Ben Pepper is a British artist who clearly has fun with art. His work is playful and fresh www.benpepper.com, but comes from a serious-minded place. He’s very pop, but not confined by it. In short, Ben is an artist with a long career ahead of him. Check out our chat and find out where he is now.
MICHAEL: Hey Ben, First, I like your website and your work. It's fresh and fun and doesn't take itself too seriously, although you're clearly a very serious artist. What influenced you to focus on pop art?
BEN: Hi Michael. Thank you. The website was created by an old friend in London. I’m very happy with it. I’ve always thought that art is for the public and for (real) people. It should have an energy and timeless quality, but with a twist of history and fun added to it. Also, it has to create interest and debate now, but at the same time for me, it needs to be as relevant in 100 years too. I like doodling and creating symbolism, subliminal messages, bright color and meaning (political, personal, adventurous), but with fun too. The best and most interesting art for me is the most accessible, amusing, clever and responsive in its meaning.
MICHAEL: That’s cool. It’s certainly one way to introduce art to people who are intimidated by it, but are you afraid people might not take it seriously?
BEN: I'm very serious about who I am and what I'm saying with my work, but at the same time, I leave the answer loose so people can enjoy making up their own minds up about it. It has reflections of the past, present and future. That's it!
MICHAEL: Well, pop art has a lot of flexibility, doesn’t it?
BEN: Its VERY POP isn't it! I’m please you asked me that question. Pop Art is in my life history. I grew up in the 80's and it was all around me then with the likes of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. I share the same birthday as Haring. It’s something I have only just discovered! When I started drawing as a little boy, I started tracing and copying images from Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and all the others just to get started. Then I was starting to get balance, color and perspective right. It’s funny, in a way as a child, I tried drawings for children's characters and as an adult, I was practicing my art by sketching legendary artists as far back as Botticelli. I think that's how it should be; you grow up with your talent or your talent grows as you grow as a person. My new ideas in process are to make large, bright installations of crucifix lollypop sticks wrapped and looking like they are about the go on display or sale. For me, this is a direct reference to my childhood when my father used to buy us lollypops if we would go to church quietly. Reflecting on my past you see!
MICHAEL: Wow. Cool. Pop art has probably done more to export American and British culture than anything. Is there much difference between American and British pop culture? I know they cross in some places.
BEN: I’m not sure if pop art is as poignant now as back between the 1950s to late 1980s. Americans do so well at self promotion, but I’m not sure if the Brits do; they’re just a bit more reserved about it; he who shouts loudest and all that. The media is an important part of promotion within the art movement. Maybe that’s why pop art is known throughout the world and works so well with things like album covers, coasters and other products. It’s accessible and informative.
MICHAEL: I guess you’ve lived and researched a lot of this.
BEN: To be honest, I do research visuals and ideas and study from the likes of Peter Blake and the other Brit pop artists, but I don’t tend to read a lot or indulge in their successes. Personally, I focus on my own creative development. Those artists’ success is measured in many different ways. The main thing is that you don't become an artist to be fashionable, liked or for financial success because it may never come being an artist.
MICHAEL: Well, it certainly sounds like art is in your blood.
BEN: It is, like it’s in you as a person … specifically for me coming from a creative family; my mother in fashion, grandfather a musician playing countless instruments (like his father), my cousins, being contemporary dancers and artists and so on. Art … it’s like breathing. You have to do it to stay alive.
MICHAEL: What do you think is the most important element of pop art? What makes pop art ... pop art?
BEN: Pop art = Popular art for the people. It sinks itself into many different mediums: film, print and media. The elements are color and style unique to its creator (the art brand) so it’s like hitting many different locations at once and you know who it came from and when. So I’d say there’s not just one element, but many that hit at the same time.
MICHAEL: Since you're a "pop artist," what's inspiring you these days? Music? Television? Film? What are you currently into?
BEN: I’m not too interested in being a just POP artist. I like being an artist. If I'm “pop” that's great, but I like to keep my creative abilities open and not be too typecast. But I suppose it’s the people who decide who you are and how far you'll go, so I’ll leave it up to them to decide. I like pop wise any popular music, film and animation that is worth its weight in gold. I don't really watch TV. I research a lot on social media sites and look to see how trends go. I think it helps me gauge who I am and what I’m about.
Music? Kirsty Almeida. Film? Anything with Peter Sellers in it. It’s what I see constantly in life that inspires me. I keep a pad next to my bed for ideas and take a camera everywhere. Influences are all around you.
