It is a risky step molding and placing the glass sheets Ben Woodeson uses in his art sculptures. “I go through tons of glass,” Woodeson said. “I break a lot experimenting.” (Christina Stock Photo)
Above: Ben Woodeson at his studio on the Roswell Artist-in-Residence compound northeast of Roswell. Woodeson is showing where in the cast iron sculpture he is going to carefully insert a sheet of glass. (Christina Stock Photo)
Below: Ben Woodeson at his studio on the Roswell Artist-in-Residence compound northeast of Roswell. Woodeson is explaining how he is going to carefully insert a sheet of glass into the cast iron sculpture. (Christina Stock Photo)
Roswell Artist-in-Residence Ben Woodeson’s opening and reception of his exhibit “Midway Between Immortality And Certain Death” takes place Friday at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. The exhibit promises an unnerving experience of the artistic kind.
Stepping into the studio of an RAiR member is always a privilege that I highly recommend for any art lover, if given the chance. It gives people a glimpse into the heart and soul of the artist. When I recently visited RAiR Woodeson for an interview, I didn’t have to enter the exhibit to know that it was going to be an interesting session. “Do not touch anything in my studio. It is dangerous,” Woodeson said.
Woodeson was in the midst of experimenting on how to display his art pieces at RMAC when I visited. Woodeson’s art are balancing acts of glass, cast iron, metal pipes and scraps in all shapes and forms that may break or may injure if touched.
One project is covered in black powder as an artistic giant match. The black powder is safe for the museum, but inherently the material will become unstable and explode.
“Those are time-limited editions,” he said. “When you buy it, you only buy the right to stage it.”
While some of the glass art is safely waiting along the walls and on desks, others are spread out throughout the studio in precarious positions. The long slides of sharp, clear glass balances and is barely attached to contorted cast iron that resembles the sharp hide of a primeval beast. Some of the glass looks so unstable, it might tumble and crash if you only breathe on it.
“My work changes and shifts but realistically, it has always been about seeing how far I could push something,” Woodeson said. “Seeing what the gallery or the institute could let me get away with — what the viewer let me get away with.”
Woodeson’s past exhibits in London were known to be dangerous.
“In some of my works I would electrocute the viewer deliberately with a cattle fence,” Woodeson said and laughed. “It is because I became more and more interested in the psychology of the viewer. If you make something that electrocutes people when somebody comes into the gallery, they get warned by the gallerist. They are scared, at awe and uneasy — which is what I want. But if you got a group, especially in London where they know what I do, it becomes a fairground ride with people deliberately electrocuting themselves or someone else. I probably won’t show those in London anymore because it shifts the dialogue.”
Born and raised in London, England, Woodeson gained a Master of Fine Arts degree at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland.
Becoming an artist came relatively late in his life, although his grandfather had been renowned German-Jewish artist, Jack Billbo.
Bilbo was born Hugo Cyril Kulp Baruch on April 13, 1907 in Berlin, Germany. Bilbo was campaigning against the Nazi regime and fled Germany for England when they came into power. He returned to his native Berlin where he died in 1967.
“I have never met him but I was always surrounded by him,” Woodeson said. “He died when I was two.”
Woodeson has no good memories of his school, which had no art program. Another challenge he faced in school was having dyslexia that was undiagnosed, which made it difficult for him to study.
“I didn’t even know what dyslexia was, not until I got my masters in my ‘40s,” Woodeson said. “I always had a slightly rebellious streak. Authority had to earn my respect. People didn’t get it (respect) because they are old. I was never impolite. I think my teachers would have described me as challenging as well — and I was.”
As an adult, Woodeson didn’t settle down. “My whole work is about challenging people, challenging the view of myself, the institutions — unsurprisingly I went off and did something completely different,” he said. “I rode motorcycles, went around the world. I didn’t go around the world on a bike, but just went around the world being anything and everything else. But I got bored. I was looking for something else.”
Woodeson became interested in graphic design.
He joined the Chelsea College of Arts in London and took its foundation classes with the goal to become a graphic designer. The foundation classes are uniquely British and introduces students to a variety of artistic classes, giving them a “foundation in the arts.”
When Woodeson took a sculpture class, he realized graphic design wasn’t for him.
