Briefly describe the work you do.
My paintings explore the potential for meaning in simple, bold, and colorful combinations of shape and dimension. I look at my paintings as an evolving whole whose constituent components will continue to shift, drop out, or be added to as I explore the boundaries of my process. I paint the modular units that make up the pieces separately and then combine them in the studio to create strings of information that take on the form of a visual syntax. As I combine the elements of my pieces, I am building relationships that speak not only to the internal logic of the single piece, but also to the larger structure of the abstract language that is present in the whole body of work.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I have worked a lot of different jobs in my pursuit of a career in the arts. I have bartended, bussed tables, worked in a bookstore, painted houses, made archival enclosures for books, worked in a hardware store, been a studio assistant, taught high school kids, worked in a neon lab, and painted some more houses. I believe that by struggling to make a living while at the same time finding space for my painting practice, I have had to really focus on what is most important to me about painting. Many of the repetitive actions that produce my paintings are a crucial part of my formal and conceptual framework. I can now see that they have arisen partly as a kind of antidote to the pressures of a working life and as an extension of the repetitive gestures that were central to my daily routines as a house painter.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Unlike the prevailing wave of “post-studio” artists, I find that the physical place where I make my work is absolutely integral to my painting practice. For me the studio is a refuge; it allows me to build, paint, nap, and to think. I look at my studio as a laboratory where I can experiment with different processes without worrying about their application and explore what it means to make paintings. My studio practice has given me discipline and it has given me a space within which to inspect myself and the world around me. As an educator, I feel that the most important thing I can give my students is a desire to get into the studio and make work.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
As a younger, more headstrong artist, I believed that success meant bursting onto the New York art scene at a young age. I felt that success was linked to a large life, a life that took on the art world head on. As an artist now, I try to live a small life and believe that making my mark is much less important than discovering the intricacies of painting and passing on my love for the medium to my students.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I work around my teaching schedule. The days that I teach are dedicated only to teaching, the other days of the week are dedicated the studio. I work in the studio from around 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. I find that after 8:00 PM I lose focus. For me being an artist requires a large amount of discipline and I find that by making myself dedicate as much time to the studio as I can, the greater the chances are that I will make something worthwhile.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
My work has undergone quite a transformation over the past five years. I received my MFA last spring from UW Madison and my three years there really changed my perspective on what my paintings can be. Being at UW gave me the opportunity to work with an amazing group of professors who helped me to focus my energy on a formal and conceptual trajectory that has led me to where I am now. My current paintings seem to me to be a distilled version of their predecessors. In my earlier work there was always a vestige of figuration underlying the largely abstract compositions. This has completely disappeared from the paintings I am now producing. They contain the processes (repetition, combination, precision, experimentation, etc.) that my paintings have always had, but they deploy these processes in a much more direct and simplified manner. Rather than feeling restricted by the simplification that has overtaken my work, I feel that it has helped to open up a much larger group of concerns that will provide fodder for future paintings.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
My family has been crucial to my development as an artist; they have always supported my artistic endeavors and helped me to be persistent in my pursuit of painting. I also have to acknowledge an interest in and a debt to semiotics, particularly to the work of Ferdinand de Saussure. As for writers, while I do not consciously include any references to the authors’ work that I read, I have a sneaking suspicion that the constant flow of trashy mystery audiobooks that I listen to is slowly influencing the work I make.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
When I was in the third grade I wanted to either be an artist or a heavy metal guitar player. I can’t play the guitar at all but what the hell, heavy metal guitar player for sure.
Ben Grant was born in Canton, NY in 1980. He is a painter and a Lecturer in Painting and Drawing at University of Wisconsin Madison. Ben’s paintings have been included in exhibits across the country including Wisconsin, Chicago, and New York. Most recently his work has been included in The Wisconsin Triennial at The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and at Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee Wisconsin. He is represented by Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee and lives and works in Madison, Wisconsin.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.