Photographs by Helene Sandberg
Interview by Ursula Lake
Ben Edmunds, 23 is in his final year completing a MA in fine art at the Royal College of Art. He grew up in rural Norfolk near the coast. After studying an Art Foundation in Norwich he moved to Wimbledon for a BA in Painting before continuing at the Royal College of Art. His work has already been exhibited (and sold!) in a handful of group shows and has had two his own solo shows this year: KICK OFF and Lost Horizons in London.
Q: Lets off with a bit of a standard Artist question, but nonetheless an interesting one (we hope!) Who are your artistic influences?
There are many. In terms of other artists, I mainly look at contemporary painters. I’m super into Cynthia Daignault since catching her Picture Lake show at The Sunday Painter. Harold Ancart, Friedrich Kunath and Fredrik Vaesrslev also come to mind. Although I’ve never seen Vaerslev’s work in real life, his sail paintings have had a big impact on my recent work. Films and stories play a big part too. Sometimes it’s better fuel for me because I’m not constantly analysing their techniques, distracted by ‘how did they do that?’ and ‘how could I do that?’. When someone’s work is further away from your own practice, you seem to get a more subjective response.
Todd Solondz’s films have this amazing capacity to be really light and funny whilst deeply awkward and disturbing. This light-heavy or happy-sad effect is the sort of tone I’m trying to get into my paintings. Similarly, I’m influenced a lot by Darren Aronofsky and David Lynch, as well as J. G. Ballard’s novels.
Q. Are there certain conditions that you need to be in, to work successfully?
A. I definitely need an amount of privacy when I’m working, so I always listen to music. In art schools, where there is zero privacy, there is sort of an unsaid code, the bigger the headphones the less you want to be disturbed. Lately, I’ve got really into Go-Kart Mozart. The guy behind it, Lawrence, is really talented, but he’s totally arrogant about it, openly blaming the world for his lack of success. He makes this really flimsy, novelty pop music. I love it. Its kind of happy sounding, but with corny sad lyrics. Give Glorious Chorus a listen and you’ll get it. Elsewhere in the studio playlists is a lot of Talking Heads, Orange Juice, Belle and Sebastian, Beta Band, Yo La Tengo.
Q. If it’s possible to articulate, where do you get your ideas?
I guess a lot of the time ideas come from other paintings. For example, I saw Ugo Rondinone’s incredible cloud paintings at Sadie Coles not so long ago, and the way he shaped the canvases gave me the idea for my recent mountain paintings. It’s not often as direct as that though. I think it’s important to be omnivorous as a painter. I take inspiration from everything and don’t worry about hierarchies. I mix up the high and the low. Decal graphics on the sides of vans can be on a level with a Rothko. An embroidered logo on a polo shirt can be just as intriguing as a Hockney. If it resonates, for whatever reason, then it’s a valid thing to inform your work, you’ve just got to explore why it resonated.
Q. How would you describe your creative process?
A. The process always starts with a drawing. I make a lot of drawings and always at home because it’s a relatively private activity and the RCA studios are super sociable. This is where the ideas happen. You can move quickly and freely. Paintings are a lot of effort and expense to make; I’m less precious about drawings and will probably throw away 10 before I make a good one.
Once the idea is formed, I’ll take it to the studio. The first few days of painting is really playful and messy, dyeing and bleaching large bits of cotton canvas. Although I’m keeping the drawing in mind, this stage happens quite intuitively. The dyes are difficult to use and unpredictable. The painting begins to invent their own forms beyond my control. I enjoy the surprises a lot: the way one colour fades into the other, or the way the weave of the fabric affects the flow of the dye. After this, I’ll take photos, clean up and figure things out in Photoshop, almost like designing what comes next. I’ll use screen printing and stencilling to transfer these moves directly onto the painting.
So when I think of my ‘creative process’, it’s something that’s loose and free, but at the same time tight and controlled. I think this tension in the work is what makes it good! I’m neither interested in paintings that are totally spontaneous and intuitive nor in those that are totally pre-planned. This space in-between is much more interesting to me.
Q. Tough one, but if you could only use one artistic medium again for the rest of your career it would be?
A. Not so tough, definitely acrylic! Although I’ve made a lot of oil paintings in the past, for me acrylic is much more versatile. With the right mediums, the paint can act like oil, but it is also quick drying and easier to layer and use with stencils. Also being able to wash your hands with water at the end of the day instead of turpentine is a dream.
Q. I saw your work at the affordable art fair in Battersea and then followed you on Instagram, and then bought a drawing from you via contacting you on social media. Is this the future of art sales I wonder? Do you have any thoughts about social media and its pro’s and con’s?
Generally I’m a fan of social media as a so-called ‘emerging artist’. It’s true that you can reach a large audience by keeping an Instagram, and many opportunities have subsequently come my way. However, there are problems too. Compared to seeing a painting in real life, Instagram has a different set of criteria for what makes it ‘good’. Too much emphasis is placed on style and graphic, paintings simply have to appear interesting, rather than be interesting. You also have to be careful about how much you value feedback on Instagram. Likes and followers can easily be mistaken for signifiers or quality and value. At the risk of sounding cynical, work from young artists that hasn’t had a chance to develop is getting a lot of attention, possibly stopping their work from moving in a more interesting direction.
Q. The artwork I would love to own is….
A. ‘I need to sleep’ by Friedrich Kunath! What a wicked painting.
Q. What are your hopes for the future of your work?
A. As I steam towards graduation, my main hope is to be able to keep making it!
Q. The theme of this issue is discovery, what have you discovered lately?
A. København! Since the cheapest method of shipping a painting to Denmark is to roll it up, pretend it’s a pair of skis and take it on the plane, I’ve been lucky to have a couple of trips to the beautiful capital this year. In fact, my girlfriend and I loved cycling around eating cinnamon buns so much we hope to move there when I graduate.
You can see more of Ben’s work by following him on Instagram at bentedmunds