Artist Q&A: Benjamin L.M.
by Lee Steer, Jun 24, 2019
Cover Image: Smell the Roses... Baby by Benjamin L.M. (available to purchase here)
Get to know the people behind the art.
In our series of Q&As here on Artmarketspace, we are speaking with some of the artists whose work appears on our platform as well as the passionate buyers adding these pieces to their collection.
Today we're chatting with figurative expressionist artist, Benjamin L.M., about exploring themes of light, love and hope, bringing the spiritual world into the physical world through art, and why he creates work in series of ten.
When did you feel the first urge to create art? How did that make you feel?
I loved watching the Looney Tunes cartoons on TV when I was a kid, not comic books though, they’re too complicated. I just copied or traced the cartoons, learnt how to make simple 2D linework, and how to make my drawing look like the actual cartoon characters I was copying.
That was the start, copying as a child, but I didn’t have the urge to create my own art until I saw Salvador Dali’s paintings in high school art history class. I never liked fine art until then, never. Dali’s paintings were so classy and dazzling, an old master put into modern times. That’s what gave me the urge to create my own art, but I wasn’t ready to get serious and pursue it for a few years after that.
I didn’t feel I had anything to say in art until I had lived in the world as an adult for a while. Hard living and new experiences lead me to find the art of Georges Rouault, the German Expressionists, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, and Francis Bacon, and away I went. My imagination caught fire, I was sure I could do it, I knew art was my purpose on earth.
After living on the edge by choice, one continuous party, a dangerous reality that almost killed me, I knew I had something to say. I had to wipe out all of my life up until then, which was all sport, that’s all I did in school until I became an adult. I switched from sport mind into art mind by having maximum earth and holy experiences.
In this time I found my love of flat 2D colour with minimal 3D overtones, that’s when the urge to create art turned into serious action, it hasn’t stopped since then. Stepping inside art gave me a reason to live. Art is the ultimate work, it’s endless fascination and thrilling results. I love my paintings, the end result, but I also love the process of going from nothing-to-something just as much.
How would you describe your style? How has your style evolved over time, and what has influenced its development?
Figurative expressionist art. My style is flat and bold 2D colours and shapes that sometimes slip into 3D. I find, in history, bold and simple 2D painting with mild 3D shades are the most powerful, that’s why I do it like that. 3D art is too much like a photo, it loses power. Art that is completely 2D has minimal power. Anything that’s too realistic reminds me of the world we see, which is a screen, a front of what’s really going on in the invisible spiritual world. I want art to explain more of the world than what I see.
I bring the invisible spiritual world into our physical earth world. To this day I hear of people that believe the world is as they see it: We evolved from nothing, we live a pointless life, then we die, then nothing. That baffles me. If I believed that, I wouldn’t stay on earth, it’s not worth it. To me, the only reason why earth is amazing is because there’s a divine spiritual world at work here, and it’s slowly taking us to the other-side where it will be even better. I might be wrong about that, but I’m not worried. You have to believe in something 100%, and that’s what I believe.
My art has evolved over time by twisting here and there. The first series of paintings called Spark were like stained glass windows, but with oil paint, very precise, layered and accurate. That was when I started showing my art, those paintings are also in my first book of poems and art, also called Spark. Since then, my art has become rougher, more primitive, more symbolic, less layers, faster, more meaningful, more obvious, longer titles to make a point, and they’re made from acrylic paint now.
What has influenced this development is me getting straight down to the essence, the heart of what I’m trying to say. Between the long titles and the obvious art, they should get to you, that’s the difference now. At the start I was keeping my cards, my heart, close to my chest, now my cards are on the table. The reason for this is people need to get meaning from art. The ones that are stable and happy with life, a normal and nice situation, they need it. The ones that are not happy with life and thinking of exiting earth early by their own hand, they too need to get meaning from art. Those lost ones need extreme meaning from art that can save their life, it’s a desperate and bad situation. I’ve been in that bad place, and if I didn’t find meaning in art, music and books, I’d be dead now.
I feel I’m part of a chain: I need to try and save people if they are in a bad place, and I need to give intellectual and fun meaning to those in a good place. I’m a huge fan of people. I see the power of art clearly and the importance of giving to people through art.
What themes do you explore in your work? Where does your desire to work with those themes come from?
The themes in my work are joy, power, ecstasy, ascension, fun, the worldly world, and spirituality. I sometimes acknowledge there is a darkness on earth, but I’m not worried about darkness. We come from light and love, so does darkness. Everything is one.
