The two friends talk about the past, present and future of the artist's personal and professional life.
The two friends talk about the past, present and future of the artist's personal and professional life.
Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ben Evans has grown to be a world-renown, internationally-recognized contemporary artist. He is notorious for exploring serious topics and themes through a satirical lens—looking at the feelings of solitude and independence, topics of kink and marijuana, sociopolitical issues, and more. After making his artistic debut in February 2018 at the prestigious Guy Hepner Art Gallery in New York City, his career has really taken off and taken Evans around the world to the galleries and art spaces in Paris, Italy, Los Angeles, Japan, and Australia.
To start the new year off right, V enlisted actress and writer Rowan Blanchard (who also happens to be one of Ben’s close friends) to photograph and speak about their "mutual love for cltivating personalities, Death Becomes Her, and of course, God."
Enjoy their candid conversation, below.
Rowan Blanchard: Ben I first want to say thank you so much for asking me to interview you! you are my dear friend.
Ben Evans: I love you, Rowan!
RB: I’m interviewing Ben from Vancouver, right now Ben is home in LA. Or actually, are you at your studio or are you at home?
BE: I’m at home right now, but I’m moving soon!
RB: Where to?
BE: Eagle Rock, I think me and Bria are going to move into a place in Eagle Rock together.
RB: That’s where my best friend Alia lives!
BE: Alia’s amazing. I’m holding a Cinespia lighter right now!
RB: Okay well then Ben, my first question is, since we’re on the topic of living in LA, before this you lived in Brooklyn for many years and before that where did you live?
BE: I lived in (giggles) North Carolina which was where I was born and raised in a place called Charlotte. It was a really dark place for me, but also cool because I think the south has rubbed off on me in a really interesting way and allowed me to see things definitely from another perspective. It’s for sure nothing like a New York or LA bubble there. You know what I mean?
RB: In what ways do you think it’s affected your art?
BE: I just grew up very religious, so I think me going to church and being very embedded in that is more like my main takeaway and impression from the south. More than anything else.
RB: That was a big part of you growing up.
BE: When I think about the south, I think about religion more than anything.
RB: How do you identify with religion now? Or spirituality or like having a god?
BE: (laughs) Sooo... I definitely had a strange relationship with it when I was growing up because I was around it so much. I went to Catholic school for a little while, my family was definitely involved in the Church also. I think I just had a really weird time understanding spirituality and religion when I was young, but as I got older and grew apart from it, I feel like I've recently become such a spiritual person.
RB: Obviously, going from North Carolina to New York is a really intense jump, but how does LA differ from or is similar to North Carolina?
BE: Probably like geographically - it’s like really spread out - so it’s pretty normal to drive around as the main form of transportation. I feel like the south is such a bubble in its own way, where everybody is so caught up in their own bullshit that is the 'south' and everyone is just very much so in your business. Speaking personally, some people love the south and that’s great and there are parts of it I love as well.
RB: Well, it feels like in LA you get to choose to not be part of the gossip, whereas in New York you can’t because if you walk outside, you’re going to see someone you know. And then you’re a part of the gossip. And then if you’re in the south, it’s like gossip in a family gossip way.
RB: But if you’re in LA you can stay inside.
BE: Yeah, which is what I love. And I think in LA, everyone has their own mini-communities, but I don’t think it’s necessarily 'clique-y' — at least for the people I surround myself with. Everyone has a 'home base,' being inside is a big part of being in LA. I love being inside, I love my space and its super important for me to have a connection with my space. You know what I mean?
RB: And that also really reflects more in your art.
BE: For sure!
RB: Just watching you from the outside, you’ve been able to make more things in a more fruitful way the more you’ve settled into your space here.
RB: Do you remember the first time you interacted with art, just like the first thing that resonated with you when you were growing up in North Carolina?
BE: I think the first time I really felt a connection with art was when I was on this thing called odyssey of the mind (O.M.) — I was painting a giant tigers head in this guy Jack’s house for O.M. and I was probably 9 or 10 years old. The TV was on in the living room, and I watched the entirety of The Shining. And will always remember that being such a pivotal moment in art for me. To this day, I’m much more attracted to film and take inspiration from movies so much more than art in galleries and museums. It was such a moment for me, I was floored that art could exist in this way - you know what I mean?
