Fragility behind the ego, impending death with a hint of optimism. Purple, the colour of creativity, skeletons behind the broken glass. The beauty of the art of Ben Youdan – especially his painting of Frida Kahlo – is that it offers several perspectives to the viewer and the Mexican icon changes throughout the day, the look, the view is constantly morphing dependent on the light. Then there is one of his many depictions of Bowie. The chameleon’s numerous changes of character during his career subtly layered in the background. Glitter, glamour, deep artistry.
10mh took some time to encroach on the mind of this dynamic painter to speak about his work bringing desolate glamour to desolate places.
10mh: Which icon have you not painted yet, that you would really love to?
This is a really hard question to answer. I do get asked this a lot and I always have to think really hard. The answer can change from day-to-day depending on what I am reading or watching. If I answered this question tomorrow it could be different. However, at the moment I am itching to do a portrait of Jackie Collins made from pages from her books and tons of animal-print fabric.
10mh: What makes for a good studio space?
Anywhere I can make a mess. I don’t believe in being tidy and organised in a studio. I graduated from the Quentin Crisp school of housework: ‘After four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.’
10mh: Do you have a ritual once a piece is finished?
Collecting the payment as quickly as possible!
10mh: Do you have a soundtrack of music whilst you are working, if so what?
Not specifically. I do listen to music while I am working; I can’t bear silence. I listen to a lot of different music from Punk to Shirley Bassey. At the moment I am obsessed with Lana Del Rey, especially the lyrics to Art Deco.
10mh: If you could exhibit in any gallery in the world where would it be?
Blimey! I have never really thought about it. I have exhibited in a lot of galleries over the years and the modernist white cube is quite dull. I am most excited about showing work in non-art spaces. I am not religious but I love the idea of exhibiting something in a church, which I have never done. If churches are not just big art galleries full of camp old nonsense then I don’t know what is? I also like the idea of exhibiting somewhere derelict and desolate. To put something really glamorous and precious in a desolate space is really exciting. Like a disused psychiatric hospital or nuclear power station. Chernobyl would be perfect.
10mh: How does your work make you feel in five words?
Must keep going, make more.
10mh: Do you have a favourite piece to date, if not just one, what is it that you like most about your work?
It is difficult to choose. I normally would say that whatever I am currently working on but when I am pressed I always go back to the portrait I made for the April Ashley exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool a couple of years ago. Mostly because I have admired Miss Ashley from a young age and I finally got to meet her many times as a result of the exhibition. It was important for me to have her blessing before I made the painting and she kindly gave it to me. She told me that I should consider myself lucky as she turned down Picasso and Dali!!! In fact I ended up completing two paintings of her. One large work for the exhibition and a smaller portrait I gave to her for her 80th birthday earlier this year.
I like the duality of my work. Some of it is glam and celebratory like the April Ashley painting but I also make work that is much darker and inspired by the dark side of consumerism and popular culture. I have recently finished a piece for an upcoming exhibition which is a portrait of a baby doll’s head made up from images of child killers. I like the way Art (not just mine!) has the ability to bring opposites together to make a new and interesting visual statement that can be celebratory or scathingly cynical or possibly both at the same time.