Thrilled to share the energetic, bright paintings of current Royal College of Art student Ben Edmunds, whose latest series is an exploration in small format of the idea of "freedom." We chat about his experience so far at RCA, different ways of thinking about success, and things that begun with the letter B. More at the links below!
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First, I'd love to know a bit more about you! You're currently a student at RCA... what has that experience been like so far?
If you are what you like, then here are some things that I like that begin with the letter B:
The Beta Band / Barton Fink / The colour blue / David Byrne / Will Boone / Brass Eye / Blue Velvet / Bathers by a River / Broken Social Scene / Builders merchants / Being John Malkovich / Badly Drawn Boy / Joe Bradley / Baron von Slam / Belle & Sebastian / A Bigger Splash / Boys Bedrooms / The letter B / J.G. Ballard / Brad Troemel / Bike rides / Bizness by tUnE-yArDs / Three Colours Blue / American Beauty / Barton Turf / Bernard Piffaretti
Being at the RCA has been a more intense experience than I was expecting. Every breath you take and every move you make is under the microscope. This is a wonderful thing, and is very much the reason to be in education.
It’s great to be in the first year; able to try lots of new things, without worrying too much if it doesn’t work out. I feel that my work is changing every week. As well as wonderful, this is also scary because I sometimes feel that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.
What first interested you in making art?
It’s impossible to recall a specific moment. It wasn’t a religious experience with Van Gogh’s sunflowers. It wasn’t an epiphany. It wasn’t losing your virginity to I’m Yours by Jason Mraz. It wasn’t a particular exhibition in Paris or the first time you got drunk at the beach with your friends. As a child I was actually far more interested in languages at school, and football and computer games out of it. It’s impossible to recall a specific moment but next time maybe I’ll make one up.
Your work combines printmaking, digital processes, and painting. Can you tell me some more about your practice?
My practice has been unusually varied since starting at the RCA . I’ve been trying out a lot of new processes, such as making wallpapers, digitally printing on canvas and stencilling. Even within the paintings, I am trying new things such as introducing more textual and graphic forms alongside the more painterly happenings.
Each painting really does its own thing. Speaking generally though, the game I play is one of trying to accommodate different languages within one painting, and organising them on the canvas in my own distinctive way, according to my ~vision~. This seems like a natural way to work for me. We all have different voices, depending on who we’re speaking to, or how we feel at the time, so it seems false to paint in a singular way, using just one language. We’re more interesting, complicated and schizophrenic than that.
What is your process like? Do you do any sort of research?
Each painting really does its own thing, and has its own folder of research on my computer desktop. For example, I have one called I’m Real that has a picture of J-Lo, Steven Gerard signing a certificate of authenticity for a football shirt, some drawings I made when I was 5, some drawings I made last week pretending I was 5, a Lichtenstein brushstroke, a link to a Joanna Newsom live video, some David Foster Wallace quotes on sincerity and Scarlett Johansson’s $5,300 tissue from eBay.
That said, the main research for me happens purely by making. Every painting will surprise me in small and significant ways. Whilst it’s fun to play with combinations of references, it’s only by making more work that any progress can be made.
How would you describe your studio or workspace?
The studio has a funny way of adapting to the way I’m painting in that moment. Generally, I work procedurally and systematically, so my studio is clean and organised. But occasionally I’ll lose myself in the painting as I struggle through material and compositional problems. I’ll forget to change the album. I’ll listen to Lucky Shiner for four hours. I’ll forget to drink water. I’ll miss the lecture. The studio is quick to reflect this and the floor will become littered with plastic party bowls of sticky oils, dirty brushes and scrapers, miles and miles of blue roll.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
In my years at art schools, I’ve received many insightful nuggets of wisdom from tutors:
✰ Never stroke a cat with a glove on ✰
✰ Don’t only play the middle notes of a piano
✰ Painting is just like playing Playstation ✰
Recently I was advised to think about art history more on my own terms. I was reminded that by making a painting, you are implicating yourself in a huge lineage of paintings that came before. Your work will inevitably reference various movements, moments and artists, so it’s important not to think of art history as it has already been written, but to make your own connections and narratives.
What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut?
I sometimes find it helpful to go to shows in London, but sometimes seeing the accomplishments of others can emphasise your unease about your own directionless, hopeless practice. For me it’s always a case of keeping drawing or painting, because that will always lead to ideas for larger work.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally? Or as a current student, is there anything that you feel anxious about after you leave the university setting?
It’s difficult to ignore the inescapable financial challenges that come with pursuing art, especially if you want to study post-grad. But equally, worrying about such things too much can be stifling for creativity, so I try not to let those pressures enter the studio. Never cut costs on materials.
Professionally, in many ways it could be easier to be a painter today than ever - not that I have the perspective to say so. There seems to be a lot of interest for painting in London and beyond, and it’s easy to get our work ~out there~ by having websites and using Instagram. Most of the opportunities that have come my way so far have resulted from keeping on top of those. However, it’s now too easy to track the successes of others, so you have to be careful not to compare yourself too much, and remind yourself that at the end of the day it’s only making work that’s important.
How would you define “success?"
This depends very much on what sort of success you mean. In painting, success could be measured by how well the intention has been communicated on the canvas. It could be a contented feeling of accomplishment after finishing something or installing a show. It could the fact that anybody even bothered visiting.
I expect it’s a mixture of all those things for most painters, but the most important thing for me is to feel that I know what I want to say, and that I have been able to say it.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been making a series of Small Freedom Paintings lately which I’m really pleased with. They’re semi-ironic, semi-printed, semi-painted collages of visual representations of freedom from various places, such as holiday posters, art history and political campaigns. I’m also trying to achieve something of the sharpness and detachment of the printed imagery into larger paintings by using rollers, tape and stencils. These are very much in their early stages though.
Anything else you would like to add?
Nothing but my thanks!
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