Benjamin Tankard Interview, the modern surrealist.
Bluethumb artist Ben Tankard lives in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, NSW. He likes to paint with acrylics and oils, on canvas and board. His modern surrealistic style is inspired by Rick Amor, Mark Tansey, Nicholas Harding, Robert Hannaford, Paco Pomet and many others. Most of his paintings are desert landscapes, in which isolated figures interact with enigmatic ruins and structures. Ben is interested in how people respond to what they cannot understand, or are unprepared for. Other concerns include environmentalism (the giant eco light globes) and the long-running military interventions in the Middle East.
So Ben, what makes you want to create art/what inspires you?
Just about everything. Current affairs, philosophy, books, other people’s art, graffiti, rocks, concrete blocks, the sky. Inspiration is everywhere. Artists like Jeffrey Smart taught people how to see beauty in concrete crash barriers and traffic signs. Traffic jams become more bearable if you have that kind of appreciation for your surroundings.
We love your painting ‘The end of the day’. What inspired this one?
Humans have evolved with a deep capacity for wonder. I’m a skeptical person but I still enjoy the feeling of mystery and of confronting the unknown, and painting is how I exercise that part of my brain, where other people might meditate or pray. This painting, and many of my others, often feature people looking out at surrealistic scenes – they’re ordinary people in strange places, confronted with strange sights. How would you react if you saw the horizon fracturing, or pillars of stone hovering in the air? I’m interested in that feeling of confronting the unknown. It’s a blend of wonder, of peacefulness, confusion, and also a hint of menace.
Do you like to take on commission work, or mainly paint what you like/feel at the time?
I love to take commissions. Apart from paying the bills, they exercise my skills, pushing me to paint subject matter I wouldn’t normally choose. You learn something from every painting. Last year I was commissioned to paint an abstract painting, and I ended up producing three of them. It was a matter of experimentation. Creating a good-looking abstract painting is probably a lot harder than most people would expect. I learned a lot about handling paint, different effects from layering, etc. Having said that, I always have plenty of ideas of my own. There’s a waiting list of ideas in my brain that I can’t wait to get down on canvas.
What are 3 pieces of art from any artists that have an influence on you and your work?
Manet’s ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe’ – the application of paint is beautiful, and the composition is very strange. The woman at the top is too large, the perspective is quite unreal. The painting is almost like an illusion. It’s not a real place that you could walk into. I always have Manet’s paintings in mind when I’m painting water, and flesh. Manet’s brushstrokes are always visible, and his paintings often appear unfinished, but always vivid and energetic.
Guy Maestri’s work is a big inspiration to me. He can paint quite realistic paintings, sepia-toned, based on photographs. He also paints very colourful, expressive, dynamic landscapes. You’d almost think they’re the work of two different artists. He doesn’t restrict himself to one style or to one type of subject matter. He seems to want to express ideas, but also to really lash out with his brushwork. You don’t have to restrict yourself to one or the other. In the same way, I feel free to paint both bright pink skulls and pale grey landscapes.
The paintings of Nicholas Harding are an influence too. He’s extremely generous with his paint, it’s very sculptural. He achieves a lot with very broad brushstrokes. His figures are very believable, despite being crafted from such thick paint.
Do you collect art, if so whats your favourite piece? can you show us?
I have a great print of a Jessica Brilli painting. I mainly collect prints, but I get originals when I can. I have a wishlist of artists I would like to collect, including Richard Claremont, my fellow Sulman finalist Maz Dixon, and Bluethumb artist Steve Warburton. Saving my pennies!
Who is your favourite Australian Artist and why?
It’s impossible to choose just one. Guy Maestri, Robert Hannaford, Nicholas Harding, Laura Jones, Ben Smith, Matthew Quick, Jason Moad, Abdul Abdullah, and a few dozen others. Australia has a lot of world-class artists, including some of the best photo-realist painters in the world.
Ben currently has paintings in the show ‘Guarding the Home Front’ at Casula Powerhouse in Sydney. It’s a group show with contemporary artists such as Guan Wei, Fiona Hall and Michael Peck, as well as paintings from the Australian War Memorial, including works by Sidney Nolan and George Lambert. The show runs until the 17th of May. I also have paintings on show at the Norman Lindsay Gallery Cafe in Faulconbridge, until the 26th of May. Keep up to date with Ben’s creations on his website: http://www.benjamintankard.com/