Friday, October 16, 2009

Finding Inspiration in Location: An Interview with Ben Anderson

Born in Lewisburg, PA, Ben Anderson has spent much of his life living and working all over the country. After frequent moves, he finished high school in Santa Monica, CA. In 1980 he attended Bucknell University where his father was a painting professor.

While on a semester abroad in London he visited the house of Henry Moore in Leeds, England. After returning to the US he transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design and studied sculpture with Jay Coogan and painter Stuart Diamond.

After graduating with a BFA in 1984, he established a studio in the Foundry building in Providence, RI where he supported his art career by making molds for other artists and architects.

Anderson received his MFA in 1992 from the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla, CA where he worked with Newton Harrison, Kim Mac Connell and Ernest Silva. After retuning to Rhode Island in 1994 he taught part time at area colleges and universities, including RISD, Brown University, Bryant University and the University of Rhode Island, where he was hired full time in 2005 as an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History.

Anderson continues to visit colleges and universities both as a resident artist and visiting lecturer. Recently, he came to Chester College of New England as part of its Visiting Artist Symposium Lecture Series.

What was your impression of Chester, and what did you take away from your experience here?

I immediately felt the closeness of the students, the small campus provides an intimacy that can be seen and felt. The students seemed to have a good sense of what their art is about.

How does Chester compare to other schools you have visited, or the schools you attended?

Larger schools tend to have their art education divided into multiple departments, so close knit groups develop within the departments, not usually as cross departmental as Chester.

You have traveled and lived in many places through out your life/career. How do you think this has influenced your work? Is this something you would recommend? Where were some of you more inspiring locations?

My local surroundings largely influence my work. When I was out west, it was very dry, and I longed for the moistness of the East. When you experience the absence of one thing in an area it increases your awareness to the attributes of other areas.

Your website denotes sculptures in ceramic, wood and metal. Can you briefly describe the sensations/feelings you feel when working with the different media? Which is most rewarding? What about your composition/goal for a piece dictates the media in which you choose to create it?

What best suits your idea is what you want to work with; thinking about something and then thinking about what the best materials would be. The more work you do with a variety of materials, the more you increase crossover comfort. Sometimes the pace in which you can work with the medium is a factor: wood takes a long time, it’s methodical; whereas, steel is fast, but still structural like wood.

In your early days of wood sculpting, you mention that you never thought of clay as a serious sculptural material. I am curious as to what your thoughts were on clay as a medium.

During my education and studying different art forms, clay was relegated to an area of pottery or utilitarian/decorative objects, never a serious artistic place. Clay used to be considered more of a craft than a serious material.

Your ceramic plates are heavily influenced by nature. Was there something about the tactile aspects you mention of working with clay that lend itself as a preferred medium?

Definitely. Clay is very plastic, easy to manipulate. I work with lots of molds and I can switch back and forth from molds to live sculpting.

Your bio mentions that your received your BFA in Sculpture, yet the painting/glazing of your sculptures is so detailed, did you study painting as well? What other media did you explore as a student?

No, I had no formal training. I have taken classes here and there over the years, and my skill has developed over time. I have done lots of drawing, and those worlds are interconnected. People should go over the boundaries; a good education crosses these boundaries. One should feel comfortable with all media.

What were some of your other major influences today? Artists? Medium? Subject matter?

I am interested in a natural world; I focus on that area and the different aspects of it. I look at it and find new things to talk about, the world of landscape, nature in a natural world, and I investigate different ways to deal with landscape, nature in new representations, abstract in work, but representational. I am always looking at other artists and how they choose to make work; I talk and interact with different artists all the time.

What advice would you give to expected grads now facing decisions of trying to establish themselves as artists versus continuing their education?

Always a tough decision, it depends on what you want to do. There are different commercial aspects in the design world. In my experience, after my Undergrad, I worked for different artists and found if they had ability to hire or I would work in galleries. If you are interested in teaching, the requirement is to earn a masters. I personally investigated grad school to relocate. You need to make a living regardless, and try to make your work at the same time. It takes time.

Anderson’s work continues to draw upon the natural world. He collects and mediates sampled objects through tools, molds and die casting, expressing his ideas of form and narration. His work is included in numerous private collections, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. He has received a number of awards for his work in ceramics; the 1999 Byers’ Choice Award of Philadelphia, PA; a National Award in Ceramics, the 2005 Directors Choice, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the 2003 Rhode Island State Council of the Arts, Individual Artist Grant. In spring 2009 Anderson served as Artist in Residence at the Gordon School, East Providence, RI.

Through sculpture, Anderson has contributed more than a dozen exhibitions fusing both nautical composition and environmental works throughout the East Coast. Holding an MFA, his landmark creations have proven crucial to the artistic community.

--Rhiannon Lombard

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