RB: I feel like all of the times I've ever been struck by something, it's somehow tied into a film — whether it’s a movie playing in the background or like a movie I just saw. That does feel like a really resonant thing for us, but especially you — I feel like you’re surrounded by people who are making movies and acting, and now you’re dipping your toes in creating. Your paintings always feel like they’re movie stills to me, it feels like you press play on something. First of all, you only paint women, which is interesting to me because I think of you, and the story you just told me, and you’re watching The Shining, and you’re drawing this thing and... I feel like when you’re watching The Shining you’re watching Shelly Duvall.
RB: You’re always paying attention to the girls around you, and that really reflects in your paintings. I feel like all the girls you paint, including myself (giggles), are jaded in a way. They kind of have a performance going on, and you’re very cognizant of other people's performances. I think that’s mostly what your art is about.
BE: You verbalized that so well. I see all of these paintings as film stills more than anything, truly. Making things that feel performative is fun for me because it allows me to be campy with the imagery, and existing in a campy space is where I’m most comfortable. And even when I look to my favorite movies — I love John Waters so much, I love Death Becomes Her, and Mommy Dearest — pure camp.
RB: That makes me want to rewatch Death Becomes Her today.
BE: IT’S SO GOOD.
RB: I’m always appreciative of the people who are giving performances all the time. You and I love the girls and the women that are cultivating their image. We really appreciate it.
BE: We love Lana.
RB: We love Lana. I feel like you’re kind of destined to live in LA right now because that’s such a hub of that. Not in the false way of people having their own weird performances of LA, but like the movie star, Hollywood LA.
BE: Yeah, like old-school glamour Hollywood LA.
RB: Yeah, there’s something so fun about that. It makes me miss it right now.
BE: I think that there’s a lot of incredible, powerful women who have cultivated such an iconic image, and I think that that’s what you and me love — I thrive on that.
RB: Who were the women when you were growing up that affected you? I feel like in the South, you must have encountered a lot of very extravagant, fun women personalities.
BE: (laughs) Yeah, wow.
RB: Like women who really gossip. Like women who gossip about other people’s kids.
BE: That was literally my childhood tea, it felt sometimes like a real housewife society without the cameras. There were so many iconic and badass women existing in these Southern tropes of going to tennis on the weekends, getting very specific highlights in their hair, going to church, leasing their white Mercedes... That was really what I grew up with which was crazy.
RB: Yeah, that definitely shows in all the work you make, really just such fascinating women.
RB: Over the weekend, I went to a wedding with my partner. I hadn’t been to a wedding since I could remember, and it was so interesting — being in this space with all the aunts, and the uncles, and parents — melding in this big pot, talking about each other and going to this event which is all for other members of their family, so they can all just be in one space and talk about it.
BE: I think family dynamics are so interesting to see from a third-party perspective. It’s impossible not to compare how you grew up to how other people grew up.
RB: You and I bond in our friendship, in having chosen family with Bria, Barbie - all of those people who mean so much to us in LA.
RB: That's family, but we don’t gossip about each other.
BE: No, we’re so wholesome.
RB: We are a wholesome good family. We actually have each other’s backs.
BE: Fully. Not to even go on a VisitLA.com tangent right now, but I feel like so many people have these very solidified ideas about LA being so fake, where no one is your real friend. I just think people sometimes give LA less credit than it deserves, and I have been so lucky to be surrounded by such incredible people since moving here. I really love it. I love to see it.
RB: I feel like our family in LA is complete now.
BE: BFFL’s! (laughs)
RB: You have been working on a lot of things and have some shows coming up. Do you want to talk to me about what those shows are going to be about?
BE: Yeah sure, I would love to.
RB: (Laughs) Ok, great Ben. go ahead!
BE: (Laughs) Thank you, Rowan, here is the answer: going off the camp thing we were talking about earlier, I have been super into those themes within my art. I also have been really into the idea of the canvas and how I’m not breaking any format — I’m really just making paintings, and there’s so much baggage and history to that as is. And I feel like I've only very recently realized the surface I'm actually working on. For me, now, starting a piece is a really Holy experience.
BE: Now when I start a new painting, it is really a religious experience for me. Really spiritual. There's this musician named Tiny Tim and he made this album called God Bless Tiny Tim. As an ode to that, I’m naming my next show God Bless Ben Evans. I’m making paintings that are pure camp and so performative and weird, like the painting I did of you with the spotlight -
RB: It’s all very glamorous. The painting you made of me is like the camp version of myself.
