Interview with Ben Brown

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The work of illustrator and artist Ben Brown is loaded with pop culture iconography that has been given a trademark BB makeover. Be it Jack White with a flesh-eating disease, a zombified Elvis or Kelly Slater as Beelzebub complete with horns and tail, it is obvious Ben is having fun with what he does. This light-hearted humour that Ben applies to his work has not only been commissioned by every cool rock band to come to town in the last 20 years but it has also been a big part of the visual history of the surf and skate industry. As Ben claims, “My work never has any underlying message.” So no matter how hard you study his deft pen and ink illustrations, they claim no deep hidden meanings, no references to secret texts, underground religions or satanic cults. You’ll have to look to Disney for that.

Hi Ben, today MoW selected 4 of your artworks inspired by music. Can you tell MoW what was the music behind the artworks ? What inspired you to create them ?

These are all t-shirt and packaging designs commissioned by Australian bands. They are all quite heavy / loud rock bands - so the images reflect their individual sounds.

• Damage Zone are a band that play hardcore punk skate thrash - a throw back to the 1980’s

• Chainsaw Hookers are tough hard rock mongrels - descendants of AC DC - this art was for a 7” vinyl single cover and t-shirt print.

The Sure Fire Midnights are five hard rocking ladies that put on a fantastic live show - this too is a t-shirt print.

`Why is music important to you and your art? 

I grew up surfing and skateboarding and playing in bands with my friends. It is just part of the cultural landscape. Music went hand in hand with most of the things we did for fun as kids.

If you had to choose between the artworks presented today, which of your artwork would be your favorite ? And why ?

Probably the Grinspoon print. It is a clear reference to Big Daddy Roth - I have loved his hot rod art since I was a little kid. Grinspoon are a more mainstream hard rock act - this was a t-shirt print for a touring festival called ‘The Big Day Out’

Can you tell MoW more about the techniques you used. How old is your technique? How did it start? How long does it take you to make an artwork ?

Its pretty standard / old school technique. I draw up my ideas in pencil on paper, then ink up a clean version on paper and scan that in to the computer to add colour, clean up and send off to the printer / client etc. - I am normally working on a few things at once - so it is hard to say how long it takes - but generally a day or two to finish up pieces like this.

Do you have plans on creating new artworks inspired by music ?

Yes - A lot of my work is commissioned by artists, promoters and record companies - and I also do work inspired by my own interests - which more often than not include musical influences. - I am working on some prints now inspired by legendary hip hop artists that have passed on.

Do you listen to music when you’re working ? If so, what kind of music ?

I listen to music all the time when I work - all kinds for different moods - it might be Queens of the Stone Age , Tom Waits, Chet Baker , Phillip Glass , Black Sabbath

What is the song you liked the most lately? The album ? What was the last gig you went to ?

I like the song ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams - because my kids love it so much.

The album I have been listening to is ‘Let it Be’ by The Replacements

I saw they played their first shows in 20 years in the states recently - and the last good gig I saw was Australian legends The Sunnyboys (at the Sydney Opera House!)

-Are you a musician yourself ? If so can you tell MoW more about your music projects ? 

I was in a band in the late 80’s / early 90’s called the Hellmenn. We played a noisy drunken eclectic style of music and released a bunch of records on independent label Waterfront, before putting out another couple on Polygram (Universal) - we imploded in 1994. For the past 20 years I have concentrated on my art work.

Find out more about Ben Brown here :