Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Instructor Interview: Ben Britton

It's been a while since we've had an abstract painting class on the schedule, so we're excited that Ben Britton will be joining us this fall to take his students on a painting adventure (paintventure!).

He shared some thoughts with us about painting, what inspires him, and what to do when the tide of inspiration is out.

What are you focusing on in your own practice right now?
I'm focusing on harnessing the quality of surface right now. My paintings tend towards the polyglot, in that I use diverse vocabulary and try to keep it all together. Surface has been a challenge in that environment. Because of the surface considerations, I'm making a selection of new processes to use in my paintings. Also, I guess I'm following a thread-of-inquiry to new place right now in anticipation of a residency I'm attending in November.

What are some of the challenges unique to abstract work?
Not entirely unique to abstraction, but certainly in play is the perception of a lack of moment-to-moment "marching orders" or tasks that clearly need to be performed. The development of a sensibility that can operate with seemingly endless options for action and inaction is a challenge, but a sweet one. The choices force an exploration of emotional and intellectual conversations and impulses in a very satisfying way. It goes another way too: the viewer can be challenged to think and feel along the same pathways without clear "instructions" for interpretation.

What do you hope students will come away from the class with?
I hope they will come away really enthusiastic about making more paintings!

Who are some artists you admire or have inspired you?

Among painters, from the beginning I loved the paintings of James Rosenquist, Richard Diebenkorn, and Frank Stella. Ok, I also love Sargent, Velasquez, Hals, and Manet. I like the work of James Ensor, and also that of contemporary expressionists like Amy Sillman, Daniel Richter and Peter Doig. I've always liked the motion in Julie Mehretu's drawings. Fiona Rae's work is also an influence for me when it comes to post-modern painting. I get really excited when I see convincing cases made for contemporary manifestations of the romantic impulse. I love Kristin Baker's paintings for that reason. Artists who were my teachers at SVA and UCLA such as Tobi Kahn, Don Eddy, Micheal Goldberg, Don Suggs, Patty Wickman, Lari Pittman, and Roger Herman were inspirational to me as well. My wife, Sarah Lowing, is an artist and a lot of my friends are artists, so knowing them and their work together is a rich experience that ranks pretty high as far as admiration and inspiration too. And many more but that's all for now.

What advice would you give artists who are just getting started or are trying to commit more to their work?
Practically speaking, figure out how to paint more often. Whether the strategy is simple frugality, going to school, or renting a room-of-one's-own, the main thing is to paint more. If you have a sketchbook always with you at your day-job, so that when you get a flash idea it doesn't get lost, that's a good way to stay in the game. Sometimes many things or big things are possible, sometimes not. DIY if you're short on funds. Work in whatever way that fits for now, and when you feel you've outgrown that mode get more ambitious. Respect that the tide goes in and out, and you can rest on the mud awhile if you are forced to, but be patient and don't abandon ship. It's really important to stay open, to be excited to see a thing that's new or just new-to-you. We live in a really interesting time to be an artist, and the question of who gets to be the artists and why will get answered one-by-one, by people who choose to make art. I think that's a lovely and empowering thought.

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