Artist Rowan Newton interviews artist Benjamin Murphy ahead of his striking new body of work Gilded Chaos, showing at Beers London soon!
Preview: Thursday 14 January 6-9pm
Exhibition: 15 Jan.- 13 Feb 2016
Why have you chosen electrical tape as your medium? When did this begin, and do you feel restricted by it?
I did it after a few too many beers one night around 6 years ago whilst I was doing an MA in Contemporary Fine Art at The University of Salford. I like it because of its limitations I suppose. There are no books about ‘how to draw with electrical tape’, so any techniques or solutions I need I have to work out for myself.
Why do you always use black tape, as electrical tape comes in other colours too?
All of my work is black and white, even when I’m not using tape. It’s a much bolder and more striking aesthetic, the world is multicoloured and anything black and white stands out in contrast to it.
Your pieces have a confliction between life drawing and still life. Often a nude study is at the forefront but in a staged environment with many still life objects dotted around in the background. What do you prefer, the still life or the life, and what is it that interests you about the both of them?
I always have the ‘still life’ elements in the background, as a way of suggesting possible storylines for the main character of the artworks. They are both important but the background detail is only there as a way to add extra potential narritive for the subject.
What is your reason for so much pattern work within your pieces, is this because it looks pretty, or because it is a challenge to recreate such intricate pattern work; or is there something else to it?
It is partly just a way of challenging myself and pushing my limits, and partly because I decided to make this new body of work as detailed and lavish as possible to resonate with the show title. (Gilded Chaos).
There is a strong narrative to your work, is the message a direct one you wish to tell, or is it for the viewer to interpret for themselves?
I’m always careful to suggest multiple possible meanings and messages, but in a way that their interpretations are multifarious. I believe in the pluralism of interpretation, as any viewer who looks at an image will see it in a different way. So for this reason I want to leave the works ‘meaning’ up to the viewer to determine. I like to hint at things, but ultimately I feel that most of the work should be done by the viewer.
Is there room for you in the art world for just pretty looking art, art work that is just there to be enjoyed for its attractiveness but not so much trying to convey a message?
There definitely is a place for it, but I find that it doesn’t hold my attention for as long as works with more substance to them than their surface aesthetic. Craftsmanship on its own isn’t really enough without something else.
Within your narrative there are regular motifs that pop up, skulls, crucifixes but the one that stands out to me in the toilet roll, talk to me about toilet roll?
I thought that that particular work needed something that was almost plain white in the center to balance the image, and so my first idea was a skull. The vase of flowers and the urn obviously both already have strong death connotations so a skull would have been overkill. As it looks like it is in some kind of funeral parlor or something the toilet roll seems to fit in, also there’s something darkly comical about it, which I like.
Will we see toilet roll in this show?
Yes the toilet roll one is in the show, it’s called ‘In Praise Of Darkness’. It’s titled after a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, who has been a big inspiration for the show.
There is a play with perspective in your work, the angles of chairs not quite lining up with angle of the shelf or the bed or the table etc. What do these mean for you?
My use of perspective is quite important and people rarely pick up on it, so I’m glad you have.
Perspective is utilized by the artist to transform a two-dimensional plane into a three-dimensional space. This brings the viewer beyond the frame and into the artwork, as what is seen in the foreground is imagined (through the use of foreshortening etc.) to be at the front of the image. Perspective in a two-dimensional image is an illusion, and its immobile vanishing points is something that is never seen in nature. This already makes the artwork static and artificial, before the subject matter is even considered.
Perspective can be utilized to create feelings of unfamiliarity and otherness when used in the right way. When I draw the person in the artwork, they are seen from below, as if the viewer of the work is looking up at them. This is drawn in a contradictory way to the one in which I draw the background, as the background is seen as if the viewer were above it.
This imbalance in perspective is what creates the subtle but very real sense of unease in the viewer, as it is not immediately noticeable to be the source of the uneasiness. This difference in perspective creates two ‘artificial’ viewpoints that occur from every singular ‘real’ viewpoint.
