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Ben Venom

Interview by Scott A. Sant’Angelo
Photography by Alessandro Casagrande

Originally published in Issue No. 4

Ben Venom is a self-taught quilter with a die-hard DIY attitude. One scroll through his Instagram feed, you’ll see that he’s like a talented local tattoo artist armed with a sewing machine who loves classic heavy metal acts like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Metallica.

For our Issue No. 4, we connected with the San Francisco-based artist to find out more about his (P.M.A.) positive mental attitude, his passionate, prolific and painstaking pattern work and being an awesome dad to his new baby girl, Beatrice Rose.

Scott A. Sant’Angelo (SAS) — Please share a little bit about your background: where you grew up, your schooling, what lead you towards a career as an artist and how you landed at this medium?

Ben Venom (BV) — I grew up in the ‘90s in the Atlanta, Georgia punk rock scene and was introduced early on to the concept of Do-It-Yourself. This mentality has followed me through my teen years and into adulthood. Basically, I don’t ever let anything hinder me from seeing my ideas through to the end. When I began sewing I had no idea what I was doing…it was simply a concept I wanted to create.

Originally, although I began as a painter and printmaker, I began to transition to textile-based work in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute. While I was in graduate school in 2005-2007, I slowly learned how to use the sewing machine through trial-and-error. Mistakes are a large part of my artistic process. In 2008, I was asked to participate in a group exhibition in Berlin, Germany and wanted to do something new and big for the show. After seeing the famous Gee’s Bend quilts of Alabama, I decided to push the boundaries of my art and attempt to make a quilt. This first quilt would contain my personal collection of heavy metal band t-shirts. For years, I had amassed a large pile of torn up and threadbare band shirts that I could never throw away. It’s not cool when your Slayer shirt turns to mesh. Ha! From there, my work has progressed to include all types of material including donated/recycled fabric, denim and leather. Textiles has allowed me to push my art beyond being just a precious object hanging on the wall to become a real fusion of art, fashion and especially function.

(SAS) — Your work has multiple layers, materials and depth. How do you get to where you’re ready to literally piece or sew it all together?

(BV) — Everything I do begins with some amount of research into a particular topic or interest. I will come up with a general idea in my sketchbook by taking notes and doing some quick drawings to work out my idea. I try and utilize the material in a way that adds to the overall design. Just like a puzzle, every little piece has a certain place that fits into the larger image.

(SAS) — If you had to describe your work, would that be craft, contemporary art, or something of your own description?

(BV) — In one word, my work can be described as a collision. Much like the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland that shoots opposing forces at near lightning speed to create an explosion and release of new energy, I combine various machismo, loud, and disparate elements of culture with a relatively soft functional medium…textiles. Turning it up to 11 and pushing it past the red. The idea of masculine/feminine, yin/yang, craft and fine art stitched together with techniques usually relegated to your grandmother’s sewing circle. I see a new wave of craft within the fine art world where artists are using many handmade techniques to construct their work. The artist’s hand has shown up again and is very evident within this wave.

(SAS) — What’s the driving force for your creativity — the process, the output or the completion of a thought or idea?

(BV) — I enjoy working the most…always working. For me, the process is the best part as things are always changing throughout the entire process. The end is just the beginning again.

(SAS) — Having recently become a father, (congratulations) how has this besides the obvious changed your work? Meaning, has anything really changed and are you looking at what you create differently now as a parent? 

(BV) — Thanks! It has been a great wild ride my wife and I are very excited about. I have started designing a piece for my daughter Beatrice Rose to wear. Her wardrobe is going to be full of dad’s stitches.

Visit Ben Venom