ben strawn


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Here is an interview with me by artists interviewing artists:

artist interviewing artist ben strawn
Category: Art and Photography

ben strawn is an artist living in FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS

ben strawn is the artist Megan Chapman picked to interview

here is his work and interview

Tim: What are your favorite materials to work with?

Ben Strawn: Right now I'm using acrylic on plexiglass because it scratches off so easily. I like encaustic but I really want more clarity, plexi is great because you can sand it and really get that milky blur but still keep areas you want clear. It's smooth so I can scrape stuff off with steelwool and then paint back into that smooth surface again. I hate canvas- I always work small so that texture really shows up.

Tim: What artists are you inspired by?

Ben Strawn:
I'm looking at a bunch of Jeff Soto and Camille Rose Garcia stuff lately, but I think Joseph Cornell and Alberto Burri are my biggest role models - they really showed me that the painting is not so great as the object that is created. I love seeing Van Gogh paintings in galleries because you can only really appreciate it when you see the actual paint and you see the way it's displayed because it is revered by the curators. If you look real close you can see how all the security guards start walking towards you. My sister went to see one at the Smithsonian and she came back telling me she was so excited because she could see a beard hair stuck in the paint. Van Gogh paintings start out as paintings and they are great observations and have beautiful coloring but now after all these years they transcend into that holy reliquary status; Joseph Cornell and Alberto Burri create them that way from the start (I guess it's a thin line though because some people might look at their work and think it's junk - but that's also what makes them great -
To really love something you can't be intimidated by it.)

Tim: Tell us about your educational background. Do you have formal training in art?

Ben Strawn: Yes I have a BFA from the University of Arkansas, -actually I went to Garland County Community College for two-years then went to the UofA for two more.

Tim: When did you decide to pursue art?

Ben Strawn:
I've always drawn, I knew when I was a kid I would be doing some sort of art for a career but I don't think I ever had a defining moment. I think instead I was always wishing I could be a musician or a writer but art just comes naturally. I play a mean banjo when I'm feeling it though.

Tim: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your background in regards to how your art has evolved?

Ben Strawn: the following may be to much information=
I have two brothers and two sisters and we are all visual artist, however my parents are not. My oldest brother always had drawing contests with a friend of his and I would kind of look over their shoulders and compete secretly. Also (this will be awkward) I had no access to girlie books as a kid so I got pretty good at drawing what I imagined naked girls looked like, also I learned to mix paint colors really well by taking the Sears underwear section and matching skin tones to paint the naughty parts back on top of the bras.
So, right away, I started off with a good figurative basis. I went to college and the instructors were good but I wasn't motivated and there was little inspiration among the other students so I coasted, but I was fortunate enough to go to this fancy Yale Norfolk summer school for art and was surrounded by 20 really good artist my age from fancy art schools, and was surrounded by great instructors, with access to amazing collections in New York and in the end I didn't do much painting at all. However I did walk around in the woods alot up there and one morning when it was still foggy out I was walking to the studio and everything was gray except these bright red salamanders crossing the road- there had to be fifty spaced about two feet apart from each other about two inches long. I knew no matter how well I painted that scene I could never do it justice, an abstract piece can represent a great color event but wouldn't capture the narrative, I think that being surrounded by all these talented people made me realize, I had always been under the impression that if I got better at painting I could do something that made me feel the way I did looking at the salamanders. That's when I found Joseph Cornell- he made beautiful little boxes, they were a world unto themselves, lost and rediscovered treasure, he focused on sparse color and they hinted at this veiled narrative. I quit painting and slowly started making found art sculptures that I got really attached to, even though they took no skill, they became an event unto themselves like the salamanders. I found a box and filled it with broken blue glass from the railroad tracks put a model boat in it and all of a sudden the glass was water, junk became something else. I met my wife and we thought alike she was doing these found art stick people, and I started to do stick people. I would find a stick that hinted a figure and I would add the head maybe a hand and let the rest just hint at the form, rather than seeing the end product as correctly done or well crafted I got attached to them as crooked as they were, like they were real things with their own secret narrative. Now I slipped back into painting again but It is definitely changed, I'm more focused on creating something I love full of flaws and beautiful defects with it's own attraction and secret narrative rather than recreating an event, expressing an emotion, or creating a masterful piece. I used to throw my paintings away thinking the creative act was more important than the product, now I have a hard time letting them go.

Tim: This part is for you to ask yourself a question or write anything fun nonsense anything you want as long as you want

Ben Strawn:
I really love photos of injured or defective people, I automatically love them. Not the freak you out and make you scared "Joel Peter Witkin" sort - although some of those feel awkward and exploitive and I love the people in them also. But the Chase Eisenmann photos of old side-show people, I love seeing the bearded woman with her husband, I love seeing Myrtle Corbin the four-legged girl with her two daughters. Actually George Williams "the Turtleboy" was born in my hometown Hot Springs Arkansas! I did a series of paintings based on the Eisenmann photos and I am secretly in love with all of the people in them.

