My friend­ship with Ben Gar­ner goes back to 2007, when we met at a bar named Can­vas Lounge. We were both hired to work as the VIP hosts for a New York influ­enced min­i­mal­is­tic and mod­ern venue. Between deal­ing with drunks and inter­pre­tive danc­ing, Ben and I got to know each other bet­ter and became friends. A cou­ple of years later, I moved out of the coun­try and Ben and I took dif­fer­ent direc­tions in our lives and careers. Hav­ing returned home I’ve come back to chat with Ben and catch up on time lost. Sit­ting down at his home and stu­dio work­space I get to hear what he’s been up to, learn more about his art and get crotched-sniffed by his new pure bread boxer, Othello.

Ben Garner at his home studio.
Ben Gar­ner at his home stu­dio.

SAD MAG: It’s been a long time, Ben! It’s great to be here and catch up with you.  

BEN GARNER: Yes, def­i­nitely! I’m excited to be chat­ting with you.

SM: It sounds like you’ve had sev­eral busy years while I was away. But before we get into any of that, let’s talk a bit about your back­ground. How and where did the story of Ben begin?

BG: Well, I’m 34 years old and I was born in Phoenix, Ari­zona. I grew up in a place called La Quinta in Cal­i­for­nia, which peo­ple com­monly make ref­er­ence to when I tell them that it’s about 20 min­utes from Coachella. When I was in sec­ond grade my Mom, Dad, brother, sis­ter and I moved to West Van­cou­ver. Grow­ing up I was involved with act­ing and mod­el­ling. I took mod­el­ing classes at Blanche Mac­Don­ald before it was even a thing. In my teens we moved back to Cal­i­for­nia where I got heav­ily involved with the­atre. Grow­ing up I always knew I had to be cre­atively involved somehow…when I was 18 years old I moved back to Van­cou­ver to attend Stu­dio 58… this is where my life really started to take off in a whirlwind.

SM: Tell me more about that.

BG: Com­ing back to Van­cou­ver I moved in with a total pot­head chick named Elena. We lived down­stairs while two les­bians and an East Indian dude who walked with one leg lived upstairs. Once I had set­tled into my new found free­dom I started going to gay clubs. Elena and I were doing acid together-we did it every week­end for a month until we had a really weird trip in the Real Cana­dian Super­store and never did it again. I kind of felt like this was the ini­ti­a­tion stage of enter­ing into the ‘real’ world. It wasn’t that I had been detached from real­ity but I had finally birthed into my own per­cep­tion of it. [And] this new perception-between hal­lu­ci­na­tions and hidings-would feed my desire to be some­where else other than in the bor­ing mun­dane 9 to 5 real­ity that I thought the world to be; I needed to believe the world I lived in was a mag­i­cal place…

SM: So you had this awak­en­ing, you were try­ing to find your ground and make sense of the world and you real­ized you needed to be in a place that allowed your mind to expand. Am I hear­ing that right?

BG: Yes, absolutely. And even though I was sort of mak­ing some good progress in terms of com­ing into my own, into being Ben, I was going about it in a very dis­il­lu­sioned way. I began to have typ­i­cal gay rela­tion­ships and expe­ri­ence the highs of the nightlife com­bined with the low­est of lows… I strug­gled with depres­sion and sui­cide many times… I was hos­pi­tal­ized a num­ber of times and my per­sonal life grew very dif­fi­cult, espe­cially as my sis­ter was killed in a car crash only one month after I tried to take my own life…after trav­el­ing all over the states and expe­ri­enc­ing more chaos in my life, I came back to Van­cou­ver again. I was 23 years old and got into crys­tal meth with a friend who offered me a place to stay…I quickly relied on the drug as it proved to be the only way I could still believe that fan­tasy world I longed to live in…Looking back I was just afraid of life…and myself.

SM: So what hap­pened next?

BG: [Well], after some time I was not [con­sid­ered] safe to func­tion in real­ity. I was picked up by ambu­lance sev­eral times and treated for psychosis…I very quickly became detached from any kind of real­ity. I truly was crazy…[and amidst all of this] every­thing around me was speak­ing to me. I was con­stantly try­ing to fig­ure out some hid­den mean­ing, some intri­cate for­mula for life…after months and month of manic behav­iour I finally hit the bot­tom; there was nowhere else to go in my head. I began to pull myself into a dif­fer­ent direc­tion. I sobered up, got a job and went to back to col­lege. I began tak­ing classes again which sparked my inter­est in art and cre­ativ­ity. I went away on a travel abroad art his­tory pro­gram for two months in Europe and upon return­ing I decided to enroll in Emily Carr.

SM: Wow, that’s quite a lot that you worked through. How empow­er­ing! So tell me about your project(s) with Emily Carr and how they came to be.

BG: My time with Emily Carr was extremely reward­ing. I was com­mis­sioned to work with Sumac Ridge for the launch of one of their new wine labels, had a chance to work with Bob Ren­nie and the Ren­nie Col­lec­tion in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Union Gospel Mis­sion to pro­duce art for their new cafe­te­ria which I ended up being the spokesper­son for Emily Carr dur­ing that project. Most recently, I grad­u­ated and pre­sented my grad piece at The Show, which has now become a con­tin­u­ing and well-received artwork…I have been explor­ing and ref­er­enc­ing man­dalas through­out my stud­ies at Emily Carr as they best rep­re­sent my worldly experiences-my grand psy­chosis. You see, I’m always going to be psy­chotic; now I just know how to live in the real world as one.

BenGarner2
Ben show­ing me how his man­dalas ate typ­i­cally made; Oth­ello rest­ing on the couch.

SM: Can you tell me more about the mandalas?

BG: Sure. Man­dalas are cos­mo­grams: maps of the uni­verse. In Bud­dhism and other East­ern philoso­phies they are used for med­i­ta­tion to con­tact higher aware­ness, states of being or enlight­en­ment. My project started as a series of ink draw­ings and moved to large-scale coloured geo­met­ric pat­terns resem­bling star­burst. I remem­bered learn­ing about an artist who used his blood to make statue busts of him­self and it inspired me to think about my own iden­tity, espe­cially when my last course before grad was a Queer The­ory course. I decided blood was the only way I could gen­uinely rep­re­sent all of an indi­vid­ual in the truest form. I took on my grad project and con­structed these blood man­dalas, of myself and oth­ers. The project spoke to me and pro­vided an oppor­tu­nity to exam­ine myself inter­nally and see that all of my expe­ri­ences could be brought to this one piece, this one place, with my own blood. It then also became my gift to oth­ers, to use their blood and cre­ate a por­tal from their real­ity, their DNA, and tran­scend the inner work­ings into the world of the spirit.

SM: So where are your man­dalas now? And what’s next for Ben Garner?

BG: Until last week my man­dalas were on dis­play at the Wind­sor Gallery. I cur­rently have three test tubes in my fridge of the blood of oth­ers, wait­ing to be trans­formed into a man­dala. I plan to fin­ish 8 more and present another show­ing in the weeks to come.Ater that we’ll see where things can go and until then, I’m con­tin­u­ing to fol­low this jour­ney and am fix­ated on my [bur­geon­ing] career as an artist.

Ben standing with one of his featured blood mandalas.
Ben stand­ing with one of his fea­tured blood man­dalas.

After we fin­ished our con­ver­sa­tion, Ben showed me some of his works in progress as well as other abstract can­vas art he has been work­ing on. For more infor­ma­tion or to fol­low Ben’s work find him at online and on Insta­gram.

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