I'm so excited to share the work of emerging Illinois-based artist Benjamin Cook. Just wrapping up a solo exhibition at Zg Gallery in Chicago, he's in his last year of university and currently exploring new directions in painting -- most recently by experimenting with the physicality of folding painted surfaces. I absolutely love his palette, and the juxtaposition of pastel ground with saturated accents, as well as a wonderful ability to apply brightness that actually looks like light emanating from the panel. So happy to share a Q&A here!
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YS: Can you tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you based?
BC: I was born in Kentucky. Just over the river from Cincinnati and I grew up in the suburbs there. I moved to Louisville when I was 18 for school and lived there for a little while before moving to Champaign IL for grad school. That’s where I am now. I am in my last year at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and not totally sure where I’ll be next year. I feel like I’ve always been a pretty transient person. I have moved almost every summer for the past 10 years.
What first led you to pursue painting?
I am one of those artists that has been a maker since birth. I’ve always been interested in drawing and painting in some capacity. I think I started to take myself serious in high school but didn’t fully commit until I was in my undergrad. I think what led me to painting was a childhood influenced by skateboarding and graffiti. Those things just always seemed to go hand in hand with art making so the lack of separation between just sort of dumped me in to a studio practice
Who or what are some of your major influences?
Well, like I was saying, Graffiti and street art was really my introduction in to the contemporary art world. In the mid 2000s I was still living in Kentucky so the art scene hadn’t yet moved to an online platform like it has today, so blogs like Wooster Collective were just cool to me. It was the first time I saw things happening that didn’t necessarily look like what I had seen in museums or basic art history classes. Once I got to college, things really opened up. There was so much available online, my school had a huge library and I was surrounded by teachers with a wealth of knowledge. I gravitated to painters like Guston, Close, Katz, Frieze, exc.
What is your process like? I love the recent paintings you've been working on where you fold them at the end! How much to plan ahead with each piece?
The new pieces are part of a series that I am calling “Image Construction.” They start out as quick sketches on a post-it note cut down to the same ratio as the paper I’m going to be working on. I’ll make anywhere from 15-50 drawing on those where I loosely play around with possible folds and drawings. I say “loose” because the painting always changes. I hate making paintings that are just a reproduction of a sketch without responding to what’s actually happening on the final surface. Colors change, lines change, things are added or removed and then the fold at the end alters the piece in ways that may have been unexpected. I think a lot about how I use images in a digital context. How I make content or take content from somewhere else and then manipulate it so that it best represents me and my identity. There is something about that control and hyper awareness to an online persona that usually fuels a lot of what I make. It’s both concerning and liberating at the same time.
What is your studio like? Any rituals or routines?
It’s pretty messy. I like to keep some parts organized but usually I will work for a few weeks at a time without cleaning at all. I sort of forget about anything that isn’t the piece I am currently working on until the mess becomes too much. Then, Ill clean everything to the point where I almost can’t recognize the space. Rinse and Repeat.
What has been the most exciting or rewarding part of pursuing an art career so far?
I think its really been the people I have had the pleasure of meeting. Growing up in a suburb, I had a pretty limited experience of different types of people. I have had so much fun getting to know all sorts of different artists, curators, and community members every where I go.
What do you need most as an artist? Or what have you found most challenging?
Self Motivation. It’s almost too easy to make art when everyone around you giving you praises. There will always be times when things just are not working in the studio, or your life seems to be conspiring against you to keep you from making, but you have to be able to find the ability to make it happen.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten?
“Notice what you’re noticing” Laurie Hogin
Any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
I currently have a show up at Zg Gallery in Chicago called “How Do I Know You?” (on through October 29). It’s a series of paintings and sculptures. Right now I am working on developing a new body of work and preparing for my thesis exhibition in the spring.
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Find more at benjamincookart.com!