Above image by Ryan Hendon.
I caught up with Ben Venom recently to check out his progress on his biggest quilt to date, The Mega Quilt, a 13' x15' quilt made from over 125 Heavy Metal band T-shirts. The quilt will be on display in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts upcoming show BAN6: Visual Arts Exhibition, which opens July 8th, 2011. We also got to chat about the quilt, how he fell into the craft and what's coming up for him. Enjoy! - meighan
Let's get down to brass tacks, quilting isn't a male heavy medium. Why quilting? What brought you to a craft/art medium that is traditionally women owned? And how long have you been quilting?
In 2008 I was invited to be part of an exhibition in Berlin, Germany and wanted to make a really large piece for the show but not have to pay a lot of money to ship it. I had been sewing large flags and banners while in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute and recently saw the Gees Bend quilt show at the De Young. At the time I had a bunch of all Heavy Metal T-shirts hanging in my closet. So...I decided to combine the two: Metal and Quilts!
Are you self-taught?
Yes...I am self-taught. I made a couple of phone calls to my mother and bought a couple of beginner guides to quilting. Basically, I just started designing, cutting, and sewing and learned new tricks along the way.
In your current work you combine a traditionally feminine craft with a male dominated style of music; heavy metal. Tell us how those two come together in your work for you. Why juxtapose the two?
I see it as a high speed collision of polar opposites like Large Hadron Collider, particles are shot at each other at a extremely high rate of speed and scientists measure the resulting explosions. It is at this point when something new is born. In addition, quilts are traditionally made from soft fabric and Heavy Metal music refers to a load, aggressive, and heavy sound. Just in the definition of each you can see the complete opposite sides of the spectrum.
Heavy Metal has always had this over the top mentality with the 70's and 80's dominated by all these dudes wearing makeup and looking like strippers. Dee Synder, Alice Cooper, KISS, the list goes on and on. Even dressed up in some ridiculous clothing and makeup these dudes scored all the babes! So...I was thinking about that absolute contradiction, and thought by combining quilts with Metal I would be able to achieve a similar result.
Sometimes I like to ask artists who they are watching or inspired by as in terms of other artists -- but I'd like to keep this to strictly quilting. Can you tell us about who you've watched in the quilting and fiber world -- who has inspired you and/or influenced your work?
Since the Gees Bend quilt show at the De Young I have been constantly looking through the exhibition catalog and online for ideas. I bought The Architecture of the Quilts book from the exhibition which has some great images of the more colorful and abstract quilts. Also, some quilts made entirely from worn out levi jeans and other denim scraps. They're some really amazing pieces made by some amazing women.
More recently, the De Young exhibited a selection of Amish quilts from the collection of Faith and Stephen Brown. These quilts dealt more with faith and spirituality rather than the creators surrounding [the] enviroment. Both shows have been a great influence to my recent work and continue to give new ideas on how quilts can be constructed. Plus...I've recently been in email contact with Joe Cunningham who wrote the forward to the Amish quilt catalog.
I honestly do not know many fine art artists working with textiles that I admire or am influenced by. However, Erin Riley is someone I see that is definitely killing it right now. Her work takes textiles into the modern day...beer, bikinis, and drugs. Awesome!
Can you tell us about how you educate yourself around the craft?
I have recently made some contacts within the quilt world and have learned a whole bunch of new techniques and shortcuts from a couple of nice ladies. Old ladies love me! Everytime I go to a sewing/fabric store I ask a ton of questions and go home and try out what I learned. I am considering taking a sewing class or two at the Sewing Machine Shop in Walnut Creek cause I was recently asked to teach a quilting workshop at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and at Workshop SF. So...I need to get my learn on.
Tell us about the quilt you are currently working on.
The Mega quilt! It measures 160" x 180" and has over 120 different Heavy Metal band T-shirts sewn into a Medusa Skull design. I had to buy a new sewing machine (Juki F-600) cause my previous one is too small for all this fabric. Think bitchin Camaro compared to a shitty Honda Accord...that is one hell of an UPGRADE!
This quilt will be the largest I have made thus far and also the most expensive. I have been using the floor space at Guerrero Gallery to lay it out and position all the pieces together. Andres (owner of Guerrero Gallery) has been very helpful in allowing me unlimited access to the gallery in the evenings. Many thanks to Andres Guerrero (the Janitor)!!!
The quilt consists of a detailed Medusa Skull surrounded by a sun shield and smaller stars. Heavy Metal band T-shirts form the Medusa head and surrounding star shapes. At least 3 different quilting patterns are used to accentuate the design and add another level to the piece. This design combines the interest of Metal music with Mythology and the Occult while simultaneously attempting to represent the B movie Horror film style. By addressing the softer side of Heavy Metal this piece plays with the idea of tension between the grandiosity of Metal music and the more domestic nature of craft.
You have also worked with embroidery -- are there other traditional crafts you have utilized in your work, or that you would like to work in?
I've been thinking about learning to crochet or knit some pieces to wear. However, in the near future I plan to make a couple more embroidered pieces influenced by Metal and Occult culture. I like to watch football while I embroider...the new season starts in August. Time to get to work!
What is coming up for you, both professionally and personally?
Three of my Heavy Metal quilts will be on view at Wolverhampton Gallery in Birmingham, England June 18 for Home of Metal: You Should Be Living. This show is in conjunction with a couple of other events put on by the Home of Metal organization. The Mega quilt and two other new pieces will be on view July 8 for Bay Area Now 6 at Yerba Buena Center for Arts. I have been working on these pieces for the last 5 months and am looking forward to the exhibition...should be a good one. As part of my work in the exhibition, I am hosting a Heavy Metal concert September 22 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Black Cobra, Hightower, and Walken will be playing in the gallery in front of my quilt with Glass Coat Photo Booth on site offering FREE polaroid pictures to attendees. Its gonna make your head EXPLODE!
Aside from the art exhibitions...I just returned from Atlanta, GA where I taught a 2 day printing intensive class at the Atlanta Printmakers Studio and gave a lecture sponsored by the online magazine Burnaway based in Atlanta. This summer I will be teaching Screenprinting to High School students at the San Francisco Art Institute and to adults at the Kala Art Institution in late August. Somewhere in between I may be assisting a 3 hour quilting class at Workshop SF. Thats all for now.
One last thing, will you make me a quilt for my birthday next month?
HA! One jamming Bday quilt coming up!