“It (the sculpture class) was everything brilliant rolled into one. It was like sex, good books, a glass of wine, a cup of tea and a comforter. It was everything good all squeezed into one thing. It was mind blowing.
“After only one week I knew I would be doing that for the rest of my life. It was an extraordinary feeling. It was in 1993 and I was 28 years old and I have worked ever since,” Woodeson said.
He doesn’t want to be called a sculptor.
“I could call myself sculpture and easily have that dialogue but, by calling myself sculptor as an artist, I am framing the discussion.”
Woodeson found out about the RAiR program from his friend, Carol Lambert.
“She has been living here (in the U.S.) for 13 plus years,” Woodeson said. “She is one of my contacts and she was my manager when I did a previous fellowship.
“She said to me, ‘What about Roswell?’ ‘You mean the alien place?’ I asked. Of course, that is all everybody knows. She said, ‘It’s an amazing residency I always wanted to do but never had the time.’”
Asked if the upcoming exhibit would be dangerous, Woodeson said, “In this show is nothing that is particulary dangerous. I have done those dangerous works really thoroughly.
“I am not a psychopath,” Woodeson said. “I don’t have no interest in hurting somebody. If I pushed it further that was where it would end up. I am not interested in that. The exhibit is very challenging to the health and safety of the people, still it is quieter. Eight years ago some of my work was shouty. This is becoming more subtle but it still has that ‘It could hurt you — it could be hurt.’ I use a lot of sheet glass, a lot of weights, it is a mass, gravity, hard and soft materials, brittle things.
“I test it on myself. Especially if I do an artist talk,” Woodeson said. “In science there were those little pieces of paper (litmus paper), you would test acidity with. I am the litmus paper, or a miner’s canary (miner’s canary birds were used in mines to warn the people if toxic gas was present in the deep coal miner’s shafts).
“When I work and am excited or uneasy from it (his art), then I feel it is getting somewhere interesting,” Woodeson said. “I want people to be challenged, interested, stimulated and engaged. I am not interested if somebody walks up to it and goes ‘cute.’ The work is shifting, which I thought is interesting. Because before it was very dangerous. It’s going through this metamorphosis. We were actually vulnerable to the work. Now the work is becoming the vulnerable part.”
Woodeson had positive experiences in Roswell.
“The Roadrunner Glass and Roswell Recycling have been hugely helpful. They have been providing the metal work. Roadrunner Glass is keeping for me the glass off-cuts,” he said.
“Unsurprisingly, I break a lot of glass. I test the glass, seeing what its breaking point is, how much pressure it is able to endure,” Woodeson said.
“After the exhibition I have four and a half months left in the program,” Woodeson said. “I am friends with the cast iron as material. I will be able just to think, experiment and if nothing comes out of it, that is fine too. I have made so much work that isn’t like anything I have made before.
“I want to push myself further. The work is challenging, but now I really want to challenge myself. I clear out a lot. I think I will be gluing glass together, assembling geometric shapes that will be sharp, fragile, hard to hang, hard to use. It will be provocative. The word I use to describe it is precarious. Anything I do is precarious. I am not interested in making something that is stable. Stable, inert, those are negative word for me. It is something on the edge of not existing.
“I have no idea what I will do next year, but it has been brilliant being here,” Woodeson said.
Woodeson has exhibited extensively in Europe and North America. His work has been shown in galleries, institutions and spaces throughout the UK, Europe, North America and Japan.
Recent exhibitions include the William Bennington Gallery in London in 2016, The Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2015, Berloni Gallery in London in 2015, England & Co. Gallery in London in 2014, Victoria & Albert Museum in 2014 and Mead Gallery in Coventry, U.K., in 2013.
Woodeson’s art captured the attention of critics and was featured in a wide variety of art publications, including Elephant, GQ and Art monthly, to name a few.
Woodeson recently curated “Morphisisation” for the APT Gallery in London, a critically acclaimed exhibition examining the work of artists for whom pre-existing objects are the raw or source material. To follow Woodeson’s future art projects, visit woodeson.co.uk.
Woodeson will talk about his work on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Marshall and Winston Gallery at RMAC, 100 W. 11th St. The event is open for the public and free of charge. After the lecture, a RMAC members preview and reception will follow at 6 p.m.
For more information, call 575-624-6744.
Vision editor Christina Stock can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 309, or firstname.lastname@example.org.