Benjamin Cook

Benjamin in his studio at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Benjamin in his studio at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Benjamin Cook (b. 1989) is an artist from Northern Kentucky currently living in Champaign, Illinois. He received his BFA from the University of Louisville in 2012 and is a current MFA candidate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His work has been exhibited across the United States and Canada as well as featured on numerous blogs. Cook’s series “Paintings for the Internet” was on display at the Rochester Museum of Fine arts as a solo show in April and May.

Artist Statement
My works explore tensions between organic and digitally structured systems through paint. I draw from the land, social media, skateboarding, graffiti, blogs, and my own personal history. My works are regurgitations of metabolized content that strive to find a balance within the fractured social networks I find myself navigating on a daily basis. Through developing a visual language that reside neither solely in the organic or digital realm, my paintings aim to evade the binary while engaging the viewer.

Artist Interview:

Hi Ben! You are currently an MFA Candidate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign—what have been some of the most valuable experiences/challenges for you so far?
Well, the facilities are fantastic. I have access to pretty much anything I could possibly need and a lot of space to make work in. Plus, moving to a town in the middle of cornfields allows for a level of focus that I couldn’t maintain in a larger city. The down side is also that I live in the middle of a cornfield. It’s about 2 hrs to Chicago, so Its drivable and I try to make it up there when I can, but sometimes its really difficult to get to the shows that I really want to.

Can you describe your working routine? Do you have a daily studio practice? What is the most important part of maintaining a successful studio practice?
When not in class, I try to get to the studio between 9 and 9:30, break for lunch and get back to work until about 5. I usually do research and work through new ideas in my head in the evening. I can be a bit obsessive when working through a piece or an idea so I find that one of the most important things for me is to make sure I give myself space from the work. Days off, doing other things often lead to me completely rethinking a process or a move I might have made. If I don’t break from the studio, I find that I keep making the same thing over and over and it gets old really fast.

Can you give us some insight into your process? How do you begin? Do you keep a sketchbook/does drawing play a part in your work?
I don’t keep a sketchbook. I’ve never been able to. It always felt like anything that I put in to it had to be perfect and was there forever. That’s too much pressure. I prefer to sketch out ideas  or work through issues on scrap paper that will be thrown away. I also don’t always sketch it out before I start. One of the nice things about working on paper is that I never have to spend a long time building or preparing a new canvas. It allows for mistakes to be made because I can always just grab a new sheet and start over. I have a big pile of half finished paintings that just didn’t work out. Sometimes, I’ll sift through them and pull from some of the moves that were working before they were ruined to make new pieces.

Do you ever experience the equivalent to “writers block” for artists? If so, how do you get in the creative mindset and flow?
Oh yeah, artist block is terrible. The only real cure for me is to stay in the studio, make a LOT of really bad work and not show it to anyone. Ever. Eventually some gem in the pile of garbage will grab my attention and lead to something exciting and worthwhile. Sometimes it lasts a few days, sometimes weeks or months. You never really know.

How does your artist statement function for you? Do you think it is an important element in the practice of being an artist?
You know, I go back and forth on this one. I think it really depends on who is looking at the work, and what they want out of it. An academic, a gallery curator, another artist, they’re all going to read the piece differently. Some people don’t really care about how I think about the work. That’s fine with me. But, if they do want that direction of how to read it, or what ideas I am working through, the statement can be an important part of the piece itself. But, when a statement gets too didactic I tend to lose interest in the work so I try to keep mine pretty simple.

In your statement you mention developing a language that resides somewhere between the organic and the digital—do you feel that you have achieved that balance? What are visual elements of each that you include in your work?
I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ve achieved the balance. I think that’s the fun part, trying to fight a battle that I know can’t be won. I think the digital/organic relationship is the avenue that I choose to tackle the problems of structure as a whole. Man made logical structured systems exist as reference points for our understanding of the world itself. But since the world is a changing place, those structures need to change and adapt in order to remain relevant and logical. It’s that combination of relying on seemingly static points in the system to make sense of a growing and changing landscape that I try and root myself in.

Are there a few artists that you are looking at currently?
Always. Half of them I couldn’t begin to give a name for since I see them on blogs or Instagram and I don’t have the memory for those kind of things. Some of the name I do remember:

Alicia McCarthy
Neil Jenney
Thomas Nozkowski
Kenneth Noland

Has your work been influenced by other disciplines that aren’t rooted in the visual arts?
Definitely. I’ve been skateboarding with one of the other grad students here and we spend a lot of time conceptualizing it. The way skateboarding can be about rethinking methods of engagement with structured, regulated spaces, or objects comes up a lot. I’m actually a big sports fan in general.  The creativity in rethinking skills and spaces is one of the major reasons why sports are so fun to watch for me.

What do you listen to while you work? Any music or podcasts we should check out?
I jump around on what I listen to. Sometimes NPR, sometimes Pandora. Lately I’ve been on an LCD Soundsystem kick. As for podcasts, If you’re not listening to WTF! With Marc Maron every now and then, you’re doing something wrong.

Do you have any shows coming up? Anything else you would like to share?
No shows on the horizon right now. I just had a solo show close at the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts so I’m working to get a new body of work together for whatever comes next.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us!
Any time. Cheers!

To find out more about Ben and his work, check out his website.