Artist Ben Venom has returned to his home turf to exhibit a new collection of work at Get This! Gallery. His unique artistic practice combines the traditional aesthetics of quilting with the robust graphics of heavy metal and punk bands.
Venom cuts the graphics out of t-shirts from bands like the Misfits, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Poison, and others, then weaves them into intricate patterns onto quilts. These patterns often form the shapes of mystic creatures like griffins or the double-headed eagle. Upon a deeper examination, though, Venom's work contains amazing symmetry, with various graphics being placed thoughtfully throughout the form itself. He also gives nods to the brash music he grew up listening to by incorporating quotes and lyrics that only the most hardcore listeners could pick up on.
Originally from Marietta, San Francisco-based artist Venom earned his BFA in Painting and Drawing at Georgia State University. His show, I Make No Mistakes will be his first solo show at Get This! While ironing out (literally) all of his art before the show, Venom took some time to talk to CL about his new work and artistic practices.
Where did you get the idea for combining quilt-making and hardcore music?
In 2006 de Young Museum in San Francisco had an exhibition of the Gee's Bend Quilts and I saw that and was really blown away by that show. And then after that they had a collection of Amish quilts show too. I'd already been doing a lot of sewing while I was in grad school in San Francisco Art Institute, but I was making large flags and banners. I would screen print onto fabric, cutting that up, and then sewing it into large flags and banners, so I was already using a machine. Then fast forward two years to 2008, after I graduated, I had a show coming up in Berlin, Germany. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do because I wanted to do something big. And I've been a heavy metal and punk rock fan for a long time, I grew up in the Atlanta punk rock scene of the ’90s. I had a lot of shirts lying around, primarily heavy metal shirts, and some of them were just so threadbare I couldn't wear them anymore. So I thought back to those shows at the de Young Museum, and I thought what's the next logical step up from a flag or a banner, and a quilt is what came to mind.
Of course, quilts have a long history of using recycled materials, so then the first quilt that I made was in 2008 and it was shown at the Neurotitan gallery in Berlin. It was cool because the piece was roughly 6 feet wide by 8 and a half feet tall — that's a pretty big piece, and I was able to just fold it up, stick it in a box, and put it in the overhead compartment on my flight and flew it over there with me. It ended up being the largest piece in the show because everyone else had to ship their work.
So how did your first quilt compare to the ones in your current exhibition?
That first quilt I made was really basic, and I think the important thing to keep in mind is that I really had no idea what I was doing. I had a book, I did some research, anytime I went to the fabric store I asked a ton of questions, and then more or less I figured it out on my own with help from a few people. For me, that's kind of the interesting part about art making, not letting some process hinder your overall idea or concept. So these quilts are way more intricate than that first one.
Where do all of the shirts used in your work come from, these can't all be ones you used to own?
As I've gotten a little bit more notoriety and press, I've been able to reach out to more and more people within the scene. People have started donating shirts from bands they have played in or are playing in and shirts from bands that they grew up wearing that have just been stuck up in the closet ... Something else to note about that is that quilt-making has a long history of being community-driven. There's one person who is the creator of the quilt, then the ladies within the community come and help you make the quilt, the community holds it all together. So a lot of my shirts really come from the punk rock and metal community.
How do you address the inherent contradiction of heavy metal combined with quilt-making?
For me, what I enjoy about my work is that there's these two opposing forces: quilt-making on one side, which is soft and made of fabric. Then there's metal which is over-the-top, loud, machismo and ego-driven, but a lot of those dudes in the ’80s and up into the ’90s looked like chicks. There's a contradiction there, too, I always thought that was really interesting. That goes back into my work, these contradictions and opposing entities kinda come together, and form something new.
On a base level, the work might not seem like there's a strong conceptual base to it, but there actually is. Be it cult imagery, different sayings from the hardcore music culture, the work is able to be appreciated even if you don't know all the underlying things being said in it. For someone who is a very big metal fan, they'd be able to pick out things from my work that a fine art enthusiast might not pick up on. And at the same time, an art enthusiast might pick up more of the conceptual parts than a heavy metal hesher. I like that, for me, the work operates in three different worlds: the craft world, the fine art world, and the heavy metal and punk rock scene.
Want to know more about Ben Venom, check out the video below.
Ben Venom's I Make No Mistakes Through Oct. 6 at Get This! Gallery, 662 11th St. 678-596-4451getthisgallery.com
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