What is ‘art’? Does it need to say something, prove something, provoke something? Does it need to be deep? Or can it just be?
Ben Evans, known to his legions of fans as @benisright, doesn’t have the answer — nor should he. Raised on reality television and Captain Crunch, the 23-year-old from “void of soul and culture” North Carolina has captured gallerists, collectors and Instagram audiences alike with his unabashedly senseless cartoonization of millennial living. Minding the gap between artist and influencer, Evans operates in social media’s gray area — delighting disciples with wit-laden captions referencing pop culture or modern dating, as gratifyingly irreverent as the portraits themselves.
While the scope of the artist’s awareness might impress you, Evans wants to clarify his cognizance wasn’t earned without some suffering. Like many of us, after years of studying and “neglecting his mental health,” the artist found himself in the grips of a post-college crisis, forced to confront the value of his creative contributions to modern society. It was puberty all over again, which, for a queer adolescent coming to terms with his identity in the depths of the Bible Belt, wasn’t easy the first time around.
What eventuated was a secure sense of expression that even Evans himself might not have seen coming; he began painting the anti-femme female: thong-wearing, unshaven tattooed women ripping bongs and scorning lovers. Then came the portrayals of friends, quasi-angelic and situated in their natural habitat. And finally a book, Suspects, culminating his best work and most memorable commentary. Now, Ben Evans can find a creative catalyst just about anywhere and his works speak volumes…without needing to really say anything at all.
Walk me through your art history so to speak, how did you get your start?
“For lack of a better word, angst. I really started to get into a prolific state of making art when I was my most angsty self. I think that me being really moody and melodramatic informed my art and, when I was young, gave me a false sense of importance and confidence that helped me keep pushing my work.”
How did you find your voice?
“I think the idea of a style is a bit stifling to a body of work although the art I’ve been making now for some time has all been in a similar vocabulary of imagery. I think I’m really invested in playing with the viewers’ perception of kitsch and merging them with my own interpretations of cartoons and sunlight and surreal but familiar spaces.”
Who is your ideal subject?
“Recently I have been really interested in painting those around me who I love and respect and putting them in the spaces I create. I used to like a sort of distance between me and the figures in the work but I think there’s a level of attention and intimacy when you’re familiar with your subjects.”
How has Instagram enabled you as an artist?
“It has allowed me to reach a large audience and has helped make me countless connections with galleries and collectors which I am very grateful for.”
Can you point to a piece of work you’re most proud of?
“I think my current favorite piece is one I did of my dear friends Mary and Giulia. It was a piece that took a long time to figure out but I was so happy with how it worked itself out. I’m also obsessed with lawns and lawn chairs at the moment (been looking at a lot of Slim Aarons photographs) so perhaps that’s another reason this one is my current fave.”
When do you find yourself most inspired? Is there anything you often find
catalyzes your creativity?
“I have a Rolodex of images on my laptop labeled “important images” which has thousands of images I love or have felt some sort of connection to in my life. I have a backup on a drive of this file because of its importance to me. It’s filled with lots of cartoon images (Rocko’s Modern Life, personal fave) and screenshots from weird YouTube videos. It’s really a full spectrum of miscellaneous stuff. As far as creative catalysts go, a good film really can make me more inspired than just about anything.”
What is the art world missing?
“I think at the end of the day a lot of the art world is still a boys club and I really want to see more massive retrospectives for women.”
How would you describe the legacy of your work?
“I think when I was a young gay boy living in the Bible Belt really trying to figure things out, I would’ve liked seeing someone like me doing what I’m doing. I know there’s a lot of young queer kids figuring things out and maybe feeling disenfranchised by the world around them and I would love to be a tiny bit of proof to kids that life can get better and brighter. I hope my legacy will be that the work I make evokes a sense of familiarity in everyone. A place to stop and be at peace for a while.”