Aggressive, loud, and over the top are a few words to describe the textile works of Ben Venom. Working with recycled concert t-shirts to create imagery found in Heavy Metal music, the occult, and motorcycle gangs, this San Francisco artist juxtaposes the traditional handmade craft of quilt making with extreme elements from the fridges of society. The end result is a f*cking bad ass piece of art. In anticipation of his upcoming group show at Design Matters Gallery entitled 'Word Play', I had the chance to chat with this unique artist. Here Ben talks about the D.I.Y culture he grew up with, Vincent Van Gogh, and what Heavy Metal represents to him.
You grew up in Northern Georgia - an area that’s rich in folk tradition. What was life like growing up in the South and how did it nurture your creative talent?
I grew up just north of downtown Atlanta during the 90’s and spent a lot of time going to punk rock shows in and around the city. From an early age I was taught to live by the D.I.Y. work ethic from this scene and my father. In my current art making practice all the quilts are made entirely by me. It is important for me to allow the mistakes and showcase the raw nature of the medium. I am still learning new tricks and techniques every time I complete a new piece. To this day..my mother still hems all my jeans. Ha!
Your work juxtaposes the soft craft of quilting with the aggression of Heavy Metal. What is it about them individually you find so intriguing and how did the idea to blend them both come about?
For years I had a large collection of torn up and threadbare Heavy Metal T- shirts that I could never throw away. They were just sitting in my closet collecting dust...too many holes to wear out in public. Its not cool when your Slayer shirt turns to mesh. Ha! In 2006, the De Young Museum exhibited the Quilts of Gees Bend and I was totally blown away by the work. I was making large sewn flags and banners with elements of screenprinting while in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute. The next logical step up from the flags and banners was to construct a quilt. So...I collided Heavy Metal with Quilting!
My work is able to operate in 3 different worlds...Fine Art, Crafting, and the Heavy Metal scene. The concept being that Heavy Metal (Tough, Loud, Bigger than Life) is shot at near lighting speed towards Quilting (Soft, Quiet, Crafty) and creates something new and different from the explosion. The thrill of it all is what attracts me....a perfect example is the band Manowar. When you go over the top and turn it up to 11...that’s when ridiculousness becomes genius! Riding that razors edge between complete absurdity and pure genius is where I want my art to live.
One of your quilts for “Word Play” reads the title of the classic thrash song ‘Wherever I May Roam’. Tell us a little about the inspiration behind this work and what significance does the Metallica song hold for you?
All 3 works in the Word Play exhibition are inspired from some of my favorite bands including Metallica, Manowar, and Ozzy. For me these lyrics represent what Heavy Metal is all about. Bold proclamations shouted from a mountaintop.
If you could hang one artwork from art history in your home or studio, what would it be and why?
The Night Café by Vincent Van Gogh. This painting depicts drunks and criminals hanging out in a bar. The contrasting colors create a mood where the viewer is waiting for something bad to happen. I enjoy the tension in the piece.
What’s a day in the life of Ben Venom like?
Wake up and immediately make coffee then head into the studio. I split my time between watching documentaries / bad spy films and listening to a variety of podcasts / music. Depending on what I am working on I will either be working in the sketchbook, laptop, or sewing machine for the most of the day. I try and put in at least a good 8 hours of studio time. Other days I teach printmaking classes and work part time as a custom picture framer for Sluggo (guitar player for SF punk rock legends the Grannies).
*images via the artist