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Check out Benjy Russell’s Artwork

Today we’d like to introduce you to Benjy Russell.

Benjy, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I was raised outside of a rural farming town in Oklahoma — the type of place where you can see the same wheat field for 20 miles all around you. As a child, I had a very overactive imagination, and when I would play I was constantly looking to create a world that was bigger, prettier, more colorful and full of magic than the place I was in. Once I started making art, this naturally carried over into my work. I set off for Los Angeles in 2003, and that’s when I officially went through the looking glass.

I’m a self-taught artist, so my “education” came from life experiences — by surrounding myself with the most brilliant and loving humans I could find, and absorbing everything that came across my path. I can’t begin to explain the serendipity of how fresh off the truck from Oklahoma, I landed into one of the most energetic, chaotic buildings full of artists, actors, and musicians on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. Cheri Rae of Peace Yoga was undoubtedly the ringleader/matriarch of the building, Shawn Smith, Rya Kleinpeter, Loren Granich and Gregory Nunez (founders of A Club Called Rhonda), Kimi Gortner, Lisa Katnic, and the downtown art staple Gronk.

Since 2008 I’ve been dividing my time between L.A., rural Tennessee and Brooklyn. I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to find the right ratio between country life and city life. I’ve only ever lived in those types of places, and after a while, there are unhealthy aspects to both. In the city, you have access to art and exposure to the spectrum of cultural diversity, but you’re also removed from the subtlety and nuance of nature, the seasons, and solitude. Rural living is so healthy and dreamy — I have a cabin in the mountains of Tennessee — but as an artist, there comes a point in your process when you need a community of other likeminded creatives to talk to and share work with. I believe there’s a sweet spot in there somewhere where the mind, body and soul are all nurtured in the right amount.

We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I’m a photographer, sculptor and director. The bulk of my work has an air of magical realism that leans toward surrealism and science-fiction. This is the language I like to use to unpack social issues that affect me and my loved ones — queer issues, queer desires, toxic masculinity, and elevating the voices of those in our community who suffer from oppression. I’ve found that I prefer to talk about these issues and their struggles from a future perspective. It’s an awfully hopeful and optimistic way to go about things, but it’s easier on my heart and mind to look at these issues as if they’re archaic or extinct. It’s my way of willing them into obsolescence.

I had a show at Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro last year, curated by the exceptionally talented Martabel Wasserman. The work consisted of a film and four futuristic “altars” that were constructed and photographed over energetically important locations. One altar was built and photographed with my frequent collaborator Rya Kleinpeter in San Pedro at the park adjacent to Angels Gate. We built it so that it hovered over a machine-gun turret that was part of the former military facility. The altar, titled “The Reparation of Man,” was meant to channel healing energy for the violence that has been perpetuated by men during warfare.

Have things improved for artists? What should cities do to empower artists?
Finding a practice that is both creatively and financially rewarding is the brass ring we’re all looking for. Unfortunately, we live in a society that doesn’t view the arts as a necessity, even though it’s one of the signifiers of a society and culture that is evolving and progressing.

The other major challenge is having an art world that is reflective of our actual world, and not just representative of those with the most privileged who are allowed to flourish and prosper because they either come from money or benefit from the centuries-old systems that are in place to help them succeed. Especially in a city as diverse as Los Angeles, the representation and visibility of POC and queer artists is important and vital. We have to start by holding our galleries, museums, and art institutions accountable.

Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
In Los Angeles, I have some work at Palevsky in Brentwood. However I show work all over the country — I’m showing work in Austin, Texas, and Brooklyn right now — so the best place to stay up-to-date with where I’m at is through my Instagram. In addition to career updates and new work, there are plenty of photos from my adventures in the mountains, as well as the glitzier trips to the big city.

But my website is really the place to see it all — there’s a wide variety of my work, as well as prints and editions available. Most people have no idea how important it is to buy art from artists. It’s an investment, but it’s one that will not only bring you pleasure and beautify your home, it will help an artist financially perpetuate their ability to continue making art. It’s so important.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.benjyrussell.net
  • Email: benjy.russell.photo@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @benjyrussellphotos

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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