Live Fast (2015)
96 inches x 60 inches
Hand-made Quilt with Recycled Fabric
There is no question the Ben Venom quilt’s rock. From some of the material he uses (old t-shirts of favourite bands, to the motifs of tattoos and motorbike gangs from which he takes inspiration. The San Francisco based quilter describes his style as ‘a collision. combining disparate elements of culture…’ The energy is apparent in his exciting work that definitely changes people’s conceptions of what 21st Century Textiles can be.
Did you specialise in textiles during your Fine Arts Degree?
Though I originally began my practice as a painter and printmaker, I began to transition to textile based work in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute. While in graduate school I was slowly learning how to use the sewing machine via trial and error. Mistakes are a large part of my artistic process. After seeing the Gees Bend quilts I decided to push the boundaries of my art and attempt to make a quilt. This first quilt would contain my collection of Heavy Metal band shirts. For years I had amassed a large pile of torn up and threadbare band shirts that I could never throw away. It’s not cool when your Slayer shirt turns to mesh. Ha! From there my work has progressed to include all types of material including donated/ recycled fabric, denim, leather, etc.
What is it about quilting that appeals to you?
Textiles are the perfect fusion of Art, Fashion, and especially Function. By stitching the donated fabrics into a unified piece the quilts are able to display a multitude of personal histories. Everyone’s unexplained stain, tear, or rip will be included and when displayed visitors will be able to see a piece of themselves woven into this larger history. A collection of memories, dreams, and past experiences will be on view in the form of a functional quilt.
How do you describe your style?
In one word my work can be described as a COLLISION. Much like the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland that shoots opposing forces at near lightening speed to create an explosion and release of new energy, I combine various machismo, loud, and disparate elements of culture with a relatively soft functional medium…textiles. Turning it up to 11, pushing past the RED. The idea of masculine and feminine, yin and yang, craft and fine art forced together in one piece.
You’ve mentioned vintage tattoos and motorcycle gangs as some of your inspiration, how do you give these references a contemporary feel?
Context is everything. By exhibiting my work in museums and fine art galleries these ideas become contemporary. I pull it all together and offer my own version events.
Music seems to be a big influence, were there any particularly influential bands in terms of their artwork as well as their music when you were growing up?
Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and of course Metallica were all big influences on me at an early age. Derek Riggs work for Iron Maiden was an immediate draw for me in high school. The level of detail and consistency is second to none.
Roughly how long does a quilt take from start to finish?
Most pieces can take anywhere from three weeks to a month and sometimes more. I like to work big. Once you go past an average size the difficulty increases tenfold due to the increase in fabric running through the machine. Furthermore, I usually do not get to see the entire quilt until its hung in the gallery because it is to big to layout in my studio.
Can you talk us through the process?
I will come up with a general idea in my sketchbook by taking notes and doing some quick drawings to work out my idea. From there I move the design into Photoshop or Illustrator and refine the design to its final size. The next step involves cutting all the fabric into pre-determined shapes that fit into the overall design much like a puzzle. Finally, I sew all the pieces together with the quilting stitch that holds all 3 layers of the quilt together.
Where are you based and where do you work?
I live and work in San Francisco, CA with my wife and our Norwegian Forest Cat TED. My studio is located in the back room of our apartment which allows me to work whenever I want.
Where do you source your materials?
The majority of the material is donated / recycled from friends, family, and the general public. I will buy used fabric from Ebay and Goodwill when needed.
By stitching the donated band shirts, jeans, jackets, etc. into a unified piece the quilts are able to display a multitude of personal histories. Everyone’s unexplained stain, tear, or rip will be included and when displayed visitors will be able to see a piece of themselves woven into this larger history. A collection of memories, dreams, and past experiences will be on view in the form of a functional piece of art.
How did your collaboration with OBEY Clothing happen?
OBEY Clothing mailed me a box of shirts that I cut up and turned into 3 quilts. I then emailed OBEY high resolution files from my photographer. OBEY took these files and used them to print the limited edition shirts. The idea was starting with OBEY shirts to make a quilt that would then be turned into a functional shirt. Everything came full circle.
What have been your career highlights to date?
Solo exhibition in Tokyo, Japan at HPGRP Gallery
Solo exhibition at Levi Strauss Museum in Buttenheim, Germany
Group exhibition at National Folk Art Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea
What challenges do you face as a textile artist?
I am an artist that is currently working within the medium of textiles. As far as challenges…dealing with the ebb and flow of the art market is an ongoing battle. Always in flux!
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
In order to succeed in life, you need to do 2 of 3 things:
Do you have any exciting plans for 2016?
Constructed Communication exhibition opens April 7 at the Museum of Craft and Design San Francisco.
Collaboration with Creature Skateboard deck release Spring 2016
EMA Show via Hellion Gallery will be exhibited in Paris, Tokyo, and Portland
Is there anything you would like to add?
Always follow your dumb ideas…you never know where they will lead you!