Ben Skinner and Alex Caldwell opened a joint show at Winsor Gallery to much praise last month. This afternoon is the closing reception! Don't miss it. Helen Wong chatted with Ben after a visit to Winsor to get some insight on his works.
You’ve probably walked past an Aritzia store only to gawk at their amazing displays, think googly-eyed plants or inflatable coloured blocks. But do you know the genius behind the glass? Ben Skinner is a man of many talents, balancing his career as a visual artist as well as his position as Art Director of Visual Display at Aritzia. I met Skinner at his studio, which is conveniently located within the production space at Aritzia’s support office, to learn more about his creative process. Having wrapped up a show at the Winsor Gallery, Skinner displayed works that center around his exploration in colour, more specifically, an Yves Klein blue. Viewers are invited to touch the ‘Do Not Touch’ label on the wall which is covered in a material known as flocking. Fuzzy in feel, this material is reminiscent of touch and feel children’s books and is the basis for his series at the Winsor. His works such as Randos, 2016 and Popular Girl’s Names in 1977, 2016 display his characteristic use of text and shape.
As we walk around his studio, Skinner explains the methodological and technical processes needed to create some of his works. Not only is the creative process difficult, but it’s evident that the actual application of materials require years of experience as well. The origin of Skinner’s interest in this colour rested in an idea behind one of Aritzia’s window displays. They coated objects in a paint that dries ultraflat, typically used in movies as a blue screen. Skinner’s works then play with the dichotomy of subtraction and addition on two levels, the negative space present in his work and the literal extraction of the vinyl from the linen canvas. The majority of Skinner’s work is done by hand, "I make my work by hand with the precision of a machine-like quality" Skinner explained. Drawn to the quality of smooth, slick surfaces, this trait is present in almost all of his works.
Delving into the mind of a creative is always interesting. The amount of technical knowledge Skinner holds in relation to materials is astounding. Always experimenting, he showed me a new book he purchased on materials so he could expand his knowledge on different types of plastics. To sum up his fascination with materials, kept hidden away in a drawer, over 100 2-inch cubes sit in perfect rows comprised of various materials. "I'm always on the hunt for new 2 inch cubes, I've made most of them in the studio and have had some gifted to me, or I'll purchase them online" Skinner says. I don’t know if it was the sheer amount, or the way that Skinner housed the cubes, which made them so captivating, but I invite you to check them out on his website. Accompanying Skinner’s obsession with materials, is his use of language. His piece Kiss Me, at the Winsor Gallery, displays a flowchart highlighting different reasons to kiss. Often whimsical in nature, Skinner’s text based work revolve around wordplay and jokes such as “she ticks all the boxes but ticks me off”. Clearly, Skinner is a man devoted to his craft, evident by the close proximity of his artist studio and work. He creates colloquial and conversational pieces that are at once humorous and intellectual. Continually evolving his practise to incorporate new materials and textures, I am a keen follower of his Instagram to keep up with all of his endeavours.