Briefly describe the work you do.
Painting is the primary focus of my work. I work with oil and enamel on a variety of substrates. I am interested in the interaction of materials and the endless formal and conceptual possibilities of painting. Currently, my work was created with two questions in mind: What does radical separation look like and how can I create beauty within perversity? My process became a type of chaos management. Multiple layers built up and taken back in search of unexpected spacial arrangements. By dissolving and disintegrating the figure-ground relationship I discovered an unsettling territory within abstraction. The guttural-like combinations of mark-making, range of texture and thickness, and intersecting lines create dynamic visual rhythms and conflicting structures. I hope the work simultaneously suggests ideas of disorder, decay, mystery, and the sublime. While my work recalls the history of painting, specifically the richness of 17th century Dutch still life genre, I am after an image that is beyond these subjects.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
My background is ordinary: raised in the suburbs of Saint Paul, MN to hard-working, blue-collar parents, who instilled in me a strong work ethic and political awareness. I graduated from the Collage of Visual Arts in 2004 and recently from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a MFA in studio arts. I assume as the years go on I will understand more of how my background has informed my creative process. I know that specific themes I focused on ten years ago have resurfaced in my current work and might continue to influence my work for decades to come.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I have a very rigorous practice that involves a significant amount of time dedication in my studio. The numerous hours spent in my studio have given me the chance to examine my work and to delve deeper into the minutiae of visual decision making. 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.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I am most surprised to understand now what my primary role is: being an artist. My initial thoughts years ago on pursuing an art career were full of skepticism, but I am now confident in what I do and my ability to work in a diverse and ever-changing art market. I think one of the biggest challenges will be to think about my career with both a critical creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit. Ideally, I need my studio practice to be sustainable.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I enjoy working in my studio in the morning and in the evening/night. I have been fortunate to have time every day to work in my studio and I will try to maintain this regular schedule in the future. Painting is a daily (or nightly) practice and my work requires that I spent numerous hours in my studio. For me, there has to be a level of full absorption, where I get completely into my studio brain.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
My work over the past five years has always been an investigation of painting, of creating an image through paint, but I am now much more interested in abstraction and materiality of painting. The myriad ways that paint can be applied has influenced every facet of my current work. Whether it is combining spray enamel with oil paint to achieve a cracked surface, using sandpaper to abrade and reveal the history underneath, pouring, brushing, rolling, or masking off, each process that I use is done in the service of creating a complex and thought provoking whole.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
There are many people in my life that have influenced my practice including friends and family. My friendship with a few artists in Minneapolis and Madison have mentors to me. I am grateful for their support and critical feedback. I read as much as I can and look at specific artists that fuel my creative work. I am interested in my connection to the history of painting. As of right now I am influenced by the 16th and 17th century Dutch Still-Life genre and Baroque aesthetics. I have enjoyed reading about and looking at the work of Sigmar Polke, Edouard Manet, and Georges Braque, just to name a few.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I considered forensic science as a teenage because I enjoyed crime television and thought paring detective work with biology and chemistry would be thrilling. This might be a stretch, but in some ways I am doing a kind of investigation based on some science within my own studio practice, as I search for ways to create visual images and explore the alchemy of painting. I am a novice wild plant and mushroom forager.
Kimberly Benson currently works in Minneapolis, MN. Her paintings have been exhibited widely, including solo and group shows across the Midwest: MANA Contemporary in Chicago, IL, Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minneapolis, MN, and Plains Art Museum in Fargo, ND. She has been awarded multiple grants from the University of Wisconsin-Madison: 2014/15 Teaching Assistantship: Drawing 1, 2014 Project As- sistantship, 2013 Academic Scholarship, and most recently 2015 Temkin MFA Exhibition Award. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the College of Visual Arts in Saint Paul, MN. Her work will be featured this this year in Fred Stonehouse’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Wisconsin Art and North of the 45 exhibition at the DeVos Art Museum. She will have a two-person exhibition at the Overture Center in Madison, WI Spring 2016.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.