Tim: Can you go into detail about your artistic process? How do you begin a piece? When do you know that a piece is finished?

Ben Strawn: A painting is not finished until it is hung on a wall. For my current work I carry around a sketch book and I doodle randomly, sometimes it's a funny idea or sometimes I'm thinking about somebody I miss, Sometimes it's just animals (my wife and I are huge zoo fans)I'm not judgmental with the sketchbook. When I find something that I love I paint it. I don't do a color sketch or anything, I usually paint the object on a pane of plexi - right now the figure is fairly central in the painting like a theater stage. Then, accordingly, I paint the rest on other planes of plexi, playing with colors and compositions, the plexi can be switched out like layers in photoshop on the computer, there is a lot of flexibility while I'm painting, more time is spent just staring at the thing than actual painting. I'm like a mad scientist at this point -oblivious, and difficult to be around. After the painting is "done" I prop the layers against the wall and look at it when I walk by. Usually I will change something about it while I work on the next piece, Then after I have a few done I cut the frames on my tablesaw, piece them together and beat them up until they look nice and worn, put them together, seal them, put them on a shelve so I can obsess over each some more. And then, after it's completely done, and I love it completely, try and sell it to some stranger. Sucks how that works.

Tim: How does contemporary life impact your creative practice?

Ben Strawn:I don't know about contemporary life, but Life in general, having friends and family- they all slow me down, working and eating meals and watching tv it is all a problem, actually without all that life my paintings would be boring and self- referential, painting would be awful. I have a pretty good job, if I could quit painting things would be much easier, as it is if I don't paint I get real cranky and people don't like me. I'm trying to find a balance right now, but I do waste too much time on the internet.

Tim: Tell us more about the philosophy behind your art. What motivates you to create?

Ben Strawn: I don't have a philosophy of art really, I am motivated by that tick tock that says to try doing this one. I think lately I've gotten more attention from people liking my stuff and now I'm thinking that if I could do this stuff instead of having a job that would be great, but that's probably the wrong kind of motivation. So for now I'm just painting when I feel like it and if something happens where I can just paint I'll let it happen. I'm not going to kill myself to get an art career going. Sometimes working on an art career feels like going to clown school to learn how to laugh. It you have to make it happen you probably don't deserve it.

Tim: Why did you choose to work in the medium(s) that you use?

Ben Strawn: acrylic is fast drying, and I like how dusty you can make it feel, oil is much to painterly, I could only use it as a tinted glaze!( Oh no I'm geeking out on materials i... use a 350 count mesh... with hyperbolic acids... primetene inks... sabel brush is much preferred to the artificial weights... fitted out with chrome mags, double fitted.... AHHHH!)= I have a collection of small to large tip brushes at differing rates of decay. Painting on plexi requires soft brushes made from unicorn eyelashes. As far as working with the layers of plexi- it's because after working with sculpture, painting on one opaque canvas isn't interesting enough, the depth and flexibility of the plexi is so much more interesting to me, I experimented with resin and encaustic but I love how easy plexi is to work with and the layers can be removed and added and you can really try things out, and layer translucent colors and play with backlighting. It has a weird mixture of childrens toy theatre and hopeless sophistication to it. It could very easily be tacky.
I don't know if it's a plus or minus really but it can't be reproduced well as a print.

Tim: What are you working on at this time?

Ben Strawn: I don't have any shows scheduled but I think I'm going to start posting a painting a week at my website, and just keep building up work till I have enough for a real show.

Tim: What is your studio like? Can you go into detail about your studio routine? Do you work in silence, listen to music?

Ben Strawn: my studio is a mess,it's mostly storage area for all my other projects. I like to work with other stuff going on around me, probably because I grew up in such a busy household, I take my stuff out into the living room and stoop over it until my back hurts.
If it's quiet I start losing track of time and feel like I've been doing something for way too long and need to do something else.

Tim: Do you have any upcoming exhibits? Where readers can view your work? or .COMS?

Ben Strawn: No upcoming exhibits, I have a couple of websites but go to and it has a list of links.

Tim: Favorite words?

Ben Strawn: probably, kind of, a little, like, i guess - mostly the hum an haw words that let me get away without saying much. also the word combination "other than." As far as a word that is just neat = phosphorescent. One halloween we went to Florida and looking off the decks at night we could see hundreds of phosphorescent fish swirling around in the water. It was actually just a cloud of glowing algae that lit up when something moved in it, but the waves all had glowing crests as the wind blew. When you stomped your foot the water would light up with all the startled fish.

Tim: Least favorite words?

Ben Strawn: "delicious" when used to describe anything other than food items. also other people aside from me using the aforementioned hum an haw words.

Tim: Favorite color/colors to work with?

Ben Strawn: Dirty teals and rusty oranges, off whites, and sepia grays.

tim: thank you ben

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