The way that the subject and background are seen creates the illusion that the subject is in fact a giant in their surroundings, and is much closer to the viewer than they appear, and that they aren’t really situated in the background at all, but on the viewers side of the frame. By placing objects in between the viewer and subject, the subject is then forced back into the background slightly, back into the picture.
Like a pop-up book, the character in the artwork is forced out of the confines of the frame and into the real world. The person depicted in the artwork is brought into the real world, and not the viewer into the artwork as is created with the correct perspective.
These techniques with perspective deny the viewers eyes from properly feeling that they can enter and explore the artwork fully, which the perspective appears at first glance to invite.
Which artists have influenced/inspired you with there use of perspective in their work?
I’m a big fan of the expressionists, many of whom do their perspective a little off; especially Vincent Van Gogh.
There is a voyeuristic nature to your work, as if you’re looking into private moments, what intrigues you about these moments?
The work is voyeuristic in a sense, but it is intended in a totally non-sexual way. I am careful to make the subject non-sexualised and non-passive in her surroundings. It is more like the viewer is voyeuristically looking at someone going about their daily lives, but in no way are the subjects naked for the pleasure of the viewer. If anything seedy is going on it is the fault of the viewer and not the subject of the artwork.
I like the subtlety of how uneasy this makes the viewer feel.
Do you feel now that we as people are being observed in voyeuristic manner, as we expose ourselves almost daily on social media, especially Instagram?
I suppose we are, but we put ourselves out there to be looked at. No one can see anything you don’t first decide to post. Instagram and facebook are inherently narcissistic, but then being an artist requires you to be a bit of a narcissist to begin with.
Are you ok with that or do you feel you have to do it to help build your audience and try and connect with them on a more intimate level. If you did not have your artwork to expose, would you be on social media?
I think I probably would still be on it, but I wouldn’t take it anywhere near as seriously.
More often than not your subjects are naked, is this to do with vulnerability? There are also kinky aspects to your work, corsets, suspenders, knives, are you turned on by your work? Is there a sexual releases for you in your work? Who are these women and do these settings exist?
It is more to do with innocence than vulnerability in my mind. Lingerie and underwear tend to be sexy in a coquettish way, by suggesting that which they conceal. For me those items are more of a way in which to cover up something, which in turn is a way of making the work not so much about sex. I don’t like to draw fully naked character as its tough to have them still appear tasteful and non-sexualised.
What frustrates you about your art and the art world around you?
The only real times I get frustrated with my work is when I can’t find time to be drawing, or when I’ve been drawing for so long that I can’t tell what works and what doesn’t. In the art world in general I’m most frustrated by the continuous rehashings of pop art that are so ubiquitous these days, Pop Art ceased to be interesting a long time ago.
Face to face how do you find talking about your work, is it something you are comfortable with, or shy away from?
I don’t mind it so much, I find that I often talk too fast and go off on tangents for far too long though. I’m much more coherent when I’m writing it down.
You have a solo show at Beers Contemporary coming up. What is the theme of this show and have you approached it any differently to past shows?
I’m really excited about showing with Beers, they are a great gallery and have been amazing to work with this far. To be even listed as one of their artists is an honor.
There isn’t a theme as such, but all the works relate to one another in some way. There is a lot of detailed floral pattern running throughout the works, partially inspired by William Morris. These works have taken a lot longer to produce than the works for my previous shows, due to the level of detail et cetera. This in turn has meant that as I’m working for much longer, my inspirations are all the more myriad.
What was the biggest challenge to putting this show together?
The level of detail has been a big challenge, as the smaller you go the more difficult it is. It’s also hard to spend days drawing the same pattern over and over, it makes you go a little insane.
What do you want people to walk away with once seeing this show?
I want people receive so many different and contradictory thoughts and emotions that they don’t fully understand them until they go away and ruminate on them. I also want the show to have a lasting impact in some way, be it positive or negative. Anything as long as it isn’t ambivalent.