The Neon of Ben Livingston: My first artist interview

I have been doing artist features about once a day and I really enjoy doing them. I have decided to evolve these into once a week interviewing a specific Artist. Today I planned on continuing my interest in artists that work with neon. Ben Livingston is a neon artist who really has an incredible selection of work in his portfolio. Ben was nice enough to answer a few of my questions which I am sharing with you.

Dave: So who is Ben Livingston?

Ben: Those blogs are pretty much who Ben Livingston is.

Dave: What drew you to neon?

Ben: I like to draw and in 1980 I was working at The Washington Project for The Arts in DC, I saw a sign where The Dutch Masters were outlined in neon; it occurred to me that maybe I could draw with light! The rest is history.

Dave: Did you ever work under another artist to learn your skills?

Ben: Skills??? No, But I did do a long apprenticeship under two neon master craftsmen, however, they were not artists. Artists don’t really exchange skill sets… Mentoring –Yes! They mostly gave me philosophical advice and taught me how to refine what I was doing to promote myself more professionally as an artist… Stephen Antonokos, Jesus Morales, Jan Moyer, Pebbles Wadsworth, Rudi Stern, Madelin O’Connor, John Christensen, Gary Martin

Dave: If someone was interested in working with neon what direction would you point them?

Ben: My Studio for a demo and then they’re on their own.

Dave: Where do you feel art is going?

Ben: Universities have drifted from the evocative romance of a liberal arts education towards something that more resembles a vocational school thanks to the lure of superficial careers based on money and science.
In other words, one used to go to school driven by humanness and curiosity, now they seem driven more by materialism & Desire.

In a similar way, I feel that the definition of “Artist” is changing. On one hand, an ageless traditions of expressions that are conceived through reflection as a refinement of unique filter through which only that artist experiences and recreates the world; And on the other hand it seems technology as a medium, like craft is all about pushing the limits of a material. I find this to be relatively void of intrinsic human condition other then exuding a deep sense of loneliness and isolation that seems to come from some sort of engineering burnout, or what I call “BNS” or Burnt Out Nerd Syndrome. The “BNS” Mecca would be aptly named burning man… Which I always thought should have been called “Burnt out Man”. I conclude, the problem with “BNS” Art seems driven by the desire to be and look cool and impress others “VS” the old school where the ultimate goal is simply to please one’s self
I think western philosophies have turned the pursuit of making art into a “better mousetrap” Game and this is primarily why we are culturally confused about what art is.

Dave: What type of people purchase your work?

Ben: Museums, Corporate & Private Collectors

Dave: What is the subject of your work?

Ben: Nature, The human experience, the force & fragility of life and the spirit of creativity

Dave: Is there symbolism behind your color choices?

Ben: No symbols… Spontaneity is the loudest voice of the muse.

Dave: How are you using web technology to promote your work?

Ben: I have a website that is 9 or 9 years out of date… It does just fine…
I like to use blogs to work out bigger ideas without using paper, although hand writing and drawing in journals activates far more creativity as it feels like a much more soulful and organic experience.

Dave: Thank you for your time Ben. Your work is amazing!
Update... This interview continued via email. It actually got pretty interesting.
Dave: This is perfect. Your work looks different now that I have a glimpse of what you believe art is. Thank you for your time quick reply.
Ben: I hope that you still like it...
Dave: Oh for sure. It is interesting. I have a fine arts degree and when Iwas applying to art schools some of the art schools actually pridethemselves on being able to get "real" jobs. They said they couldprepare artists for the real world. I have this battle inside me allthe time.
I also find it interesting that you feel this way about technology yet to some artists your work could seem very technologically andscientifically leaning.
Ben:Good point David.
My father used to refer to this kind of thing as "paradoxical insanity".
That said, I basically had to learn all that shit just so I could get to the pretty lights.
I suppose if I could have found what I was looking for at the shopping mall, I'd a bought them there and saved myself a lot of trouble.. LOL
Similarly, I received an NEA fellowship because I was trying to figure out how to create a sublte continuum of colors, like an opal.. I didn't give a flip about all that R&D, I just needed neon to imatate nature more accurately.
So I ground up a bunch of phosphorescent rocks and shoved them in tubes and fired them up till I liked what I saw. It's only science because it became a technique that is repeatable...BTW, that twisted neon stick on your blog was my final report for the fellowship containing everything that I learned using your tax dollars in one shot..
In short, "necessity is the mother", is what it always seems to boil down to for me and my lazy ass..
Dave: Very funny. I guess its not where you end, up but how you get there and why that matters?!?


Ben said...

Dear David,

I hope that your readers enjoy what seems to me now (after the fact) a tiny bit antagonistic towards technology and art. What I really mean is:

Make sure that what ever you do ultimately makes you feel happy.

Best wishes in your new career as an interviewer. I hope that makes you feel happy too!


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