On Thursday, July 9th, I was lucky enough to visit Benjamin Kelley’s studio to see some of his current projects and chat with him about his life and his work. Ben is a Sondheim Artscape Prize Finalist this year, and his work is currently on view in the finalists’ exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art until August 9th, 2015. To see more photos of his studio, his current projects, and to learn more about Ben, click through to read my thoughts on our studio visit and brief interview.
Benjamin Kelley’s work deals with histories, particularly in reference to the shift towards the industrial age. His pieces are comprised of found, reclaimed and scavenged elements as well as hyper-clean, contemporary structures fabricated by Ben himself. In this way, he mixes the old with the new – often taking discarded or abandoned objects and giving them new meaning and value by transforming them into art. When I look at Ben’s work, it makes me think about all of the objects around me in a new light – in 100 years, all of the things I now use on a daily basis will probably be obsolete. Will they be kept in a museum, on display somewhere, or will they be thrown away and forgotten about entirely?
Talking to Ben, he told me a great deal about his process, which is a mixture of what one would imagine as a typical “artistic” process (sketching, planning, and then executing an artwork), and a scientist or researcher’s process of constantly brainstorming, observing and digging towards discovery. He relies heavily on opportunity, and always has multiple projects going on simultaneously. To feed his research, Ben reads constantly – both on the internet and on paper – and when he comes across an intriguing topic, such as the Alaskan JOIDES Resolution, from which the core earth sample for his Sondheim Finalists Exhibition piece, “The Steward,” was obtained, he works to get more information by developing relationships with local people. Sometimes, by just asking nicely, an artist can get access to a lot of objects and information that is not available to the general public. However, other times, it may take Ben months, or even years, to gain the trust and recognition in order to obtain the found elements in his work, because he often uses real, historical objects as key parts of a sculpture.
I think that’s why Ben Kelley’s work comes across as so genuine and humble. Like all artists, he creates something new whenever he dreams up a new piece. But his work is also about taking what already exists in this world – often, what has been discarded from age or obsolescence – and forcing the viewer to confront it. His work is gritty in how real it is. It is about the unpleasant realities of how our society got where it is today, and all that was lost in that process. However, despite the heavy subject matter, his sculptures are also aesthetically and formally beautiful, through his careful consideration of textural and visual balance. It is hard to look away from one of his sculptures because there is an abundance of both conceptual and visually striking content.
Although it was a very hot afternoon, I had a wonderful time talking with Ben and seeing his works-in-progress firsthand. Between now and August 9th, definitely make the trip down to the BMA to see the Sondheim Finalists Exhibition. Also, look forward to both the announcement of the Sondheim Prize Winner, this Saturday, July 11th (!!) as well as the opening of the Semi-Finalists Exhibition, which will be in the Decker and Meyerhoff galleries of MICA on Thursday, July 16 from 6-9pm, which will be on view until August 2nd.
Good luck to all of the Finalists in the countdown to the big announcement! And don’t forget, only one week until Artscape!
To learn more about Ben and see more images of his work, please visit his portfolio website: http://benjaminkelleystudios.com/
For more information about the Sondheim Prize and it’s selection process, please visit the Sondheim Artscape Prize webpage: http://www.artscape.org/visual-arts/visual-arts-detail/16
The Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize Finalists Exhibition is on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art from June 24th to August 9th, 2015. For more information about the upcoming Sondheim Prize Finalists Exhibition at the BMA, please visit the BMA homepage: https://artbma.org/exhibitions/sondheim-2015