Ben Stephenson: Blue Phoenix

Ben Stephenson

Artwork’s Title: Blue Phoenix

Materials Used: Oil and Acrylic Paint on Canvas

Studio Based: Bogota, Colombia

Blue Phoenix
Ben Stephenson, Blue Phoenix, 71 x 110 x 4 cm, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2020

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

I work in layers, with a lot of trial and error. This then later informs the final layer of the painting with palimpsests and shadows of previous ideas carrying through. I feel like this is an honest way to work and I almost always enjoy other Artists’ works when you feel they have been in the process of figuring something out.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

An exotic misinterpretation.

Would you use another three different words to describe the ‘Blue Phoenix’ painting?

Regeneration, surreal, flora.

How did you come up with this painting idea? Is there any story behind this painting?

This piece started as a representation of Yurupari, who is an indigenous deity of the Vaupés region of the Colombian Amazon. He was  sacrificed in an immense bonfire and incinerated to ashes, from the ashes grew the palm of a Pachuba tree, then from this tree a flute was crafted which carries the voice of Yurupari and a bush of Cassava/Yuca Brava with which the red Chicha drink is produced (the blood of Yurupari).

The original painting had a very heavy energy and I couldn’t stand to look at it so it was turned away in my studio for quite a while. Later, once I was ready to rework it, I wanted to reinvigorate the surface of the painting and covered nearly the entirety of it save the very bottom section. The process of making the painting through sacrificing an older piece as well as the narrative of the painting itself, with a plant growing from the ashes, is what gave rise to the title ‘Blue Phoenix’.

Is there any particular message that you wish your viewers can take from this painting?

I suppose to not give up when things don’t work out during the first attempts, sometimes it/you just aren’t ready. Also, that learning from ‘mistakes’ is key.

What colour is used the most in this painting?

There are several main colours used but the predominant colour is the ultramarine blue. The previous layers have given it a glowing iridescent quality.

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

For this piece it would be wall-hanging, maybe with some live plants nearby and in the room too.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

So many in different ways. Film; Alejandro Jodorowsky (especially ‘Holy Mountain’) for his surreal storylines and imagery as well as inclusion of Tarot symbology, Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ for the décor, lighting and eerie narratives. Painting; right now I am looking a lot at European Post-Impressionist, Fauvist and Outsider artists such as the greats Henri Matisse, Gauguin, and of course Henri Rousseau.

How do you know when this painting was finished?

You can usually tell right towards the end, when a piece approaches and realises a feeling of ‘rightness’. Some works don’t show this until when you are right at that point and take a step back to see it is done, others are more of a slow burner. This one was somewhere in the middle, but once it’s done its done and you wouldn’t want to touch it again.

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

I’ve got a pretty good studio space at the top of an old house in a nice neighbourhood here in Bogota. The lighting is even and good as it is at the top of the Andes Mountains (nearly 3km above sea level) and also on the equator. I have plenty of plants around me and a good view of the mountains from my studio window. The rest of the house can be pretty chaotic sometimes with a cocktail bar, a restaurant, other artist studios and a gallery space.

What does your mum think about your art?

She’s my biggest fan. I couldn’t ask for someone more supportive and encouraging. Her whole house is decorated with pieces of mine from across the years.

Which exhibition did you visit last?

I think it was actually one by my friend and Colombian artist Silvana Tantimonaco who also works in these studios.  I had helped her to frame these huge abstract paintings on sections of dry-wall which she had taken from the studio walls. The pieces felt very raw (in a similar vein to artists like De Kooning, Jean Debuffet and Basquiat) and worked well in dialogue to one another.

Which are your plans for the near future?

I had a Residency planned in the South-Colombian Amazon as well as an exhibition, both have had to be put on hold due to the current global pandemic. As soon as is feasible though I would like to have the show and then go and stay in the Amazon for a month or so to learn more from the indigenous communities there as well as experience it first-hand.

*Born in London, Ben Stephenson lives and works in Bogota. He received his BA in Fine Arts from Wimbledon College of Arts in 2014 and also completed the Intensive Drawing Programme of The Royal Drawing School in London in 2015.

Additional Paintings

Portrait (studio Bogota)
Ben Stephenson, Portrait, Studio in Bogota, 2020
Is This What You Wanted
Ben Stephenson, Is This What You Wanted?, 94 x 160 x 4 cm, 2019
Ben Stephenson, Regeneration, 90 x 160 x 4 cm, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2020
Love Deluxe
Ben Stephenson, Love Deluxe, 90 x 160 x 4 cm, acrylic on canvas, 2019

© All images are courtesy of the artist

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