Through his solo exhibition, How the West was Lost, Ben Crase reflects on the hidden history of the American west during the 19th Century and the complexity of this region. The Great Plains was distinctive in both its landscape and its people. Through the emergence and development of a capitalist system, communities were displaced and mistreated. The urbanisation of the west brought conflict and destruction of the natural environment. This exhibition of works continues to depict the ‘good guys’ of this era and the legendary pink hat characters portray the sentiment of this time. One may question that the romantic image of the West has been popularised by Hollywood movies and there is another story to be told.
Otomys Contemporary: Ben, we’ve so enjoyed watching your practice develop. How do you think it has changed over time and where to from here?
Ben Crase: Awe thank you for that, it means a lot. I think my practice has changed quite a bit over the past couple of years, hopefully for the better ha. Painting everyday has helped me find things through just working. I feel I’ve been able to put more emotion into such things as hats or even grass for example. I’ve been trying to focus on that, I keep painting or rubbing paint away and then adding more paint or use oil sticks until it makes me feel something. Another thing that has helped me is not having fear of messing up. I’ve found I get better results when I’m able to acknowledge that fear and that’s usually a good sign for me to keep on pushing with the piece. As far as where to from here, I feel I have quite a few ideas to try with my current work but I would love to explore installations and maybe even ceramics in the future. My goal is always to push myself to be better and to be open to anything.
Otomys Contemporary: For so many artists, the pandemic has provided the opportunity to spend more time in the studio and create some of their most exciting work. How has this time impacted your art and how have you managed to stay motivated?
Ben Crase: The Pandemic most certainly had a major impact on my work. I rented my first studio and was starting to devote proper time to painting just before the pandemic started, so my lease has just been extending ever since. I don’t know if that would have happened without the pandemic. I’m so very grateful and know how lucky I am to be able to paint every day. The time that I’ve been able to devote to it for sure has been the most beneficial thing that could have happened for my work. The motivation to paint has only increased since the pandemic as well, I’ve always wanted to be an artist since I was a little kid. I think about painting for most of the day and night, my wife probably finds it quite annoying ha and she has helped me to find some sort of balance which I’m thankful for.
Otomys Contemporary: We know that music is important to you. What artists / bands have you drawn on for inspiration, particularly for the Exhibition Title?
Ben Crase: Awe yes, music is life for me. I find it to be my biggest inspiration. The title actually didn’t come from music but from an old saying I would hear when I was younger “ How The West Was Won” I had this idea to change it to “How The West Was Lost” I feel we didn’t win, we lost when settling the West. We lost in so many ways but mainly I think of how we treated the indigenous peoples so poorly and how we decimated the Buffalo. So for those reasons we didn’t win anything, We lost! We lost an opportunity to be fair and decent humans. As for music that I listen to in the studio I have my staples like Frank Ocean and Radiohead. A few other artists I listened to while making this show were Khruangbin, Issy Wood, Kourosh Yaghmaei, Letta Mbulu, Sade, Cymande, and Suzanne Kraft. I also love this podcast called A brush with. The host Ben Luke will interview a different painter each episode and I’ve learned so much from that podcast. I just love it.
Otomys Contemporary: You have developed a global audience around your characteristic pink hats. There is a deeper meaning to your characters and this period in history. Can you tell us more about this?
Ben Crase: Awe thank you for that, I truly am so grateful for the people who have found a connection with my work. I can’t tell you how much it means to me!! My intent was to NOT glorify the stereotypical western figure. I didn’t want it to be obvious of what I was trying to say. By acknowledging our troubled past hopefully we can learn from it and become better humans. So these figures I paint are the good guys. Their pink hats symbolize equality, empathy, and a sense of understanding.
Otomys Contemporary: When travel becomes possible again, where will we find you?
Ben Crase: Oh boy I can’t wait, first things first I need to take my wife to Hawaii because we weren’t able to go for her birthday because of the pandemic. Next on my list will be my favourite city, London. London is my happy place. I’m so fortunate to have some of my best friends there and the museums and style there just inspire me like no other. I would also love to go to Tokyo, my good friend has been a couple times and I haven’t been yet so that’s high on my list.