Artist Q&A with Ben Weiner
Ben Charles Weiner lives and works in Queens, New York. Weiner studied painting under José Lazcarro Toquero at La Universidad de las Americas (Mexico), before completing his BA at Wesleyan University (CT). His work has been exhibited widely within the US and internationally, at institutions including The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, The Tarble Art Center, and The Carnegie Art Museum. Recent gallery exhibitions include “Notebook” at 56 Henry, “Dropout” at Super Dutchess, and “Gel Variations” at Mark Moore Gallery. His work is represented in various public collections, including Microsoft, Sammlung, Progressive Insurance, and The Frederick R. Weisman Collection. His work has been featured in publications including Artforum, Artnews, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, W Magazine, Interview Magazine, Artsy, and Vogue.
Who is your favorite artist of all time?
If I had to choose one it might be Lynda Benglis. But Audrey Flack, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jack Whitten, and Brice Marsden are all artists to whom I frequently look for answers.
How did you become a professional artist?
I’ve been obsessed with making art for as long as I can remember and have pursued it for my entire life. When I was younger I always had notebooks filled with drawings and made comics and zines. Then in college I was studying abroad at La Universidad de las Americas in Mexico when I studied painting for the first time with Jose Lascarro Toquero, a protege of the great muralist Ruffino Tamayo. That was when I decided I wanted to be a painter. I traveled all over Mexico to seek out the work of the muralists there. Their scale, material experimentation, symbolism, and futurism inspired me to want to make really ambitious work at a large scale. I completed my studies at Wesleyan University under a really gifted painter and teacher, Tula Telfair. And upon graduating I worked as a painter in the studio of Jeff Koons. All of this set me on a path early on that allowed me to connect with Mark Moore Gallery, which became my representation when I was just 25. Having their support allowed things to gel so that painting became my livelihood.
What are the influences and inspirations in your work?
I would cite all of the artists I mentioned above, most of which are painters and most of whom combine realism, abstraction, and technology as an approach to image-making. Recently I’ve been looking at my family’s multi-ethnic fibre craft traditions, like my mother’s quilts and my grandmother’s Puerto Rican Mundillo lace weavings. My Latinx heritage was already influential in my decision to study in a Spanish-speaking country. But now I’m interested in delving back into the crafts I grew up around. More time spent at home the past couple years and having children has made me realize just how much family of origin is a part of everything I do.
How is your work different than everything else out there?
I am very interested in what I might term a sacred connection between the objects that surround us in an everyday context, and something larger than ourselves, something you might call the Sublime. When I make a painting of a subject like hair gel, there is so much about our existence and experience that I see in such a simple material: our use of technology and the beauty standards that shape ourselves, and our daily struggle to maintain ourselves. I combine technology with traditional painting methods to make my work, and there is always that tension between how much we can achieve with our culture and technology, set against this persistent fact of our mortality. There is something almost spiritual here for me that makes me think of the still life paintings of the Spanish monk Juan Sanchez Cotan.
When is a piece finished for you?
When I’m about to ruin it. Then I have to force myself to step away from the canvas.
What’s different about your current body of work?
My show with Mark Moore Fine Art opening this week is called “Mundillos”. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a series of paintings that take inspiration from my family’s fibre craft traditions, including my mother’s quilts and my grandmother’s Puerto Rican Mundillo weavings. I used their compositions as inspiration for abstractions made up of patchworks of hyperrealistic, painted textures. The paintings incorporate symbols such as “flores” and “double hour glass” that tell personal and familial narratives of transience, struggle, and renewal. This more personal content, as well as the collage element, are both new ways of working for me.
What would you like collectors and curators to know about your work?
It might sound like a cliche, but you really have to see it in person. My work can appear slick and almost machine-made in reproduction, but it’s actually very sensual and painterly when you see it up close. I can’t tell you how often people see the work in person and tell me how surprised and delighted they are by how painterly it is. There is a lot of texture and gesture in the way I paint, which creates a tension with the technology I use in my work. And this tension is such an essential element of how my work functions.
Tell us about a few of your career highlights or moments that have greatly affected your career?
I mentioned earlier that studying with Jose Lascarro Toquero at La Universidad de las Americas, working for Jeff Koons, and having a powerful advocate early on in Mark Moore Gallery were all important to establishing myself as an artist. Since then, having amazing patrons like The Frederick R Weisman, Sammlung in Germany, Progressive Insurance, Microsoft, Mark Parker at Nike, and Wolfgang Puck has really led to some great projects and exhibitions. And I’ve been lucky to show at really great museums like the Aldrich, the Carnegie, and the Tarble Art Center.
What’s coming up for you?
I have a show with Mark Moore Fine Art in conjunction with Artsy opening online this Friday. Then a bunch of group shows, and I’m working on an NFT.
What advice would you give to an artist just starting out today?
Allow yourself to be obsessed with whatever weird thing you’re obsessed with. Pursue it obsessively. Value your friends, family, and professional relationships- they’re everything.
Who are some of your favorite under appreciated artists that you don’t think get enough attention?
Honestly, I know so many incredibly talented artists to whom the world should be paying more attention. Not enough room here to list, but some friends who have really kickass shows right now are Karyn Lyons at Turn Gallery, Hannah Beerman at KappKapp, Nathan Ritterpusch at Bill Brady, Alannah Farrel has a show coming up at Harper’s Books, Kurt Lightner’s show at Beeler Gallery is amazing, Ernesto Burgos’ recent abstractions are next level, I could go on….
To learn more about Ben and his work, please visit www.BenWeiner.com.