BE: Yeah, exactly!
RB: I’m posing for my portrait, but I don’t know the photographers there.
BE: Exactly. But we DO know the photographers there.
BE: And I also think truly all the figures I paint are of my friends and people who mean so much to me. But I also think that a lot of it is the divine femininity within myself.
RB: Well, yeah! 'Cause Ben, you’re, obviously, more than a man. (both laugh) That’s all I'll say about that! So Ben, can you talk to me about how animation differs from you as a format as opposed to still life image? Because a lot of what you’re most comfortable with is movie stills.
BE: I think that the idea of a still image versus a moving image could not be more different. The idea of something moving and being animated has completely different content than a flat, singular surface. Animation is something I want to get into more, I love putting motion into these images because I feel like a lot of the paintings do feel like screenshots so it feels pretty on-brand for them to start moving. I have this folder on my laptop with thousands of screenshot images I've collected, it’s like my mini-archive that I go back to daily and constantly adding to.
RB: Do you feel like there’s anything that connects those images. Do you feel like you save any type of specific thing?
BE: I think interiors more than anything is what I'm drawn to.
RB: Yeah. You keep coming back to wanting to put the camp in the home.
BE: We’re setting up camp in your house. Let’s go camping. That's my next show actually — Camp in the Home with Ben Evans. (laughs)
RB: That’s your thesis - 'Camp In The Home.'
RB: What movies were significant to you growing up, other than The Shining?
BE: Rosemary’s Baby for sure. The original Suspiria. The first Alien by Ridley Scott. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and there’s this really amazing French queer film called Stranger by the Lake - it's so incredible and was really impactful on me.
RB: What was your outlet to queer resources or queer art when you were a kid?
BE: Honestly, I feel like I was not well-versed in queer art until I went to art school. I think all the art I was surrounded by in the south was very one-note.
RB: It's probably a very specific type of traditionalist art. I haven’t spent any time in the south, but what I can understand from what you’ve said and my other friends have said is that the sense of tradition there is very different.
BE: For sure.
RB: So art school is when you started finding a sense of that kind of community.
BE: Yeah. I still have so much to learn about queer art and artists, but I was able to find artists and feel like there was a community that was visible in New York to me. It was a moment for me to be like, “Wow, this is sick, this is really cool that it exists.”
RB: I feel like now it does all kind of tie back into how your paintings always have a gaze: you’re always the watcher, and it's always about how its something you’re taking in. Even though you’re never painting yourself exactly, you’re still involved in the image because it’s kind of what you’re idolizing and memorizing.
BE: Totally. My input of information yields the paintings as my output of information.
RB: ...which feels very much like your lens, coming from a place where there’s a lack of stuff for you to look at that you relate to or that offsets you in a way that makes it feel interesting. It's probably that the art that you're actually seeing is offsetting in a way that makes you feel unsafe, rather than excited by the impulse or the “extraness” of it.
BE: You’re so smart, Rowan. I fully don’t think I could’ve verbalized it like that, but on the nose, that is exactly how I feel. I really feel like it is my lens and its super important for me to make art that I don’t get bored with, ever. I had this really interesting conversation with a friend of mine about George Condo and Takashi Murakami, and we compared their rate of output. I think for me, with my lens and my short attention span, I have to be extremely prolific in my art practice — even if that means some of the paintings aren’t as fleshed-out as the others I just have to keep making.
RB: Yeah, you just have to produce them.
BE: And that’s why I think the art comes off with so much of my gaze and lens, because the input-to-output rate is so rapid that, really — I am seeing something and then putting it onto the canvas.
RB: Cause you have all these images you have and you want to make them iconic so quickly. (Ben laughs) There is a reason you paint your friends when they look iconic — 'cause it’s a way of turning the art into memorabilia of your brain.
BE: ...and the timelessness of art too.
RB: It all goes back to you watching these women and the body as a closeted queer person living in North Carolina, admiring the straight white women who get their hair done.
BE: (laughs) A read. It’s so true.
RB: There's something so out-of-body, and so unattainable, and so iconic that you want to spend your life painting your friends as those figures.
BE: I am so glad you’re the one who’s interviewing me.
RB: Ben, to close this off — what’s your sun sign, moon sign and rising?
BE: I am a triple Aries.
RB: That’s so levels.