The final interview in our 10-part “Art Works Every Time” series is with artist Ben Tegel. We’ve actually collaborated with Ben extensively, as he has also designed for Beautiful/Decay Apparel, contributing the shirt graphics for the “Manson”, “Greetings from LA.”, and “Greetings from N.Y.C.” shirts. Can’t believe the opening is already tomorrow- hope to see all of you out there, it’s gonna be a great night!
1. What is your general aesthetic? How would you describe your work’s subject matter to someone?
I believe that it’s not enough for art to be beautiful, it must also be a bomb. That is, it must express a critique of the world, and it must be ruthless in doing so. I prefer art that is aggressive, and often grotesque. At the same time, one can’t help but be compelled by beauty, so I am interested in art that creates a tension between the beautiful & the grotesque. The subject matter of many of my drawings could be described as “popular culture,” I suppose, and the low end of it, at that – tabloids, reality tv, pornography. There is a similar kind of attraction/repulsion that I experience in regard to popular culture that i enjoy in art, so it is a natural subject for me.
2. Describe how you create your works? Some of your tools of the trade?
Almost always it starts with a photograph that compels me in some way, usually found on the internet. I then try to draw it as accurately as possible, with a brush & india ink on watercolor paper, knowing that some kind of distortion is inevitable, and actually even desirable, since this is what validates its existence as a drawing rather than a photograph. But I try to minimize conscious distortion. I feel that one’s style, or the awareness of it, should be as minimal as possible. It should be the sum of unconscious drawing habits, tendencies, and mistakes; and how one attempts to correct them. I will say that it is important for me to use very good, expensive sable brushes for the kind of inking I do, but that this is not necessary for all kinds of drawing. However, the better the brush, the less its limitations assert themselves onto your “style.”
3. Walk us through the design process for the shirts you made for Beautiful/Decay.
The Charles Manson thing is an old drawing I’d done, from a plate in Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter. I altered the text in the corner so that the shirt could be “branded.” The postcard drawings started as found photo composites made in Photoshop, which were printed as reference for ink drawings done in the manner indicated above. They were then scanned and cleaned up a bit in Photoshop again.
4. Advice for any designers, artists trying to get their work seen?
My instinct is to say: avoid art schools, avoid being too aware of contemporary art trends. Look at very old art, try to appreciate artists who you may not like at first, but who you know, due to their historical longevity, to be important. However, this approach may not, in actuality, be the best advice for those trying to “get their work seen” – in fact, it may be better to try the opposite approach, of carefully following trends. I really don’t know.
5. Some of your favorite other artists, or influences?
Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Goya, Holbein, Matisse, Titian, Manet. Also, slightly more contemporary artists like David Hockney, Robert Crumb, Raymond Pettibon. These are influences, as is “popular culture” – television, billboards, magazine covers, cereal boxes, internet blogs, etc.
“Art Works Every Time” opens TOMORROW, Saturday June 12 at Synchronicity! Please join us at the opening!