artwork, what do you want your relationship to be with your local arts community?
I really want to explore collaboration. I want to see different creative disciplines coming together. I am tremendously inspired by the activist community here, and I see my artwork as being deeply rooted in protest - or at least a pursuit of some kind of justice. I love street art, sticker culture, zines, and the DIY arts and crafts scene - and I’d love to find ways to marry these interests in different ways. I love theater and puppetry, and would love to pursue those interests and seek out like minded creators to make some weird things happen. I like the idea of arts cooperatives or collectives, and I’d like to integrate into those communities. I am however a deeply shy person - though you might not guess it - and tend to work in a vacuum. At this point, my relationship with the local art scene is budding at a slow, organic pace. I consider myself an advocate for those with mental illness, suffering from addiction - or in general, the underdogs and the unheard voices. I would love to be in a position to give visibility and voice to anyone who is struggling to be understood. I think that is a fundamental purpose of art - and I think the art world can be very prohibitive, and far too many people give up on their creative interests because they don’t feel that they belong. I’d like to play a role in changing that. I have worked with special needs communities for awhile, and I think that is a greatly underserved population, as well as the population that could benefit the most from art.
(it sang) tunguska, intaglio, 14x18 in., Benjamin Brockman (2012)
We have a diverse set of artists and mediums that will display in Fabled Mechanisms? What is it about this show that evokes a sense of the imaginary and experimentalism?
I think these ideas are approached from so many different angles by each of the artists - but I keep coming back to this idea of play. Formally, we see re-enactment, appropriation, abstraction and representation of a myriad of different subjects in this show - but the element of curiosity is prevalent to me. How do things work? Why did this happen this way and what variable are at play? What happens if I take this and this and put them together? How can I imagine things working completely differently? And I think the exploration of sound, light, and time as components add a really unique element to the mix. I love how scattered and different every artists work is from the others - it makes for a really compelling exhibit.
We are super excited to show two pieces of your work in Fabled Mechanisms. What was your first and last steps in making them? They are detail focused as well, as much of your work is. Someone can definitely get lost following the intricacies of your artwork, which I think is fascinating and engaging. Why did you select these two in particular to display in this show?
I actually stretched these canvases in 2008 while I was working on my BFA. I moved them to Minneapolis with every intention of doing something with them. In 2012, I sort of just laid out some basic shapes and they grew, very organically through last year. I’m not sure I ever really resolved them. To me they are still very problematic - but they serve as a sort of diary of my life since I began them. There is a lot of death and rebirth - as the paintings themselves would be abandoned for months and then come back to life anew. I decided with these paintings, that I had no deadline and so I indulged in the process, not necessarily to the detriment of the work - by certainly to my own. They have been burdensome and I have been obsessed with them for years now. In a way they say everything I have to say - about life, death, sex, growth…..really everything.
I chose them for this show because they fit the theme perfectly. They are meditations on a sort of fantastic, posthuman organic rebirth - an imagined landscape that alludes directly to Brueghel. There are elements of the past, the future and they have a sort of filmic narrative quality - which demands the viewer to take pause and absorb the work.
flower i, micron and colored pencil, 10x10 in., Benjamin Brockman (2013)
Often when I am experiencing your artwork, I feel like I am being lead into another world. I find myself exploring a living, breathing fantastical environment. What is it that you are trying most to communicate, convey or express with your art?
Yes, I want to create another world. Image by image, piece by piece, that’s what I’m doing. Starting with my research on Chernobyl in 2007, I have meditated on a landscape which has a memory of humanity, by is flourishing in spite of the poisons we leave behind. It is a narrative of healing and regrowth - exponential ceaseless, bountiful, and self propelled growth. The world grows as I do - and I revisit the past to fill gaps where big leaps have been made in subject and style. My work in puppetry, prints, drawings and paintings - everything I have ever made belong to a narrative. I want my work to have a deep well of symbols and motifs that form the structure of this world - flowers, rabbits, tubes, comets, and mysterious impossible growth. These are all things which have come to me organically in working rather haphazardly - after the fact they fall into place or take on meaning. But they do define my feelings about the world as it is, and about my place in it. I’ve given the rabbit, typically linked to timidity and fear - a great power and force - a face of protest.