I deliberately explore positive themes of love and hope. To me, that’s a mega statement, almost nobody does that, it’s so rare. I could very well be exploring darkness and hate, or even worse, I could be an abstract painter that says nothing at all. There really aren’t that many themes to explore, and it always baffles me how so many artists, bands and films focus on the negative, or they say nothing. Negativity and darkness are the enemy, they need to be overcome and solved, not promoted.
Saying nothing, being ambiguous, not spelling it out, well, I think that’s either poor communication skills, or, they have nothing to say. Hope, love, power, positivity, and enlightenment are the only ways for me, the ultimate themes, it’s a five-headed animal that can never be beaten.
Your visual style is quite varied – What is the inspiration/motivation behind that? How do you choose what to portray and how to portray it?
Good to hear that, thanks, I’m glad the variation comes across. I like to do paintings in a series of ten, like a music album of ten songs. For me, no album should be more than ten songs, and no album should go longer than one 12” vinyl LP record, forty-five minutes maximum. I treat my painting series’ the same: short, solid, to the point, no filler. I’m going for a classic album every time. Music creators, bands, lyric writers, and album structures have a huge influence on my art.
Knowing I only have ten paintings to show a solid body of work, I want the paintings to gel together and rollout as one cohesive unit that twists, dips and flexes to keep it interesting, start to end. I vary the paintings, but I don’t let them go too far away from the very first one or two I make. Until I make the first one or two paintings in a series, I’m not sure which direction the series will go in, that’s why the first two are slower, then the other eight are made fast.
The painting follows the drawing for sure, but a drawing is hollow, lead pencil on paper, no shading, no colour, just outlines. Turning that drawing into a painting, well, anything can happen with so many colours to choose from, and so many ways to fill in the hollow shapes.
I’m not calculated when I paint, I’m a wild thing going in short bursts, that’s why I use acrylic paint instead of oil, so I can do it faster. What comes out of me is actually a natural energy that falls out of the sky, through my mind, through my left hand, through the brush and onto the canvas. I channel the spirit that controls me. My paintings happen by letting it roll through me with minimal direction.
What I portray in my paintings is what the title says. That’s why I make the title first, usually long, sometimes short. The title is the original stimulus, I build the drawing on that invisible foundation, the idea, feeling, sentiment, or theme. Mostly I portray where I’m at in life, or a general idea that is universal. Sometimes, if a friend, or my Wife, Megan, is going through some issue in life, I’ll make the title and painting specifically as a response to that issue, a positive way out. I don’t make it specific about them, it’s always universal, but it’s my way of helping them, just as I make art to help me through my issues.
You work with various types of paint – How do you decide what paint or technique to use for each piece of work?
I used to paint with oil, now I use acrylic paints and oil sticks. Oil paint is too slow to dry, and I don’t like the toxic fumes of the thinners and turpentine. If you paint on wet oil, the colours get dirty, they mix, I don’t want that. I like pure flat colour straight out of the tube, I rarely change the natural shade of the paint. The colour range of acrylic paints is excellent now, you can get any colour and shade you want.
I used spray paint for a series of paintings in 2014, that was good for something different, you can really paint a background extra fast with spray cans. I actually started and finished two paintings in one day then, a record for me, usually a painting takes me 1-3 days. I stopped using spray paint after that because the shine made it a nightmare to photograph and edit the final photo. Same with oil paint because it has a shiny lustre that takes too long to edit on the final photos. I also find that the faint white shine cuts into the colours of the paint when you look at the painting as a whole. I want to see the true colours of all the paints instantly, not a white shine first, then the colour. Oil paintings are a hassle to store because in summer, the sun heat changes the properties of the paint, it goes a bit soft, likes it’s not dry, they get damaged easily.
Acrylic paint is the best for me in all ways. It’s flat and solid, it looks dry, no shine at all. Acrylic paint gives the ultimate power to the colours and maximises the impact of the painting as a whole, big time.
What does inspiration mean to you and how much do you rely on it in your work?
Interesting question. When most people think of inspiration for an artist, they think it’s something external you respond to that gives you an idea. Not for me. There is no inspiration with me and my art because all I have to do is sit down, switch off from the normal world, and allow the spirit inside me to rise up out of blank infinity, then there it is, in my mind. I put it down fast as a drawing, if I don’t, the image will disappear back into the void and be forgotten.
