Ben Pell is a Melbourne-based artist, designer and film-maker creating paintings and illustrations characterised by deconstructed geometric forms, abstract colour fields and vintage film-grain textures. Ben's use of warm, retro colour palettes, grainy textures and tropical imagery seems to invoke a bygone time and place, infusing his art with a hazy sense of nostalgia. Stirring up idealised visions of long, hot summers of days past, Ben aptly dubs this singular style of art Heatwave.
Driven by a fascination with Abstract Expressionism in his teens, the act of breaking down form and colour to it's simplest elements and reimagining them in new and creative ways began with an experimentation with collage art and expanding outwards into his growing interests in painting, graphic design and film-making. Deconstruction of form, coupled with Ben's design acumen, effective use of colour and love for vintage film are all unifying elements throughout his work, his many creative pursuits providing endless avenues in which to explore his ideas.
In our interview, Ben gives us insight into the inner workings of his creative practise and reveals the upcoming launch of his new design studio Holiday House, which will specialise in selling limited edition prints of his work - be sure to follow @holiday_house_studio on Instagram to stay updated, or @benpell to keep abreast of all of his creative work!
What were some early influences that set you on the path toward pursuing a creative field?
When I was a teenager and first started painting I got really into Rothko and Rauschenberg and Lichtenstein and that kinda stuff – American mid-century Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art stuff that you learn about at school. And that stuff also got me into collage. Before that, one of the biggest early influences on me were the constant trips to the video store. The video store was where, as a kid, I could see all of this amazing (sometimes terrifying) imagery – especially in the horror section. Seeing the VHS box for say ‘Hellraiser’ or ‘Near Dark’ or something like that would really get the imagination going.
How would you describe your art and design aesthetic?
Like tropical colour-fields. Usually very summer-y, bright, often some kind of beach or horizon or palm tree thrown in there. If it was a genre maybe I would call it HeatWave.
Between making films, your design practice, painting, and sculpture, how do you manage your time across all your interests? Do you have any rituals in place to help you stay consistent with creating?
I think meditating is the main one. It’s taught me how to slow down, and look at these different things all as one kind of creative pursuit – as opposed to separate things that need to compete with each other. To paraphrase Werner Herzog, all good film-makers should also be good cooks, coz it’s pretty much the same thing.
Your effective use of colour is really successful in evoking a sense of time and place in your work. Not surprising given your background in graphic design, which taps into the emotive impact of colour. Could you tell us a bit about the process and intention behind your colour choices?
Colour is everything! I feel like ever since I was very little, I’ve always reacted really strongly to colour (but I guess most people do, even if they don’t realise it). When two colours interact something magic can happen. Sometimes I’ll see a two or three colours together, and it will instantly remind of something very specific – like say, a particular icy-pole I had once when I was a kid, or a skateboard or a t-shirt or something. And then that might give me the idea to try and capture that vibe somehow – usually in the form of a painting.
Are there any films, books or experiences that have had a profound impact on how you make art?
Oh boy… I’ll just go with films to keep it short: The work of Robert Altman, David Lynch, Jacques Tourneur, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray, Brian DePalma, Sam Fuller (there are always beautiful paintings in the background in his movies – and they’re usually black and white but they somehow still translate!). Lots of 1940s/50s noir stuff. Lots of 70s horror and Giallo movies. Also 80s and 90s thrillers and neo noirs.
Looking through your past creative work we can see your ability to master a myriad of art styles, with paintings and sculpture that are gestural, spontaneous and expressive, then work that is more precise, polished and graphic in nature. How do you continually create work that is always experimental and fresh?
I’m not sure but that’s very kind of you to say.
Are there any new mediums or art styles you’d love to experiment with in future?
I wanna start using limestone and timber for sculpture stuff. And I’d like to get more into collaging using large pre-painted canvases, but you need lots of space for that.
I’m fascinated by your Rothko-esque colour fields and how they have evolved as a repeating subject in your work. There’s an interesting contrast between the flat, graphic renditions in your earlier paintings and the sensory, grainy and diffuse gradients of some of your recent work. How did your process evolve between these two styles?
I’m not sure but I’ve always loved Rothko, and I’ve always love gradients (especially those psychedelic split fountain gig posters from the 60s), and I love film grain too… Guess it just comes back to playing around with how colours and textures work with each other.
Has your interest in vintage film and graphic design had an influence on how you approach other art projects?
100%. To me it’s all one thing. I’m much more interested in approaching cinema from a ‘fine-art’ perspective, and vice versa. After all, cinema is just about bringing a whole bunch of mediums together into the one place.
Is there a favourite project or series of artworks you’d like to speak about in more detail?
I’m just in the process of launching a studio that sells limited-run prints. It’s called Holiday House (holidayhouse.studio), and we’re about to start selling the first run – and these will be very handsomely printed at Image Science.
What’s next for your art practice? Are there any goals or projects you’d like to see come to fruition for the coming year?
I’m hoping to have an exhibition sometime in the near future. I’m also in the process of doing post on two short films that I’ve been working on a for a while now. So hopefully they’ll come to fruition soon.
- Marie G -
I must tell you how delighted I am with the reproductions. Really appreciate you getting them to me in a timely manner also.
Love doing business with you!