You know you’re in for a treat when an artist’s portfolio includes, on its doorstep, a mailing address for a pair of anaglyph glasses (that’s the red/green ones we made do with as children, for those who need a reminder). Steeped in vintage quirk, Ben Strawn is undoubtedly a talent to watch. Holding a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Arkansas, he is refreshingly blunt about his attitude towards his own career, saying:
“Sometimes working on an art career feels like going to clown school to learn how to laugh. If you have to make it happen you probably don’t deserve it”.
His online approach is seemingly chaotic, which somehow suits the pre-technology world his art seems to live in, but navigating it is well worth it.
Kitsch is a word which, for many of us, conjures up images of tacky iconography, the advertising boom, the Bakelite and plastics of the early 1900s – or, alternatively, ‘outsider art’ and all the negative connotations that term carries – but here in Strawn’s gallery, the word seems absolutely fitting for the marriage of nostalgia and surrealism on display; his work wears the word in a way which makes it look good. Beyond a tastefully rendered series on real-life historical freak show attractions and the aforementioned 3D works, of most interest here is the Window Box Paintings section of his portfolio, where the majority of his work is on display.
Rendered on layered acrylic sheets in what appear to be vintage picture frames or – as the name suggests – window boxes, the viewer is presented with another freak show or carnival of sorts; a whale carousel on the back of a drum-shelled tortoise like some Americana parody of the world-turtle of Hindu myth; woodland bugs and animals in their natural habitat, albeit interpreted as primary-coloured playthings; other, more abstract imagery – a man with a birdcage head, his neck sprouting bare branches. The layering adds a subtle depth to the works, as if looking into a cage with a painted background, as well as a tangible quality one can’t help but appreciate, especially when viewing art through a screen, rather than having the chance to see it ‘in the flesh’, as it were.
I find it highly intriguing to come across an artist with the talent and quirk-appeal to make it big, who prefers to let the art – rather than the artist – do the pushing for success, and is happy to wait for it to come. Personally, if this is kitsch, then count me in.