Follow Your Art: Ben Venom quilts with heavy metal tshirts

Quilt by Ben Venom
Quilt by Ben Venom

by Susan W. Pidgeon

Every artist wants to find a niche that makes them stand out from the crowd. Something interesting, unique and intriguing that helps people gravitate towards them and ultimately want to purchase their work.

Sometimes the story behind the work is just as important as the work itself. A huge painting carried up a mountain on the back of a donkey is way more interesting than a painting delivered by UPS.

Ben Venom uses quilts as a canvas

A new show entitled Down and Dirty is currently being shown at The Southern located on Charleston’s peninsula.  The show features artist Ben Venom who uses quilting to achieve his artistic vision. A man quilting is interesting enough, but he is an artist that uses a quilt as canvas where he sews recycled heavy metal tshirts into bold images.

I watched several videos of Ben Venom being interviewed by big names such as NPR and Playboy. I learned he got interested in quilting after seeing an art show at the de Young Museum with quilts by the women in Gees Bend, Alabama. Venom had already been doing jackets and large scale flags in graduate school and the quilt was a natural progression for him.

Venom taught himself how to sew and things went from there. He sews all of his work himself and does not farm it out to ” a group of old ladies in the basement” as he jokes about in one video. He credits his DIY lifestyle to influences such as the heavy metal rock scene in Atlanta in the 90’s as well as to his father.

Quilt by Ben Venom
Quilt by Ben Venom
The wholesome collides with fringe culture

Ben Venom states his work could be summed up in one word : Collision. He says it represents the docile, soft, cuddly, wholesome connotations of sweet ladies quilting colliding with the fringe culture of heavy metal, tattoo artists, the occult, and motorcycle gangs. How in the world he could put those two disparate groups together in an artwork would seem beyond human capabilities yet he manages to do so.

Currently at The Southern the work seems less energetic than some of the work I saw online. Venom’s work is very bold and yet symmetrically pleasing. He has a mastery of form and places his symbols strategically around the quilt. The use of various patterned and textured materials within the design makes one think of Matisse’s love of fabrics.

The fact that it is sewn together fades into the background as the bold image takes center stage. The heavy stitch work adds a certain element that competes with surrounding areas such as heavy metal names and occult imagery hidden within pockets of the image. In short, these are not your grandma’s quilts.

Kevin Earl Taylor excels at narrative art
Painting by Kevin Earl Taylor showing animals and a shark with flowers in its jaws
Painting by Kevin Earl Taylor

Hanging nearby on the adjacent walls is the work of Kevin Earl Taylor. He and Venom met at the skateboarding art show in Atlanta and have been friends ever since. His paintings have an interesting narrative element to them. In what could easily be another cheesy animal painting, Taylor manages to give legitimacy to the various species shown. I found myself coming up with stories behind each one.

For instance, a shark is seen busting through the ice holding a bouquet of flowers in it’s razor sharp mouth while various animals look on. In my mind, I envisioned it to be a warning for a girl not to date a certain man. The “shark’s” potential to be dangerous and even deadly to her and the others is front and center: do not be fooled by the lovely flowers. Focus on the capacity for harm his teeth hold.

I marveled at the completed aspect each painting seemed to have. To add any more would be too much. Taylor is an expert at form but the story held within each image is what captivated me.

Pen and ink by Nikki Scioscia
Pen and ink by Nikki Scioscia
Nikki Scioscia creates She Speaks: Tales from the Earth and Sky

Lastly, a third artist’s work is in the hanging wall display. Her name is Nikki Scioscia and she does detailed drawings in black and white that reminded me of the patterned fabric used in Venom’s work.

The minute detail is admirable and she takes the viewer on a journey into the spirit realm. The work is called She Speaks: Tales from Earth and Sky.

The Southern is between the old Meeting Street Piggly Wiggly and the old KFC for you locals who have been here awhile. If you are like me, you never heard of Carlson Court until they opened a few years ago. The show Down and Dirty is at The Southern until June 2nd. Stop by if you get a chance.

Susan W. Pidgeon, MFA is the owner of The Studio Art Center on Fort Johnson Rd where she teaches private lessons and art classes to adults and children. She received her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2001 and has been teaching ever since. She has taught for the City of Charleston and Charleston County as well as The Artists Loft in Mt. Pleasant. She lives on and loves James Island. You can reach her at (854)202-5394 or thestudioartcenter@gmail.com. You can find her at www.thestudioartcenter.com or her Yelp/FB/Twitter or Instagram pages as well.

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