Melbourne-based artist Benk gives us something to reflect on by creating surreal illustrations of gems and humans-turned-birds.
Benk’s work is centered around the themes of humanity, nature, and technology. Using a combination of traditional and digital techniques, he depicts strange realities and scenarios that reflect the interrelationships between the three.
For instance, his previous series featured people wearing bird masks and having webbed feet. According to Benk, these illustrations show the connection (or the lack of it) between man and animal. Another series, entitled Power, shows how the human body’s posture contains, well, power.
We recently interviewed the Australian artist to know more about him and his art.
Why the enduring fascination with birds?
“I guess it has a little to do with what birds are and a lot to do with what birds mean to me.
“It all started in New York, 2010. Something about travelling in a huge city made me think about all the great reasons we have cities, but also their side effects. It seems to me that we as a species are slowly disconnecting both mentally and physically from the natural world.
“I’m well aware that there are still some wild animals living in the cities but they tend to hide away while birds freely soar the skies. We probably see hundreds per day. Birds, to me are a symbol of all the animals that we live among yet hardly notice. They represent our simpler natural past that we conceal, our similarities and biological links to the animal world.
“My work as an illustrator since then has continued to revolve around my fascination with the interrelationships between humanity, nature and technology. Birds find their way into the mix every once in a while — I can’t see that ending any time soon.”
How tightly knit is the creative community in Melbourne and how active are you in it?
“This city is full of creative talent. It feels like not just one, but many welcoming creative communities. I love that there’s always so much going on in Melbourne, there’s constantly more to discover.
“I’ve had animations screened at many great venues including Federation Square and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. I’ve screened video art at gigs, co-organised and participated in live art events and exhibited in group shows around town.
“I love to meet and collaborate with fellow artists. I go to drawing meet ups, creative hang outs, animation screenings and exhibitions. I love to spend time with my creative friends, housemates and family to draw, paint, make.”
Tell us about your Power illustration series.
“Before embarking on a new series of illustrations, I’ll usually curl over a notebook, writing pages and pages. It’s not always related to my work, just thoughts, observations of the world. ‘Power’ began differently. There were many concepts flying around my head. Instead of focusing on an idea, I began with a strong aesthetic in mind. I wanted to create the type of image I’d love to see.
“Usually I’d refine words and get to the concept before drawing. This time I did a test illustration every day for a week, each one becoming more detailed and feeling more ‘right’. By the end of the week I felt prepared.
“I found the process to be emotive rather than conceptual, there are themes embedded in the images for the viewer to create their own narrative. The images are about humanity, the power we hold in the posture of our bodies and our connections with nature and technology.”
Do you tend to gravitate towards certain colours and if so, which ones and why?
“Yes! I sure do. I find the more I understand about colour, the more passionate I get. I’m pretty sure my favourite colours haven’t changed since I was a kid.
“It’s the entire purple spectrum, from pink to blue. When used well, the combination of these colours really does it for me. Any good colour scheme is best used in moderation. Like a favourite meal, joke or YouTube video, I try not to overdo it. That’s not entirely true, I over watch my favourite YouTubes and regret nothing.”
Who are some of the local and international artists you respect?
“There are just so many. When I’m sitting in my studio, I have an extensive illustration book collection just an arm’s reach away. Influential artists at my fingertips. I also use social media daily to check out illustrations from around the world. There are parallels in the works of all the artists I respect, so anything I say about one artist will apply in some way to the others.
“I love illustrations that utilise the sense of lighting to strengthen the concept and mood. The work of Guy Shield (Melbourne, Illustrator) pulls me in with its great understanding of light and shadow. I particularly like his separation of cold and warm areas and the subtle summer afternoon glare found in his images. Sergi Brosa (Barcelona, Illustrator) attracts your attention to his characters’ faces using illumination. The expressions set the mood of the image. He often uses coloured light to guide the way around his crowded compositions.
“Colour is really important to me. I appreciate different colour schemes and styles. From realistic colours found in paintings by James Gurney (Hudson Valley, Painter) to the bright neon colour schemes of Young Earl Grey (Sydney, Illustrator). I have adoration for the Illustrations by Loish (Utrecht, Illustrator) that takes from both extremes to create combinations of colours that are semi-natural yet bright and intense.
“Another thing that’s really important to me is the line, form and texture within an image. The work of James Jean (Santa Monica, Artist) often contrasts sharp thin lines against soft shaded areas. I love the style produced by this combination. There’s something special about the illustrated book ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan (Melbourne, Artist/Author). When you look close you can see the pencil lines, the crosshatching, individual marks against each other but as you move away it all blends together, creating the form, texture and the illusion of a real world.
“As an artist who spends many hours per day working on illustration skills as well as freelance work, I respect all creative people that devote all that they have to develop and utilise their talent. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by so many.”