As you go from project to project, how do you keep your creative spark? What inspires you?
I have suffered from depression and anxiety, and deep shyness my entire life. Creating is my best defense against my feelings about the world. In many areas of life I feel as though I have no voice. As my dad told me when I was younger - people like me speak with a larger voice. I have a deep immediate and urgent need to create and speak in the action of creating. I am constantly making because I am miserable in structures and systems. My studio is where I go to play - unsupervised, unjudged, and free to do what I feel is right. I have a love for forgotten places, people and things - and a desire to confront people with the horrors and realities of this world that they won’t accept or choose to ignore to cling to their individual ideas of this world. I do not have this luxury. As a sensitive, intuitive person, I have to embrace my terror and discomfort. The feeling that the world around me isn’t right, but that there is a natural order, truth and rhythm which binds everything - our blockages and diversions from the balance is what drives me to tell stories. It is a deeply spiritual endeavour.
garden stalker - orange, 3.5x4 ft, mixed media on canvas, Benjamin Brockman (2014)
the warren, woodcut reduction, 12x14 in., Benjamin Brockman (2012)
I know you initially as an Ae Solo Artist from 2015. Tell me more about that experience and where you are today with your work? Do you have any new projects coming up?
I was approached to present a show with Ae at Nomad in 2014, initially based on interest in my prints and drawings. I was encouraged to develop a show that would meet the unique challenges that The Nomad World Pub would present as a gallery space. I developed the entire show for this space - using windows, and walls and covering as much of the space as possible. I was working until the day we hung the show, at which point I decided the entire show would be masks with some supporting materials that linked them to the evolution of the greater narrative. It was a great opportunity for exposure - Ae has been very good to me as a resource for someone who isn’t that interested in the “Art World” or prohibitive art systems. I had complete creative control and freedom, for better or worse, and that is how I learn and thrive. Since then I have developed new drawings, paintings and merchandising campaigns. Everything I do is in a constant state of flux and always in progress - but the newest thing is a graphic novel project that I am currently writing with an old friend. This is intended to lead to a stop-motion/puppetry project.
Beside being an artist, what else are you passionate about?
I’m not sure how to answer the question - I think it’s all related directly. But I love music. It’s a huge part of my life. Especially metal and electronic music. I love films, reading and writing about them. I love puppetry and anything analog or had made - even, or maybe especially, badly made. I love teaching and working with people in the community. I love being outside and painting or writing. Recently I discovered meditation and have been looking at Eastern Thought and Medicine. I am deeply passionate about social justice, equity and reform in every conceivable aspect of our social, economic and cultural standards. I am infinitely compelled conspiracy theories. I am passionate about the children in the ASD classroom and clients in group homes I worked in up until recently - they are some of the most pure and charming people I have ever met. I am passionate about printmaking and it’s power to take art out of galleries and directly to the people. I love Minneapolis and especially the Seward neighborhood. Tattoos, Henry Darger, Art Brut, Seward Cafe. I am very passionate about my niece, Hazel. Hurricane Hazel. I’m extremely passionate about my friends and my family.
I can’t express my gratitude for this opportunity - I am apparently passionate about talking about myself. Everytime I do something like this I am reminded of who I am and what I’m about. Thank you.
the garden ii, mixed media on canvas, 9x2 ft, Benjamin Brockman (2012-2015)
Benjamin Brockman guest curates Fabled Mechanisms, a new group exhibition from Altered Esthetics. The opening ia on Friday, April 29th from 5-7pm. Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/217221481970970/?active_tab=highlights
Fabled Mechanisms' theme is inspired by Kid Simple: a radio play in the flesh, a new production from Swandive Theatre, opening the same night as the exhibition! All Ae patrons are offered a discount on tickets with this special code: "Gallery16". You can pay online, in person or over the phone with this code. More on the Kid Simple:
Moll, a girl who invents things, wins the science fair with a machine for hearing sounds that can't be heard. But when a shapeshifting Mercenarysteals the invention (and her heart), she must embark on a quest to save noise as we know it. Accompanied by the last boy-virgin in the eleventh grade, Moll crosses chasms and rafts rivers into a world where sound is always more than what meets the ear. A quirky fable of innocence and experience, featuring live sound effects, mutinous onomatopoeia, and a host of woodsy temptations.