MICHAEL: I associate brilliant, unapologetic colors with all art, but pop art especially. What role does color play in your life and work as an artist?
BEN: Color is a sign and a language as much as an image. If you don't know how to express yourself through color, just look at your mood and then try. I try to use bright color as much as possible; big bold hits of it make me feel good, positive energy. I’m still slightly apprehensive about color. It has so much meaning, but I try to express how I’m feeling when using it.
MICHAEL: London strikes me as being the quintessential art city perhaps even more than New York. Does the city inspire you and your work? What's the art scene like there?
BEN: To be honest, I would say for me London is an amazing place for everything. It’s where my family is originally from, but as far as an “art city,” I’m not sure because I’ve only done some odd bits of art in London and haven’t really explored its creative areas that much. I should and will do more. I once knew the project coordinator of the Saatchi Gallery in London. She set up a smaller kind of company and Charles Saatchi used to visit her smaller shows. I think London is buzzing with lots of artists from all walks of life. It seems like that to me anyway. If it’s anything like New York or even Berlin, then I’m sure it’s a pretty inspiring place to be. I did an installation in Berlin this past March in temperatures of -15 in the depths of winter. It was really cold, but the work looked great in the end. I was living with a artist/sculptor named Simon Kennedy. He was once one of the Chapman brother’s and Tracy Emin’s apprentices in London; a proper X-Punk Londoner living in Berlin.
MICHAEL: Your work is cool in that you make it available as clothing, flags and other things in addition to original paintings. Certainly, pop art is also very accessible in this way. Are you concerned at all that maybe your work is TOO accessible? Could the merchandising part of your work be cheapening the original paintings?
BEN: Not at all … If you look at past popular artists like Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Haring, they all give you accessible options when you buy one of their products. I come from a family that would only be able to buy a t-shirt, key ring and/or maybe a print, but not always a painting. Why should I be so arrogant as to put a huge price on a picture and then that is it? The average person wouldn't be able to buy a Warhol, but they’re still able to love his work in t-shirts, mugs or even a pen!
MICHAEL: That’s true.
BEN: Takashi Murakami sells his work for millions, as does Jeff Koons and Tracy Emin, but you can still go online and buy a limited edition towel for £40 or something. I do make sure that what I make as a product is limited edition and that once it’s gone, that's it. Then, I make something else. Art is about the idea and I have plenty of those, so I’m not worried about running out of options or anything like that.
MICHAEL: Many artists are critical of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and others for "selling out" or "not even creating their own work." What do you think about this?
BEN: You serve your time in an apprenticeship as a young artist, you make to order the work you provide by yourself, you spend many years working and developing your idea physically as well as mentally when/if you become a Koons or Hirst type and you have pressure on yourself to deliver to your market which is the market you have created … How are you ever going to be able to make to order all the hopeful commissions from galleries, buyers and sellers, private collections, museums, personal commissions or commercial commissions without reaching out to others to help you make the work? It was inevitable that all the major artists of our time and the past had apprentices and professional people help create the work that they require. If you’re a young artist and you’re lucky to work for the big art makers, it’s a good thing to be there and learn; maybe you will be helped by them too. I’m not so interested in calling artists “sellouts” because for me, art is not the making, it’s the idea. If it’s total crap when it’s done, the only person who will be blamed is the artist. It comes down to you as the artist to get it right, regardless of how many people you use.
MICHAEL: To me, your work is happy and light. Are you happy and light while creating it? Where are you emotionally and mentally while you're creating?
BEN: I create work this way; pen on paper, empty mind and then GO!
Your mind is not something that has a beginning or an end, a start or a finish. Anything is possible. Dark or Light. The work is a series of longer works and concepts with a lot of thought and doodling and various ideas before coming to an end result. It looks like it was done in one hit. In reality, it’s something that is well thought out. Don’t get me wrong, my background is illustration and street art, so I’m also quite into hitting up a wall or throwing a sketch together as much as getting into a conceptual piece that can take weeks to do. My work is my brand. It’s just brand realization; knowing what you do and doing it well, whatever that may be.
MICHAEL: Finally Ben, What would you like people to feel, think or say when seeing your work?
BEN: My work isn't about how I feel or what I’m about. People out there should really see what they want in it, how it relates to them and their lives.
Granted I do create light and sometimes meaningless art, but in reality, my work also reflects people and what is happening in everyday life. I am the maker and creator, but not the owner. Once my art is out there, it’s the property of life.
MICHAEL: Thanks Ben. This has been great.
To find out more about Ben Pepper, check out his website at www.benpepper.com.