Broadway Spotlight: Artist of the Month
Currently studying Film photography and English at college, Benjamin Heiss is a seventeen-year-old creative interested in recreating the uninhibited imagination of youth through his layered sketches and paintings.
Have you always been artistic?
My parents have always painted, so I had quite an artistic childhood. I have so many sketchbooks of drawings that I did as a child. I avoided doing art at A-Level because I wanted my practice to stay separate from academia. I think art should be more cathartic rather than something to be graded on. I’ve always created art for myself but, recently, I’ve been putting my work out there a bit more. For the past three or four years I’ve been doing a mix of visual arts, mainly focusing on photography, but my work has been developing into a lot more painting and drawing recently.
How did you first find out about the Broadway Gallery?
I became aware of the gallery through the Letchworth Open where I had one of my pieces called ‘Archangel’ exhibited. I think my parents were the ones who alerted me to the gallery. They had seen the Letchworth Open advertised on social media.
What are three words that you would enlist to describe your art?
Raw. Vivid. Impulsive.
What influences do you draw inspiration from?
I’m very keen on modern and contemporary art. I like Franz Klein, Warhol and people like William Burrows who incorporate photography and texture into their work. I think I’ve just recently started to realise that that’s the kind of art I want to create. I really like Kurt Cobain’s doodles and sketches because I think that they have a natural innocence to them but also a sense of sophistication as well. I’m also really inspired by an artist called Slawn. He designed the Brit Award this year. I don’t draw from him visually because he has his own original style but I definitely see him as an inspirational figure. The art that I like doesn’t take itself too seriously. I like to approach my own work like this and have the same mindset as a kid would have whilst making art. Just kind of letting whatever happens, happen.
How do incorporate these influences into your work?
There’s something about that experience of being bored in a classroom and doodling…you come out with your best work because you’re not trying. I like to sometimes stick to the toolset that you would have in the classroom and then layer from there. That limit is always fun.
Would you say that your work tries to recreate that ‘classroom doodle’ aesthetic?
Yes, exactly. There’s that classic moment of when someone goes to an art gallery and says, “my kid could’ve painted that.” I’d like to make that the point of my art. Like, why is that an insult? Some of my best art I made when I was four. I’d like to try and paint like that again. I guess you could say that I’m not trying to evolve as an artist…I’m trying to devolve!
What do you think gives a child that creative freedom that adults perhaps don’t have?
It’s not that a child doesn’t have influences, but I think when you’re younger you create purely for yourself without holding yourself to a certain quality. I think it’s impossible to paint like that when you’re older because we have too much self-awareness and self-criticism. It’s a weird sort of paradox.
Do you have a certain process when creating?
I don’t have any conscious organisation. When I sat down to do this interview, I thought to myself: “why do I draw what I draw?” I realised that a lot of it comes from the fact that I have CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease) which effects the way that I walk. It’s not severe but I had to have a hip operation. I draw a lot of bony characters with crooked necks and I think that, subconsciously, that’s why I draw those things. In terms of technique, I like to create in montages and collages. I read quite a lot of poetry and I like combing image and text. I think that writing looks cool visually but that it can also add to the atmosphere of a painting. It gives it a bit of noise. Language and art are both powerful tools…why wouldn’t you combine them?
If you believe art is cathartic, what do you get out of it?
I get a better understanding of my personal situations, emotions and self-hood. I’m a visual learner so I can’t learn from my thoughts. I have to put them on a page to fully reflect on them. For me, my art is a way to have a conversation with myself.
What do you want your audience to take away from your work?
I’d like to leave people thinking. I think art that leaves people without questions is boring.
How has your relationship with the Broadway Gallery affected your work?
I think it’s definitely given me a more creative drive and purpose-driven direction for my work. For example, I’m hoping that certain things I’m working on now will have the opportunity to be featured in the next Letchworth Open. The gallery is a great place for opportunities within the community.
How do you want your artistic journey to develop in the future?
I like the idea of collaboration and being a part of the art scene and community. So, I just want to keep meeting more people and creating more stuff because I believe collaboration is always better than competition.
Ben's work will be displayed in the Broadway Gallery throughout August.