BEN SLOW: PAINTER & MURALIST"I was just floating along, not committed to my craft and quite happy making good money with another job on the side. That's changed now"
Ben Slow, the London based artist constinously facinated and inspired by the colorful characters he meets on his travels. His street work in particular tends to focus on celebrating local personalities. Many unknown outside of their communities yet have had a profound impact within them.
Seeking out the stories of those personalities and immortelizing them in the locations they’re closely connected with.
Having followed his work for a while. I had the pleasure of meeting him while he was in NY. It’s been nice to catch up and see what he’s been up too.
You’ve been at it for years. How do you feel about your journey creatively?
I am finally starting to feel comfortable with what I am creating. It’s been a real journey of discovery in so many ways. For a good few years I was not happy with much of what I was creating. In all honesty, when it came to studio work I was rarely able to finish anything.
For a few years I was just floating along. Not committed to my craft and quite happy making good money with another job on the side. That’s changed now. I’m committed to making this work and finally feel like I am starting to see progress. I’m working harder in the studio and starting to create works that interest me again.
I’ve wanted to break free from straight portraiture for some years now. I have been experimenting for some time. It’s only now that I’m finally starting to get a little more comfortable with the work. I’m excited again with what I’m creating.
Photo by: Shafiur Rahman ( @shafiur )
How would you describe your evolution as an artist?
My journey started out through art school and looking back at it now I don’t think I was in any way ready for it. I think it’s only now that I would get something out of an environment like that.
I came out of school not feeling great about painting but then I came across street art properly when I moved to London around 2005 which gave me a whole new lease of life.
That’s when I feel like my education started. I started to meet other artists and be exposed to so many new things. I’m now at a point where to be honest, there is not that much happening on the streets that interests me. I find myself drawn back to the fine art of painting and mark making.
Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly elements of street painting that I miss. It’s something I will still do when the right opportunity arises but I feel like my work and ideals fit less and less within that world. Besides, I’m enjoying my time in the studio at present.
What are you up too lately?
I’ve just gone full time with the painting. It feels great being able to go into the studio day after day and paint. It’s a big step and not easy financially but it was the right time. I had to commit to it properly.
I don’t think it’s any surprise that I’m now creating the sort of work I am. I’ve got a couple of shows lined up so just currently busy working towards them. One involves a car so that should be interesting.
I’m also now doing all the boring shit I should have done years ago. Sorting out a mailing list, talking to galleries, answering interview requests, etc. It’s taken me this long to get my head around the idea that I don’t have to simply be painting to be working and that other stuff needs to be done.
What do you find you struggle with most as an artist?
“The uncertainty of where your next payday will come from perhaps.” That can be stressful at times obviously. Sometimes you’re flush, sometimes you’re skint but it always works out in the end. Right now I think it’s not necessarily a bad thing in terms of pushing me to make the best work I can.
Does having a presence online help you secure more stability?
Online is important. It’s just about how you use it though. For example, Instagram has changed the game. It’s great to be able to have that sort of connection to people and such a platform to use and sell work through.
However, I was born just a bit late for all that and in many ways and thank fuck I was. My younger friends are on it! It’s what they know where as for me, hashtags and all has taken me some time to get ok with. There’s no denying it’s all an important part of what we do but it’s just not something that necessarily comes naturally to me.
Don’t get me started on Instagram stories!!!!! I noticed just the other day, I’ve started to dislike people who I like in person because of how they present themselves online, especially those bloody stories. Some of the shit people share blows my mind!
What frustrates you about the art world?
The bullshit. There is a lot of it. What I do is my business and I’m finally starting to understand a little about how it all works but the schmoosing, the posers etc. Look, don’t get me wrong, if your cool then great. I’ve met some amazing people over the years but your bullshit radar gets dialed in doing this and I find it tough at times.
Creatively where do you see yourself progressing?
I just want to keep progressing. I’ve reached a point now where I feel it’s right to start looking within. I’m about to embark on a body of work all about myself. Not in a narcissistic way (I hope) but more so it’s about understand myself better.
Looking at the person I am and, being honest about it and putting out all that shit that we normally keep to ourselves.
I’m not claiming the idea to be ground-breaking in any way, but it’s something I need to do and an important step to take before I can go anywhere else with my work.
If not painting what medium?
Painting is all I know. To be honest I don’t have much interest in doing anything else just yet. A lot of my friends are starting to play around with sculpture but I’m not good enough at painting yet so why to start looking at anything else. Maybe this car project will reveal something to me but there’s still a lot of painting involved with that
What are 3 things you can live without?
Instagram stories, hangovers and the stories.
Do you think the art world is full of posers (Fake artists)?
The online world has certainly helped that one along. Don’t get me wrong, I see the all that stuff going on, street art is awash with it, arseholes like Alec Monopoly or whoever doing their thing but I’m learning to just get on with my thing. It’s not always easy and of course it can be frustrating when you work hard for something and see all that noise but that stuff isn’t worth too much of your time or energy.
How do manage to stay inspired?
I can’t help it. I pick up inspiration from everywhere. Of course, I have times when I’m not feeling it but my brain is pretty much always on and it’s less about finding inspiration and more about taking just one idea and sticking with it.
What were the early years like starting out?
Fun. A lot of it was right time right place. Even 10 years ago, you could afford to be an artist in London. Things were starting to change but I had real cheap/ sometimes non-existent rent for many years and I just kind of went along with it.
Problem is that it took me some time to get out of that way of thinking. In some ways, I could see it as not having made the most of my opportunities but to be honest, I had a lot of growing up to do, still do and that’s what I see that time as being all about
Beer or whiskey?
Beer followed by whisky followed by a day of feeling like absolute shit
Fuck yeah or Fuck off?
A nice firm fuck off.
I know it sounds wanky but art found me. I kind of fell into it after school, didn’t have many interests at that point other than sports, pretending to enjoy beer and chasing girls but along came painting by accident during my foundation course and I was just hooked.
I went from thinking I’ll probably be a graphic designer or something like that then all a sudden I was doing straight 12 hour days in the studio quite literally throwing paint around. Besides, I tried to be a graphic designer, went the proper route after university for a couple of years and was ready to top myself. So, it’s this or bust I reckon
Who is your creative crush?
It changes all the time to be honest. It was the basics, the likes of Warhol, Pollock and Dali that first got my interested as a kid and I just saw the Giacometti show at the Tate and that reignited my interest in his work.
I’m always finding new things and I can get bored quickly but for now in terms of current artists let’s say Jaybo Monk and Antony Micallef. I’m really interested in this new work of Andrew Salgado, young Irish artist, Ange Bell. I just came across this amazing young Japanese painter called Yuki Masaida
I battle with my paintings. I go into a piece with a rough idea of what I’m looking to achieve but it very rarely comes out looking as I expected. I enjoy the process, though at times it can also be very stressful and I can go through all the emotions during the making of a piece.
Most artists will tell you that during the course of a day’s work you have moments when you think you’ve nailed it and other times when you feel like a complete fraud. I’ve started to feel more confident of recent though.
Even if I feel like I’m losing a piece, I believe that I can pull it back to create something interesting, even if that means putting it aside for some time before I come back to it. It’s that chaos and those mistakes that ultimately help create the unexpected, it is about striving for that precise balance of both chaos and order.
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