- Date: 8 October 2009
- Artform: Visual arts
- Region: South West
With the assistance of a grant of £8,577 from Arts Council England, South West through Grants for the arts, Ben has been able to work closely with the Eden Project and internationally renowned Cornish companies, Homeblown Surfboards and Sustainable Composites to develop his ‘landscape paintings’ and to design a large scale installation based on the iconic 1969 work by German artist Joseph Beuys, The Pack.
From being a child, artist Ben Cook had dreamt of living by the sea. In 2004 he made the move to Cornwall after many years in Manchester and what he found inspired him.
Having spent much of his adult life in Manchester, first as a student and then as a professional artist, moving to Cornwall was a leap into the unknown but it soon became clear that the landscape was going to be a major influence on Ben’s work. He explains ‘I wanted to make landscapes that referenced popular culture, which has always been a huge influence on my work. I found I could do this by using fabrics and other materials that come from the world of surfing'.
Ben’s first ‘landscape paintings’ were made using polyurethane foam, fibreglass resin and neoprene, (materials used to manufacture modern day surfboards and wetsuits). They were shown at the Exeter Phoenix galleries in the spring of 2006 and this proved to be a pivotal point in the work’s development. A visitor to the exhibition pointed out that contrary to its healthy lifestyle image, surfing is damaging to the marine ecology due to the highly toxic materials used in the production of surfboards and the toxicity of the boards themselves. Inspired, Ben approached Homeblown Surfboards and Sustainable Composites and explained he was interested in developing his work using non-toxic materials.
Ben continues ‘The Arts Council grant gave me the breathing space and time to explore and develop my new work. I want to raise awareness of ecological issues relevant to the surfing community in the south west through the work I am doing and to provide a fresh perspective on landscape painting. The works deliberately provoke people to ask, “What does it represent? What is going on?” ’
Show at Eden
The new work featured hybrid pieces – part sustainable, part plastic - to reflect where the surfing industry is at and the continuous shift and improvement in eco- technologies will be documented through his work as both grow and develop. The landscape pieces were shown in the Education Space with The Pack in the California section of the Mediterranean biome to signpost visitors to the exhibition.
The Pack is a seminal piece Beuys described as exploring the concept of human survival in the face of technological failure. In the work, 24 sledges resembling a pack of dogs spill from the back of a VW camper van. Each sledge carries a survival kit made up of a roll of felt, a lump of animal fat and a torch.
In his version Ben substituted these original components for a renovated surfers’ VW camper van, old surfboards, discarded wetsuits and surfwax, successfully combining popular cultural and art historical references. To accompany the exhibition, he will also be running workshops exploring issues of sustainability and surfing.
For further information about Ben Cook’s work.