Canvas & paper

When Ben Wilson was a child, making art wasn’t merely encouraged by his artist parents, it was positively expected. Ben’s whole family routinely made pottery, sculptures and paintings at the kitchen table, and Ben drew constantly, a practice he continued throughout his teens and into his twenties.

During his sometimes difficult school days, Ben’s artistic talent and enthusiasm was recognised and nurtured by two inspirational teachers, of art and English. After leaving school Ben assiduously kept sketchbooks for more than a decade, carrying them with him around Britain and all over Europe. He mostly drew whatever was in front of him, so that their pages are filled with still lifes, and portraits of family, friends and strangers, some captured simply in few lines, others highly worked and detailed.

From 1999 to 2004 Ben painted over 70 very striking, colourful oil pastels on paper, delving into his subconscious and drawing on events in his own life to discover and explore imaginary worlds. The distinctive shapes in these paintings – of human figures, trees and plants — are influenced by Ben’s wood sculptures, and the sculptural environments he has created in various countries.

Overlapping with this, in a precursor to his chewing gum pictures, Ben also experimented with paintings on rubbish – tin cans, sweet wrappers, cigarette butts, etc – thus transforming the detritus of contemporary urban life into art.

Black and white canvas, 100cm x 40cm

Black and white canvas, 100cm x 40 cm

Ben has had several solo exhibitions of drawings and paintings, most notably at the Julian Hartnoll Gallery in Duke Street, St James, in Central London. “Black and White, Left to Right”, for example, was a series of long, slender drawings in acrylic ink on paper, depicting imaginary plants, insects, figures, buildings and abstract shapes. Another solo show featured meticulously painted canvases that enlarged and contextualised a selection of the chewing gum pictures. Paintings and drawings by Ben have also been included in many group shows.

In June 2020, with England three months into its first Covid lockdown so work on the streets effectively forbidden, Ben began painting a series of canvases inspired by the monochrome tiles. Initially prompted by a commission, these acrylics explore the way the meaning and impact of an image changes with scale and form. Some of the canvases are faithful copies of individual tiles, others take the image on a tile as a starting point. At the time of writing, Ben is still working on these paintings.

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