Tucked away in a converted wool shed in Golden Bay, award winning artist Ben Timmins creates large scale oil paintings designed to play with our perception of reality and illusion. Picking up a brush in High School Ben discovered he had an inherent knack for painting; a skill he has refined over the course of his career to critical acclaim. We spoke to Ben about what being an artist means to him, where he finds inspiration and his latest distraction.
What does the word ‘artist’ mean to you?
I see an artist as a kind of shaman who delves into the far corners of reality and ideas, then brings these ideas back to the circle of the ‘ordinary’, presents them in a manner which will connect as direct as possible to the idea, forming a bridge or conduit if you like. The conduit, if it be clear and concisely executed will lead the viewer to the idea directly, the painting is only the window, the viewer is the one who ‘sees’, or perceives through to the idea - although every viewer will have their own unique experience, subject to their own conditioning and way of ‘seeing’ of course.
When inspiration strikes how do you put the idea into something material? Do you start with a sketch book, or are you straight onto the canvas?
To many people’s surprise my sketch books are filled with scrappy little drawings with notes, these simply serve as a reminder of an idea, the true meaning of ‘drawing’ is to draw forth something, an idea. For me an idea is in the split second, I can see the entire finished painting and understand the compositional necessities, I sketch a scrappy reminder and preserve the ideas energy for the actual piece, then ensues the technical challenge of painting.
You want to put all your energy into that painting, there's an initial energy and boost which is that idea; if you spend that on a little drawing and sketch it's gone.
Your originals tend to be large scale works rather than smaller pieces taking between 80-120 hours. How do you stay committed and focused on a work this long?
The photo realist painting takes patience, moreover the paintings need to 'grow' and be infused with an energy. I believe this process allows the paintings to exude a living presence, after all ideas themselves do have a life force too. The larger scale helps to impart a presence also. Time is irrelevant, in fact on a deeper level I don't think it exists, time belongs to the 'limited' where as art and ideas don't exist in the sphere of limitation, they are unlimited in potential ans scope.
And if you hit a creative block?
I think creative blocks are a great transition point where personal development is taking place. If one keeps a hold of the old way of doing things and seeing things then a creative block will occur. If however one recognises its time to shift focus then you let go and allow space for the new - then the only problem its how to assimilate the mass of new ideas streaming in.
Your work often plays with the concept of nature on nature whether it is a native bird on a bamboo panel or a forest scene on native timber. Have you ever been tempted to do a completely different subject matter?
Nature as a subject matter I find contains ample scope, I deliberately avoid man made objects to lessen the noise and connotations attached to them. I like nature, the mystery of it and its ability as a subject matter to have an affiliation to every viewer.
There is of course an underlying desire that I would like to revere nature and through painting bring more public awareness and appreciation of the beauty and interconnectedness we share with nature, we take it for granted these days too much.
As well as your paintings you’ve recently produced some industrial style lamps. What was the inspiration behind this change of direction?
Up-cycled, re-cycled, art-cycled… Not to mention they provided a bloody good distraction and break from the hours of detailed painting usually going on in the studio!
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
I discovered a natural talent for painting when I was young, I have studied at institutions, yet I say I am self taught. Technical abilities can always be refined, reaching into the world of ideas is another matter. I would encourage those wishing to become an artist to get to know themselves on a deeper level, draw from what you are passionate about, then what you produce will have a purity and efficacy.
Ben's exhibition 'Spirit of Alcedonia' opens 25 October.
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