“I never really plan on realizing any image in particular when I start a painting. I just paint, sand, and rotate the canvas until something I like to look at stands out and convinces me that it’s actually important.”
Eben, how did your time in Mali affect not only your art but the way you see the world?
That’s a good question. One that I have actually given much thought. The way it informed the work I was doing was great but also distracting, I suppose. I guess it made me feel a little more casual. The time I spent there making friends and spending time with people and places was very slow and relaxing. The only thing on the agenda really was to drink tea and beers with people I just recently met. It made me realize the value of simple objects as well. There was one school out in the Dogon that I went to with a few friends to give out some supplies. This tiny room was packed with close to 90 or 100 students. There was one teacher, she was pregnant and holding a small child. It was clear how hard she must have been working. About 20 minutes into the experience, we ran out of supplies and had to dip into our own notebooks and sketchbooks, tearing out single pieces of paper, just so some of the kids could have something. It was a very moving experience, considering how grateful these children were for a torn piece of paper, an empty plastic water bottle or a half-used Bic pen.
Can you tell me more about your film project with Lilian Harden?
I’m not entirely sure if I would call it “profound”, but studying in art school really taught me to work. Work Work Work all the time. That’s certainly the most important thing I took away from it. I certainly would not be the same artist without the time I spent at Montserrat. A strong work ethic, however, is not the only thing, though. I learned how to make effective illustrations and market myself as such, enabling me to find work pre and post graduation. I learned multiple print processes that I still apply to my work now, as well as just learning how to have a conversation with people about art. If I was going to say I took something profound away from my time at school, i would have to say it is the ability I acquired while there to have a conversation.
That’s a hard question. I can’t name one, and doing so is dangerous. If you spend too much time looking at one person, you end up painting yourself into a corner and it’s very hard to get out. I attempt to look at everything that interests me. Trying to keep a wide spectrum is healthy, in my opinion. I feel like Robert Crumb and Francis Bacon influence my work as much as Beyonce or African Bush Music. Alchemy, Trepanation and the circus. Saturday morning cartoons and Persian miniature paintings. It’s too hard or even pointless to arrange all of these things into a hierarchy.
I never really plan on realizing any image in particular when I start a painting. I just paint, sand, and rotate the canvas until something I like to look at stands out and convinces me that it’s actually important. I like to create characters and suggest a narrative with the titles of paintings. After I was finished with that painting, the portrait of the figure looked a like a retired astronaut with a ratty old helmet that just needed something else to do with his time ’cause he no longer could be a pilot.
Because it inspires.
When you create drawings or paintings on walls of a gallery space, what happens to that work once the event at the gallery is over?
They are painted over. It’s important I think, to not fetishize images and objects you create. It just forces you to enjoy the process of making even more. In a way, that’s all you have if you know you’re making something ephemeral or temporary.
I currently live in Philadelphia and was told that Philadelphia has the most public art per capita … Can you tell me more about your Kirkland Avenue Project and your thoughts on why public art is so important for metropolitan cities?
I love public art, frankly because people see it more. I don’t really know too many people who go to contemporary art galleries frequently. But if there’s an 18 by 30 foot painting on the side of the fish market downtown,,people are gonna see it. Some people aren’t gonna like it, But they are still gonna see it. It’s hard for images to inspire people if they are never seen and art in the public domain for the most part eliminates that hurdle. Before people can support local or contemporary art, they need to see it first.