A Bluethumb Success Story: Ben Tankard
Five years ago, Bluethumb first met the then surrealist painter Ben Tankard. Based in the picturesque Blue Mountains, Ben Tankard’s reputation as an artist has transitioned from the surreal scenes he initially created, to the abstract phenomena that draw inspiration from classic and current pop culture references. The ‘Popular Penguin’ paperback books, the classic Monopoly board and the household staple Uno have all featured in Ben’s work, taking centre stage through his own process of abstraction. You’ll find his work featured in publications across the country, including Art Edit Magazine, The Grand Designs Australia Sourcebook and the Financial Review.
Indeed, a lot can change in five years. With paintings in some of Australia’s most renowned art prizes and over 400 artworks sold on Bluethumb, Ben has truly made his mark on the Australian art scene.
“I was very lucky to gradually sell more and more, and it got to the point where my day job was holding me back from painting,” Ben recalls. Ben previously worked in retail, but made the jump into an artistic career. “I could actually earn more money by painting full time. It’s still a bit surreal!”
Ben’s career highlights include having his work in internationally celebrated art prizes, such as the Sulman and Mosman. He’s also proud of group shows with artists he finds inspiring. Some of his commission requests have also stayed with him. “I love when someone commissions a painting that really connects with them. Last year I painted a customised Monopoly board filled with illustrations that were meaningful to the buyer and their partner, and they actually used the painting to propose (one of the properties said “Will You Marry Me?”). It’s pretty amazing that someone values your art in that way, making it a part of their life.”
When we last interviewed Ben, he was exploring what we can’t understand, or what’s unprecedented, in his work. “[My] surrealist paintings are actually my ‘original’ style, going back twenty years. The success of my pop art paintings meant that they were sidelined, but I still make an effort to paint one or two a year. I guess they’re about the deeper mystery behind things, ideas that can be painted but not necessarily put into words.” His response to current and world events through pop culture icons is in the midst of an apex in audience. Ben’s own experience of 2020, the ultimate year of unprecedented times, left Ben in new territory.
“I had plans for last year, but by March, everything had changed. My kids were home, my wife was working from home, there was the general sense of anxiety that millions of people had. I thought the wheels would stop turning, economically. Unexpectedly though, art sales went through the roof, with people spending their travel and dining money on their homes. I produced quite a few paintings with the theme of lockdown, isolation, gloom and doom – and they found an audience! I’m very lucky that so many people have a slightly strange sense of humour. Pop culture does directly inspire my work. Dozens of times I’ve heard a song lyric on the radio or Spotify and instantly thought ‘there’s a painting in that!'”
Where this year is taking Ben is still undetermined – as it is for us all – but as always, the artist has a few ideas fit for 2021. “The Penguins are back! I’m taking commissions – any colour, any title, any size. I took a break because I wanted to explore other ideas, but I’ve missed them. Apart from that, I’ll be painting more Monopoly paintings, and hopefully some more other things if time allows. I have too many ideas, but that’s a good problem to have.”
Stay up-to-date with Ben Tankard’s new and revisited themes by following his Bluethumb profile.