Lime interview - Exhibitions
Adelaid Damoah’s work can be found here
Born in 1981, Ben H. Summers studied Fine Art at the Slade School of Art in London. Summers recalls being interested in drawing from a very early age, taking inspiration from the natural world, the human form and built spaces.
Music has always had a huge impact on him, to the extent that after graduation in 2003, he pursued a career as a professional DJ. A combination of DJ work, illustration and art direction, lead him to make the decision in 2010 to combine his love for music with his passion for art and the brand “Beats in My Brush” was born. Since then Summers has had a solo show, participated in Artists Wanted, an art event in New York, as well as several collaborations and group shows. His work explores various themes including desire, relationships, race, pop culture and social media. Ben H. Summers is now focusing on his U&I project, a series of intimate portraits of modern families in their homes which explores diverse family identities in the 21st century. Summers kindly took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his work and his thoughts on art and success.
You went to the Slade School of Art in 1999. Was it fine art that you studied?
Yeah it was fine art painting. It was great getting in there. I came straight from school, straight from a small village, from the country to London. As well as starting the course and coming under constant scrutiny and getting work critiqued every week, to taking in London as a whole, was actually quite a lot to handle, so the beginning of it was an interesting time, but it was a great place.
When you say it was a lot to handle, do you mean that it was emotionally difficult to deal with being critiqued?
Yeah... I remember in my first year, I really thrived in the environment and I was making work that I had never really made before.
Would you say that was the reason why after graduation, you got more into the DJ work?
Yeah definitely. By that time, I was more interested in music to be perfectly honest.
How long did you do that for?
I left in 2004. I did that on and off for about three years and then solidly for another four years, in between having to do other bits of work to keep things afloat.
I read that around that time, you were doing illustration and being an art director.
I ended up doing some illustration for Amnesty International. That was during the Dafour crisis. I then decided to engage my visual art side again. The art directing came up- and that was because a friend was making a comedy short for E4.
And then in 2010, Beats in My Brush was born!
Yeah, after taking more time out to really think about what I was doing, I guess, two years ago.. By that time, I had started to have a lot of artistic ideas again.
Your “Like Me” piece really caught my attention... Is it a painting or a drawing?
It’s a drawing. Its compressed charcoal and I used water to push the charcoal around.
One of the things you say you focus on in your bio is race. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
I don't think I have reached the strongest point with it. I think that will take a long time. It has governed every aspect of my life; right from being I guess 11 or 12. There was limited access to other cultures in our community. It was just one of those things that really annoyed me- the ability of one person to decide not to accept someone else because of their race or colour.
When was your first exhibition?
That was the Slade degree show. I did a couple of things afterwards. I guess the most important one was the last one in 2011, in a little space called Nolias Gallery in London.
I have exhibited at Nolias Gallery! Supermodels was there! Nolia is lovely.
Have you! No way! Yes, she is lovely. She is like a whirlwind. I walked in and I was infected by her enthusiasm.
Did you sell work?
I did sell work yes. I sold about three paintings and lots of drawings because I was sitting in the window drawing with a little desk. That was a turning point.
Would you say you are full time now or are you supplementing the art with other stuff?
I am supplementing it with other stuff just because I like to have money in the bank!
There is this whimsical, often romanticised idea of the “starving artist” which is often perpetuated by the media. Has that ever been your experience? If so, how have you dealt with it?
I have had moments where I have really struggled with money. That is why I have always done different things and tried to do other lines of work as well, sometimes in tandem. I do commissions, corporate stuff, logo design as well as some odd bits of temp work every now and then.
What would you say is your biggest achievement as an artist and how did you go about achieving it?
I think on a really simple level, just getting quite a lot done in a very short space of time. It really has only been a year or so since I made the decision that this was what I was going to do.
What would you say is your personal definition of success in the art world?
There are so many different ideas of what success is. I think success is about being in a really good place with your work, having strong ideas, having the chance to show the work to a massive audience and achieving some recognition along with that. If you can sell your work for the amount of money that would make you happy, then that is brilliant.
By your definition, would you say you were on your way?
Yes, I would. I know that the next two years is going to be crucial.
Very cool. What advice would you give to any artists wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Be as disciplined as you can. You have got to get in the studio as much as you can and be comfortable in the place that you are working in. Some people are more comfortable working from home. I did for a while and then wanted a studio and worked better as a result. Get to know your process and just be happy with what you are making. I don't think you should pay attention to what people say at all. I guess I am reaching out to people at college now, in their first year or early on. But as far as tutors and others are concerned, people are always going to criticize your work. Not everyone is going to like it and that is a fact. But I think that if you are really sure of an idea, I think you should go with it because some people somewhere are going to identify with what you do. That is the thing I feel most strongly about, now being on the other side of that process.
Ruud van Empel