Art That Makes You Think - Ben Cowan
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I was away for a long time, working as a disaster relief specialist in war-torn countries. When I returned, I found it hard to process what stood for ‘normal life’. Without a threat to your existence, normal life is an existential threat. My response has been to create art that makes people think, but also laugh. My ideas are often created digitally and then rendered as hand-finished canvasses, giclee prints, T-shirts and merchandise, or forming 3D sculptures.”
Ben is an independent artist based in Leamington Spa. He does have paint-splattered work tops with jam jars full of oily brushes as well as computer screens and stylus pens, but he says that his medium is irony. By which he explains, “I subvert iconic images and phrases with which you might be familiar, so that they take on a different, perhaps darker meaning, but all through a comic lens. I believe the role of an artist is to start a dialogue, and to get people thinking, but also laughing.” Ben’s ideas are a social commentary that uses humour to create satirical works. For instance, inspired by Warhol’s soup cans, the BBC’s exposure of Brewdog’s ‘toxic working culture’, or by doodling on Penguin classic book covers. His work explores the impacts of capitalism, the dark arts of marketing and how the world has changed since ‘the classic texts’ were written.
Ideas for my compositions often come from looking back to look forwards. Text appears a lot in my work, often used to subvert iconic formats such as Penguin Classic book covers, Andy Warhol’s soup cans, or Starbuck’s and Brewdog consumer products. Products that play an important part in our history as well as contemporary culture, with a new perspective that can be used to start conversations.
Like many artists, when I look around, I want to explore both beauty and truth. A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down. Themes that I come back to such as consumption, environmental damage and our obsessive use of technology can be a bitter pill to swallow. In my case the sweetener is comedy. As a form of activism, I find satire potent.
My medium is irony. Which means that in my digital art, I might start with something iconographic that you recognise and then subvert the meaning to encourage people to reflect on a deeper purpose.
The medium onto which my designs will vary, based on what seems most appropriate to me. This may be painted canvas or limited edition giclée prints; it may also be wallpaper, notebooks, or wearable apparel.
Many of my collections are mixed media compositions using paint, decoupage and found objects. For instance, spoof cover designs applied to wrap around canvases, which create giant books using 125 year old bible parchment.
My lighting sculptures also challenge a notion of purpose by giving a second life to industrial objects that have out-lived their usefulness. For instance, a euphonium where the mouthpiece is lit up; a tenpin bowling skittle turned into a motivational lamp; or a reading light made from books that you cannot read. As I say, irony is my medium.