After Instagram shut down his profile @beniswrong because of an excess of nudity in his illustrations, his cheeky answer was to open a new one, @benisright, which seems to be doing fine so far and has already gathered more than one hundred thousand followers. And we can understand: Ben Evans’ depictions of characters with hairy legs who smoke pot and wear S&M face harnesses while being in a messy room with multi-coloured checked tiles are funny, straightforward and even hide some critique to social standards.
For those who don’t know you, who is Ben Evans? Where are you from and what’s your background?
Ben Evans (me) is a painter who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. I was born in North Carolina in 1995. I didn't really get serious about making art until I was around thirteen or fourteen; at that point, my mom started to put me into art classes and camps. I ended up going to Pratt Institute for college, which is also in Brooklyn.
Can you tell us why did you decide to use the pseudonym ‘Ben is right’ and what does it mean?
Over a year ago, my previous account @beniswrong got taken down for excessive nudity in the drawings, and as a kind of tongue-and-cheek response to that, I chose the antonym of the previous name.
You are based in New York, which is a very cultural and creative city. How does it influence you on a daily basis?
I think the overall pace of the city is something that just becomes second nature after you’ve lived here for a couple of years, and more than anything it helps me keep creating and drawing constantly. The art scene is unmatched, which makes seeing new work – good or bad – very accessible.
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It’s also a place where people, especially artists and creatives, struggle because of economic reasons. How do you make it to survive, or even better, live?
Totally. It’s really sad to see so many peers and super talented artists struggle and not get compensated for the work they make. I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people who have a common goal and to hang in circles where both parties want to build each other up and see one another thrive. Creating a support system in these circles allows everyone to benefit and live. Financially speaking, time is money, and a lot of emerging artists I know who have side jobs and such to make ends meet have to set their schedules in order to define time to work and still be able to survive.
The first things that stand out from your illustrations are the presence of hair and a green rejection/spittle. Why so? What other elements would you say are part of your own iconography?
I think the vocabulary of images I've created in my work has become its own ‘thing’ in a way that surpasses the actual action going on in the scenes. The hair and the spittle (or vomit) stand more as icons in the images; that’s referential to something outside of itself. The illustrations are very static even though there is stuff happening. I think iconography to this current body of work is essential in order to make sense of the world these figures exist within.
Can you explain us more about why almost all your characters, independently from gender, are hairy? Is it a feminist statement, a way of breaking social taboos, or maybe a personal fetish? Actually, they’re only hairy from the waist down, is there any special reason behind it?
Detailed hair on animated characters is pretty comical to me on a very superficial level. But I am very conscious of gender and the departure from gender norms in my work. I wouldn't label any of the figures as male or female. I think a lot of people see the hair as political and feminist when they look at the work, and I really like that there’s a definite undertone of progressive gender politics that reveals itself.
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Each illustration presents a different environment, which is always a different room of a house. What do you like about interiors and why are they so important to you? Do you start to build your images from your subject or from the place where he/she will live?
I spent a lot of time alone when I was growing up and I was home-schooled for one year, which is strangely something that’s constantly on my mind. As odd as it may sound, spending a lot of my developmental years secluded and in solitude made me really conscious of people’s deep connection with the spaces they exist in– bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. I usually begin the drawing with the room and then work with the figures.
You have an obsession for tiles, especially for check ones. Is it because they add an even more bizarre, crazy or hypnotic touch to your illustrations?
Totally. I think the repetitive nature of tiles really makes the illustrations stranger and more surreal, especially tiled bedrooms – which is a strange concept in itself.
Your illustrations depict daily/mundane life with irony, fun and spontaneity, making the overall familiar and comfortable. Are you an ironic person or is it something that you let come out just in your illustrations? What do you want to allude to with it?
I completely want to normalise the situations at hand in the works. I’m an extremely sarcastic person in my everyday life and I think that these are total extensions of my own dark humour put onto paper. I think that drawing attention to these very specific and particular settings allows each individual to view them in a totally new light.
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If your characters could speak, what would they say?
From your illustrations is evident how S&M fetishism and smoking weed are topics that you explore quite often. Why? What do you think is the relation between the two? Have they always been part of your illustrations since you started? Is it another way for you to break social taboos about drugs and fetishes?
I think that the usage of weed and fetish gear in the works is more a statement of independence and freedom than anything else. I’m sure a lot of people think I am just making ‘stoner art’ but I’m really using it as a catalyst to make them more sarcastic and darkly comical.
Just between you and me: how is sex when stoned?
What other themes do you like to explore within your illustrations?
I look at bad graphic design a lot, especially the way colour is dealt with in such an arbitrary way. It feels really contemporary and much more interesting that objectively ‘good’ graphic design. I try and explore colour theory in a semi-arbitrary way when I make works similarly.
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What would you say to the typical parents worried about their kids seeing sex scenes on a movie or the glimpse of a naked body on a music video, and now, worried about them discovering your works on Instagram?
Why does your six-year-old have an iPhone X?
Speaking about Instagram and social media, how important were they for you when you started? Did they help you emerge?
Instagram is a game-changer for artists in our generation and I have met some amazing people through it. I think a lot of times people are afraid of putting themselves really out there online but there is only space to gain.
Do you think it is a more democratic platform, as people can judge and follow artists according to their own taste, without being influenced by people who know more about art, like experts or curators? And more in general, do you think this helps new artist to be understood by people with no previous knowledge of art?
I think it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I totally agree that it’s great that everyone has access to work that is not influenced by old-school curators who are putting opinions into your head on what is good and what is not. On the other hand, I feel like now that there is so much content it’s hard to see through a lot of the bullshit and get to the good stuff. I think it definitely helps people to understand new emerging artists because a lot of times they will post progress pictures, or photos of their studios and work practice, which is always an eye-opening experience.
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I’ve read that you have been looking a lot at Peter Saul, David Hockney and Tom Wesselmann. What influences did they have on your style? Is there any artist with whom you would like to collaborate?
I think graphic figurative art gets a bad reputation a lot of the time and is difficult to be taken seriously; to me, these three guys – especially Tom Wesselmann and Peter Saul – deal with subject matter and execution in a very interesting and ‘serious’ manner. I’m always really hesitant to collaborations because the end product is always really up in the air; however, I look up to countless artists on a daily basis.
Are there any other techniques besides drawing that you would like to explore in the near future? I’ve seen on your Instagram page some animated illustrations. Is it something new you are developing or have GIFs always been part of your works and interest?
I’ve been really interested in animation for a while. I’m very particular about aesthetics in the drawings and sometimes that has been an issue when moving it over to an animation. But I’d love to work on it in the future, or even have a TV show of my figures.
Shall we expect any book or fanzine or collection from you?
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