Interview with Heather Benjamin
Works exhibited by Bim Bam Gallery
Do you think that artists nowadays are connected to the city they live in? You are based in NYC; how do you integrate your activity as an artist into the environment around you?
Heather Benjamin: I feel very connected to NYC, having grown up in and around the city and now living and working here as an artist. The community of artists I deeply care about and identify with is here. New York is the most chaotic and ridiculous place; there’s a million things happening all the time, inside and outside of the art world. Living and working in that chaos definitely informs my work. I’ve begun to show more internationally in the last few years - namely in France, Japan, Germany, and now Luxembourg. Having the energy, diversity, and craziness of New York as the place I return to and make work within creates such an influential environment for my artistic practice. I have an international following as an artist and I am able to access that both at home in NYC due to the expansive and varied nature of this city, as well as when I show and travel abroad. It’s hard for me to imagine having my studio anywhere else, it would be so different. I love traveling for my shows, and I love coming back to my studio in New York, it’s my sanctuary.
Art, besides being a representation of a subject, is a statement beyond all social, political and cultural barriers. Can art manage to have a social responsibility towards the surrounding reality? Are you able to address this responsibility in your work?
HB: I think all artwork inevitably manages in some way to have a connection to, or to comment on, our world and our present reality in some regard. My work specifically is very personal and diaristic at its genesis, but the personal is political, so yes, it does reach into that realm of commentary and response to the state of things. Even though my work is mostly informed by my personal feelings moving through the world as a woman and all my experiences that go along with that, that inherently is a politically and emotionally very loaded experience informed by and reacting to the constructs of our world. My paintings are self portraiture at the heart of things, but they speak to ideas about the constructs of femininity, sexuality, womanhood, identity, self worth, and love, as well as specific ideas around trauma.
How important is the past for imagining the future?
HB: The past is important to every aspect of my life, especially my art. Fundamentally, since my work is my diary and is self portraiture, my work is based on my past experiences and feelings. It’s also very informed by the visual influences I’ve absorbed over the course of my life. The first artwork I ever really loved and got obsessed with was the original Sailor Moon manga artwork that I discovered when I was around 7 or 8 years old, created by Naoko Takeuchi. That’s the artwork that really lit a fire for me to start drawing and I can still see the influence in my work even after so many years, it’s very deep. I’m also very influenced by artists like Henry Darger, Leonor Fini, Dorothy Ianonne, Niki De Saint Phalle. I’ve also had a deep love for poetry since I was very young, which I think comes through in my use of text in my work, from the text in the paintings and drawings themselves on my characters’ hats and boots, to my titles which feature at the bottom of each piece and are very particular and which I often consider short poems in and of themselves.
Why did you decide to pursue an artist career?
HB: My absolute favorite thing to do ever since childhood has been to make artwork. It’s been my natural impulse, as it is for most people, to want to spend as much of my time doing what I love as possible. I first began to sell self published zines of my drawings when I was a teenager, and that’s when I got the idea in my head that maybe I could make a living off of doing what I loved. That’s an amazing dream, and I have been trying to do that ever since. As my career has progressed I’ve had so many amazing experiences and opportunities through it that inspire me to keep going, like getting to come to Paris this year for my recent solo show at Bim Bam Gallery. I also was lucky enough to do a residency with Earl at atelier Le Biscuit in Ivry through Bim Bam Gallery, to learn how to make ceramics for the first time, which will be on view in the Bim Bam Gallery booth at Luxembourg Art Week.
Which would you choose as the most iconic work of your production to represent yourself?
HB: I think my new ceramics that will be on display at the Bim Bam Gallery booth are the works that I’m most excited about right now. I’ve been wanting to work in three dimensions for a very long time and am so happy with how these turned out. It feels like a new step in the world building for my characters that I’ve been doing for years, to bring them into a new dimension and give them depth and form, like they have finally stepped off of the paper and canvas I have created them on for so long. It feels powerful to finally get to do this and so these works resonate very deeply with me.
Interview by Emanuela Mazzonis