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A Magazine for Sheffield

Ben Ashton: This Month's Featured Artist

Ben Ashton is a visual artist who specialises in hyper-real portraiture, but unlike some painting that is placed in this category, Ben's work tends more towards the hyper than the real. The ghostly light trails of his new installation, The King is Dead, Long Live the King, coupled with the enchanting masks of Norwegian artist Damselfrau, bring an element of mystique to a form which can sometimes be very matter of fact. Though it's an absolute pleasure to feature Ben's paintings, we would like to point out that we have chosen to crop some of them for print. You can see the full pieces on his website. How did your new work come about? The show marks a major turning point in my life: the birth of my son. For me, the creation of new life makes me consider my own mortality as one generation naturally replaces the next. This is not a morbid realisation but an exciting one, and hopefully that is represented in the work. Why have you always chosen yourself and your family as subjects? There are several reasons for this. Firstly, because of the practicality of having these people in my general vicinity when trying out ideas. Secondly, I like the idea of seeing a chronological progression in my body of work over my entire lifetime. I have found artists like Rembrandt of great interest, because you can see him ageing when viewing all the work he has left behind. Finally, I have to really know the people I paint. Painting is a long and very personal process. This is why I don’t do commissions. What was your working process for these new pieces? Do you work from photos? I do tend to use photography as a reference for my paintings. I was experimenting with long exposure photography for this particular series. I wanted to convey a feeling of fluidity whilst hinting at classic poses or attitudes. I also chose to paint all the figures life-sized. I wanted the characters to stand on the same plane as the viewer for maximum impact. My painting process includes a lot of very thin layers of paint applied in varying transparencies. This is what gives these works great depth in the darker areas. We chose to crop some of your images for this magazine, as we felt that presenting full frontal nudity in a free magazine is different to the pieces being shown in a gallery. In particular, society seems desensitised to female nudity but not male nudity. What are your thoughts on this? The reclining female nude has been a staple part of western culture for the entire length of art history. This would probably be quite different if there were as many recognised women painters as there have been men. Either way, this is the reason why we are more comfortable viewing a painting of a naked woman than a man. There is nothing sexual about my use of nudity in this series. Clothes would have just distracted the viewer from looking at the masks, which are the intended focal point. You also collaborate with your wife as art direction team The Fashtons. How does this influence your solo work? Funnily enough, it was during a music video shoot for Daphne Guinness that I conceived the idea for this show. We were using Damselfrau’s masks for Daphne’s song ‘Marionettes’, as they very much suited the atmosphere of the music. We were trying on the masks when we realised the transformative effect they have on your character. They allow you to move in a different way and to be someone else entirely. It’s very easy to isolate yourself as an artist, so these projects allow us to work with all sorts of wonderful creative people who we would never get to meet normally. It’s sometimes hard to see where our collaborative work ends and where my solo work begins, and that’s the way I like it. [imagebrowser id=76] )

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