The 11 Question Interview Series continues with artist Benjamin Meyer sharing his thoughts on art. Learn more about the artist and visit pivotartgallery to see his featured portfolio.
1. How did you become interested in image making?
I had an interest in drawing from an early age, the first subject I can recall drawing with any conviction was baseball diamonds on lined notebook paper. I must’ve done dozens of these before my sister taught me more advanced skills like shading and proportion. Subject-wise, my interest at the time was basically just sports, so I spent a considerable amount of the Midwestern winter months reproducing images from baseball cards and magazines. It wasn’t until undergraduate school that I started to consider things seriously, like what being an artist could mean long-term.
2. Do you have artistic/creative role models? If so, who are they and how do you relate to them?
I draw influence from a variety of people for a variety of reasons. I’ve been influenced by people’s work, the way they think about their materials, or even just the way they’re able to maintain a studio practice and exist day to day as artists. As far as a long term influence, I keep coming back to Philip Guston. In addition to his paintings, I admire how he stubbornly refused complacency and always fought against the constraints of his “style.”
3. How do you feel about contemporary art and your contribution to it?
As much as I often feel a certain amount of distance and/or alienation from a lot of contemporary art, there are always a lot of exciting things happening. I always feel like experiencing other people’s work in person, even if it fails in some way or is not my taste, is vital to my own practice and helps me to think differently or articulate aspects of my own work.
In the studio, l sometimes feel like I’m pushing directly against elements that are traditional or old-fashioned – and since I don’t intend to be ironic or casual, my attempts to make “good paintings” can magnify that distance or alienation from what I see in Artforum. But in general it feels sort of trivial to worry about whether I’m making “contemporary” work. I think the best I can do is to actively observe my surroundings, filter them in every way I’m able, and trust that my work will follow.
4. What is most satisfying to you about the creative process?
For me, painting is the act of reconsidering. I get to create problems and then try to solve them. I’m always looking for ways to question what I thought I knew, and I get to operate on my own terms. Having the opportunity to work on all of this sometimes feels like a total luxury, and while it’s not always fun, when I’m in that moment of honest engagement – it provides a satisfaction that I’m constantly striving for.
5. What do you learn through your work?
I learn constantly that nothing is fixed and everything is relative. In some way I feel like I’m constantly un-learning, questioning what I thought I knew.
6. Your work goes through many transformations before it is eventually transferred to a canvas. Can you describe the process and its importance to the final piece?
I think a large part of my work is about the transformation – the time and distance between our experience of a place and the translation into an image. My process typically starts with my everyday movements through the city. I’m drawn to a certain peculiarity of spaces that embody a lot of the language one uses when discussing painting. Space, color, form, structure, etc. I typically rely on photography as a way to record these moments, but I try to push the paintings past the photographic by working from more than one photo of the same location, or by processing the images digitally in different ways. Once I have a source image that feels coherent but slightly unstable, I start the relatively straightforward process of translating this image through the vocabulary of painting, trying to pay special attention to the structures of the image and the places where disparate forms collide. In a formal sense, these areas of the painting are the most important for me because they contain the most potential for pictorial invention. But I’m also interested in the tension between the logic and structure of representation and where this breaks down. In some way, I think these areas get closer to how memory works.
7. Do you have any favorite specific techniques that you use?
I don’t work with specific techniques necessarily, though I often find myself concerned with the idea of limitations, systems, and rules as a way of working. The rules can represent structures – spatial, representational, theoretical – which I use to provide a framework to work within. Depending on what each painting needs, I can choose to then follow these self-imposed rules, or decide to break them if it feels necessary.
8. Your work feels very much like re-imagined or re-conceived landscapes. How intentional is this?
It’s very intentional, though (for better or worse) a certain skepticism of spontaneity keeps me from working from my imagination in a very direct way. I tend to use my subject as a model to work from, and the re-imagination and reworking of the landscape results from compositional, structural and material responses to that.
9.The spaces inside your work seem both constructed and destroyed, or built and dismantled. How purposeful is this simultaneity?
I think that one of my primary concerns in painting is the idea of betweenness. I’m drawn to the tension between the materiality of the paint, the flatness of the support and the pictorial space that is always present when marks are made on a surface. I think the kinds of images/representations/situations I depict reflect a similar sort of this betweenness, so in a way they act as metaphors for the processes of painting. My primary subject is always painting itself – but I’m drawn to places that have a sort of competition happening amidst one space. These are virtually always very ordinary situations, but urban spaces in particular are full of spots when a variety of forms and origins (man-made vs. natural, for example) seem to bump up against one another and occupy the same space. I really like when, over time, the combination of these forms link and begin to make something new. I use the process of painting to rework the situations that are in the state of coming together and falling apart at the same time.
10. What is the most important thing you want viewers to come away from your work with?
I guess in the simplest sense I’m trying to make something that transforms something ordinary into something interesting. If I can uncover and demystify the painting process in some way, that would be great too.
11. What can you add that would help us understand you and/or your work better?
Organizing chaos is my primary goal.