In June 2017, I had the privilege of meeting artist, Ben Johnson and visiting his studio in Chiswick, West London. His studio was refreshingly bright, spacious and cool. I was immediately transported into the pieces displayed; escaping to far off destinations around the world. I remember, we spoke of the power that space, light and structure has on one’s mood and sense of being.
For anyone who doesn’t know Ben, he is most known for his large-scale, cityscape and architectural paintings, which are heavily influenced by the world of engineering and geometry. His art has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, including permanent collections at renowned museums such as; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Regional Services Museum, Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Panorama, 1997
With this in mind, I was excited to find out more about his journey; what draws him towards architectural spaces; and what he has lined up for the future!
We met at Artists at Home in June, the west London pop up, where more than 70 artists opened their homes to share their work. How did this go for you?
It was a great weekend but exhausting; 900 people who were all very engaged attended, many of whom had questions. So, it was quite a trial for an artist whose main method of communication is visual and not verbal.
Tell us about your journey in art; when did you realise you wanted to get into art professionally?
I left school at 14 as an academic write-off. Art was my refuge and passion. When I was 17 I went to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool to see not only the permanent collection of Old Masters but also contemporary art. This was the first time it dawned on me that “museum art” was being made by living artists. I was very naive. It was following this visit that I decided I would be a painter and make it my life’s work.
Ben Johnson: At work on ‘Room of the Revolutionary’ (image courtesy of the artist)
Which mediums do you most enjoy using in your work and why?
Paint, all drawing materials and on occasion sculpture, paper, acrylic and wood.
I am now working towards etching and more printmaking. Any artist these days would be foolish to ignore the power of computers to assist their production.
Where do you find inspiration for your art?
The built environment, the world of engineering and mathematics, spaces that are created for reflecting on the spiritual and places that are a celebration of our ability to create and show love through the creation of objects.
IBM North Harbour, 1984
Your work is heavily influenced by architecture – what draws you to architectural spaces?
The presence of a creative mind, the control of raw materials, the collaboration of many talents, the architect, the engineer, the mathematician, the client and most importantly the workers/craftspeople who realise the initial idea.
Each piece of work is so unique; full of layers and detail. How long do you typically spend on one piece?
My most complex painting was the The Liverpool Cityscape. It took three years full-time work with five assistants. My other cityscapes have taken two years, once again with collaborators. An average painting might take one year. So much research and experimentation goes into every painting.
The Liverpool Cityscape, 2008
Your work also depicts different cultures – can you tell us one of the favourite places you have visited?
I am fascinated by the world of geometry and in The Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain I have found peace and calm. It is a place where the spiritual meets the material world. I have had a similar experience in the many sacred spaces of Isfahan in Iran.
How do you feel your work has changed over time?
I am less interested in the image that is represented and more concerned with what generates an image. I am less concerned with the end result and more occupied with the process that leads to the end product. The journey is what is important and not the destination.
Patio de los Arrayanes, 2015
What you are working on at the moment?
A painting which is an amalgamation of structures from different locations but leading towards the experience of one place which is the Convent of San Marco in Florence. This is a collection of monks’ cells each with a fresco by Fra Angelico on the wall. A place of devotion and commitment.
What’s next in store for you?
I may make a painting based on a church in Copenhagen – Grundtvig’s Church. It is an intense piece of architecture celebrating the work and ideals of a great humanist philosopher and a space of tranquility.
What advice would you offer to those who are just starting out in art? And how do you recommend they get their work out there?
Only work with passion and integrity. Be honest with yourself and do not compromise your ideals. Keep searching for the next journey and keep an open mind. I have no idea how one gets one’s work out there. The individual will know what is best for themselves but remember just how good it is to help others and maybe others will help you too.
Ready for some random questions…
Favourite colour and why?
White – it is made of all the colours combined.
A place in London where you can switch off and relax?
3 words of wisdom
Smile, friends, cheers
The next place you want to visit?
The starting point of the next journey!
If you’d like to view more of Ben’s work and join him on his journey …