Ben Rowe & Jane Phillips | The Artist

Ben Rowe | Batteries Not Included*
Ben Rowe | Batteries Not Included*

… a journey of words; pondering the end of one exhibition and the beginning of another …

In the last post about Ben Rowe we used the phrase, ‘…time has travelled […]’ at Mission Gallery. Indeed, time has travelled and Mission Gallery is preparing for Live Out Loud, an exhibition of paintings by Jane Phillips (1957 – 2011). Jane Phillips was Mission Gallery’s first Director and facilitated the success of Mission Gallery as a venue for presenting contemporary visual art and craft.

—Ben and Jane in the same context?—

It is appropriate to talk about Ben Rowe and Jane Phillips in the same post, as without individuals who believe in supporting young and emerging artists, and pushing art and artists to the forefront of importance amongst art venues (such as Jane) there would be limited opportunities for relatively unknown artists (such as Ben).

The guarantee of success is reasonably achievable when selecting an artist who has an established, or an international reputation, whose work needs no introduction. It is quite another matter to acquire an eye for young and emerging talent, and to generate a successful exhibition based on an artist with little previous exhibiting history.

 However, with guidance from Jane Phillips as Director and Amanda Roderick as Gallery Development Officer, Mission Gallery has developed a reputation for successfully taking risks on young and emerging artists; offering them their first solo exhibitions, allowing talent to flourish and instigating successful careers.

 So what makes an emerging artist stand out from the rest? Or more specifically in this scenario why was Ben Rowe selected for a solo exhibition at Mission Gallery?

—Jane Phillips—

The work of artist Ben Rowe and Director Jane Phillips couldn’t be more aesthetically different. Mission Gallery are about to transform themselves from a gallery of colourless MDF sculpture into a feast of energetic painting with colour theory at the core. Jane Phillips was an individual whose energy, dynamism and love of life and of colour will long be remembered and yet the selected exhibition of Ben Rowe’s work is full of escapism and drained of colour.

 Jane Phillips’ exhibition Live Out Loud allows the viewer to visit the origin of Jane Phillips as an artist of the 1970’s and offers some insight into her artistic ethos. It is here where we can begin to see some of the similarities between her artistic practice and that of the young, emerging artists who have been presented at Mission Gallery.

 Whilst studying at Central School of Painting (now Central St. Martins) during the late 1970’s, Jane’s practice could be termed ‘obsessive’. ‘Obsessive’ is a term that has been heard repeatedly throughout the duration of Ben Rowe’s exhibition, ‘Second Star to the Right and Straight on Until Morning’.

Jane Phillips’ early sketchbooks are filled with repeated drawings of the same line of coast. Drawings that if laid out would form a panorama of a single view point. A development and evaluation of ideas can be tracked through the sketches of repeated imagery. Almost identical sketches of trees appear time and time again and the development of trees into markmaking can be tracked from book to book.  Drawing exercises and colour technique were of paramount importance in the development of Jane Phillips’ practice. We know from peers that Jane confessed to finding very little help from her tutors. Her interest in Josef Albers, ‘Interaction of Colour’ was deeper than a simple interest to read of his knowledge of the subject; Jane was passionate about completing every exercise he offered, in order to gain full knowledge of how colour could work for her.

No painting was ever begun before intense preparatory work and a full understanding of the colour variation intended for use was gained. Paintings that would appear almost fully formed would be evaluated carefully and re-worked appropriately to ensure the desired effect.

 When we are allowed this level of insight into this working process of an ambitious, passionate undergraduate who developed into one of the most dynamic women working in the contemporary arts, we can begin to see similarities in the work of Ben Rowe.

—Ben Rowe—

Ben as an undergraduate produced predominantly found object based work. Ben has stated that this method of working left him feeling disengaged from the making process and frustrated with his lack of instruction from tutors. Just as Jane methodically learned about colour not from her tutors but through Josef Albers exercises, Ben developed his knowledge of handcrafting MDF through watching online videos; following their guidance to develop his knowledge on how he could manipulate MDF to create his own style of craftsmanship.  

 Whilst Jane observed the landscape and trees, Ben watched 1980’s films which have been watched, re-watched and vigilantly researched. Particular transportation devices are chosen from each film and are sketched and designed before any sculptural work commences. The process is methodical and the careful preparatory work is perhaps not apparent to the viewer when observing the final objects presented. Although there is no denying that each piece of work proudly presents a painstakingly accurate technique. With no machinery involved, each piece is carefully hand-carved and often made of hundreds of smaller pieces which are placed together during installation. Each piece of work presented is often the result of anything from four to six months of crafting.

 Upon entering ‘Second Star to the Right and Straight on Until Morning’, the majority of viewers exclaimed just how tempting it was to touch and interact with the work as a result of Ben’s ability to transform MDF. A prime example is how the dull and lifeless MDF can, through Ben’s manipulation, be transformed into a hand-carved flex of wire that has the ability to look fluid and flexible. It is only through obsessive research, preparation and in-depth knowledge of material that this kind of wizardry can be achieved.

—to conclude the pondering—

Through her experience and development as an artist, Jane Phillips had an ability to identify exceptional talent of this calibre before any exhibiting reputation was needed and through his development and continued ‘obsessive’ dedication there is a bright future of exhibiting potential for Ben Rowe.

For any young artist the example of Jane Phillips and Ben Rowe highlights the need for research and preparation in relation to success. For emerging talent it highlights the importance of venues such as Mission Gallery who with Amanda Roderick as successor to historic values and ambassador of new ideas, continue in the ethos of nurturing development, taking risks and presenting visual and applied art from young and emerging artists.

And for Mission Gallery, it highlights how proud we are to be an artist run, artist led contemporary arts venue.


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