Over the years, HAND/EYE has covered several quilters who have pushed the creative expression envelope. I happened upon Ben Venom’s work via Meighan O’Toole’s Creative Online Strategy website and podcast. Every so often, Meighan posts a podcast with artists, makers and creative individuals to talk about their work and hear their stories.
Ben’s quilts are inspired by the imagery of renegade tattoo artists, motorcycle gangs like the Hell’s Angels and the occult, creating a fabulous juxtoposition between, as he’s written, B-movie horror film style with the delicate intricacy of quilting.
Below is our Q&A with Ben where we learn more about his life and art.
HAND/EYE: Was art always in your life? Were you encouraged by your family to create or was it seen more as a hobby.
Ben Venom: From an early age I was interested in drawing, painting, creating, etc. My parents always encouraged me to follow what I was interested in even if they did not see it as a possible way to make a living. My family has and is very supportive of the work I do even today.
H/E: What other mediums have you worked with? How did you transition to textile arts?
BV: Though I originally began my practice as a painter and printmaker, I began to transition to textile based work in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute. While in graduate school I was slowly learning how to use the sewing machine via trial and error. Mistakes are a large part of my artistic process. After seeing the Gees Bend quilts I decided to push the boundaries of my art and attempt to make a quilt. This first quilt would contain 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! From there my work has progressed to include all types of material including donated/ recycled fabric, denim, and leather.
By stitching the 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.
H/E: Your statement says that you juxtapose traditional handcrafts with imagery from the occult, motorcycle gangs, and vintage tattoos. Obviously, you like to "play with madness” but what is the draw to these images? Do you have any favorite tattoo artists from the past and current one whose designs parlay well into your art?
BV: I am drawn to ideas and imagery that can be described as over the top or fringe due in part to the fact that they simply go beyond traditional thought and reasoning. Turning it up to 11, pushing past the RED. Just like Dantes Inferno…in order to get to heaven you must go through hell. So, what if in order to have a genius idea it must first began as a completely insane / stupid concept that comes full circle and eventually develops into pure genius. This is playing with madness!
Isaiah Toothtaker, Mark Cross, and Zac Amendolia are a few tattoo artist I an inspired by and continually look at their amazing work.
H/E: In terms of quilters and textile artists, whom do you admire, why, and draw inspiration from?
BV: I don’t really follow many textile based artists, rather just artists I see pushing the boundaries of their medium and ideas. Here are a few of my heavy hitters: Lari Pittman, Sara Rahbar, AJ Fosik, Dennis McNett, Banks Violette, Takashi Murakami, Richard Colman, Lucien Shapiro, etc. EndFragment
H/E: Can you provide HAND/EYE readers the steps to creation—when an idea is sparked to the final product?
BV: 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.
H/E: If you couldn’t pursue your art, what would you do instead?
BV: Teach full time as opposed to the one class I currently teach at the San Francisco Art Institute.
H/E: What words of wisdom do you share with students who want to do nothing but art?
BV: In order to succeed in life you need to do two of three things:
- Make good art….duh!
- Be on time!
- Be easy to work with…always!
For more information, please visit www.benvenom.com