I feel sure that my life is pre-destined. In the same way, all my paintings were already done before I turned up. It’s so easy to tap into, it’s already there, completely natural to me and where I’m at in life. It’s all in my heart and mind, ready to come out whenever I need it. There’s never a shortage, it’s endless, same as my soul is. If there is any inspiration at all, it doesn’t come from me, it comes from the one that created me, the one that designed my life before I was born.
Portrait of the artist, Benjamin L.M.
What does your creative process look like? How does inspiration come for a piece, and how do you then make a start creating it?
When I create, I switch off from the outside world, get alone, sit down, focus on the space that is somewhere between my heart and mind, I think of an idea, I make a short sentence, or two words joined to explain that idea, that’s the title. Once the title is done, I do a drawing to put a picture to those words. I do all the drawings for the series first, then I pick the ones I will use, then I paint them onto canvas, one at a time.
I make art fast deliberately so that it’s raw and natural, not forced, but let loose. For one painting, start to finish, this is the timeframe: the title takes 2-5 minutes, the drawing takes 30-60 minutes, and the painting takes 1-3 days.
Where do you create your work? Does your workspace and environment influence your process?
I always paint where I live, outside and undercover. I don’t want a studio where I have to drive to it, paint, then drive home. To get maximum art done I have to get in the zone, avoid normal daily stuff, and switch off from normal thoughts. You really do go to another place, another dimension. The process of making art is a form of enlightenment, you’re above the human condition.
My workspace and environment doesn’t influence my creative process at all. I create art in the USA and Australia, it doesn’t matter where I am. What I’m going for is something universal and timeless, so I avoid tying the art to specific world events that will either date badly, or be forgotten. I make art for everyone, educated or not, rich or poor, any sexual orientation, any race, any place. The art and title must explain themselves.
Does where you live influence your creative process or provide inspiration in another way? Are there any other places that inspire you?
Where I live doesn’t influence my creative process. I live in Los Angeles, USA, but I spend half the year in Australia with my wife until her USA visa comes through, then she’ll move to LA with me. The USA is very inspiring because so much great creativity has come from here, their history of creativity can only be rivalled by what has come out of the United Kingdom.
The places that do inspire me are not on earth, they are the mysteries of the universe that will be answered one day, where we come from, and where we go after earth. Those mysteries are interesting and exciting, far more than anything on earth. I do find the natural world of planets, space, nature, and animals is inspiring because we didn’t make any of it, we can’t control it. To me, that says one thing very clearly: there is something higher than us, far better than humans.
Are there fellow artists who inspire you, who either work with the same media as you, or in other fields?
The living artist I find great is the American photographer, Joel-Peter Witkin. The epic scenes, setups and costumes, the whole lot, they’re really intense and full of meaning. I’m not into politics much, let alone politics mixed with art, but somehow he pulls it off by making the photos look like epic paintings with real humans and props, all in very dark black with beautiful grey and white tones.
There’s more bands and lyricists that inspire me than artists: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, U2, Pink Floyd, Melvins, Swans, Ministry, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Moby, Ice T, Lyrics Born, The Dandy Warhols, The KLF, Funkadelic, The Necks, Brian Eno. These bands make so much classic stuff, they harness the greatness of the past and charge it up in the present to make something new and familiar.
There is a writer of now, Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian master, you’d know him from The Alchemist novel. Coelho is such an important creator for these times, a true philosopher, so positive and enlightened. I feel in-line with many of his books and sweeping statements. I love sweeping statements.
What have you been working on recently?
Right now I’m working on new drawings for new paintings, two series, twenty paintings in total. These new paintings will be slightly more primitive and ethereal than the recent ones shown at two back-to-back exhibitions in New York, USA.
The first series of new paintings will be shown at the Marcelo Neves Art Gallery in São Paulo, Brazil. The other series will be shown at the Carrousel du Louvre, underneath The Louvre Museum in Paris, France. I’ll be represented by the Marcelo Neves Art Gallery for both shows.
The other creativity I’m doing now is a film on my art. It’ll be directed and put together by Gary Barrett, the script, narration, and art is by me. That’s in production now. Gary has worked in TV and 4D computer graphics, he’s very skilful and creative. He’s worked with some of the biggest companies in the USA, now he wants to make films. Film is exciting, my paintings come alive in a different way than they do on canvas. I love it.