Aesthetica Art Prize Interview: Ben Applegarth

The Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition opens in just two days, the Art Prize is a celebration of excellence in art from across the world, offering artists the opportunity to showcase their work to wider audiences and further their involvement in the international art world. Previous finalists include Julia Vogl, who was shortlisted for New Sensations – Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4′s Prize – and has exhibited at Zabludowicz Collection; Marcus Jansen, a leading modern expressionist who joined a legacy of artists by featuring in Absolut Vodka’s artistic campaigns, and Bernat Millet, also shortlisted for National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. The 100 longlisted artists are published in the Aesthetica Art Prize Annual and the shortlisted artists will appear in an exhibition at York St Mary’s from 8 March until 28 April. We speak to Ben Applegarth, a British Artist, who graduated from Newcastle University with a BA in Fine Art in 2012. His long-listed work, Tangential Meditation is mostly concerned with semiotics and space.

A: Your entered piece is sculpture, why do you choose to use that medium?
BA: I don’t actually end up working with sculpture that often, it usually comes from an idea that has been in my head for a while and has had time to evolve into something solid before I decide it would be an appropriate work. When an idea has gone through that gestation period I already have some properties in mind for the object, and that makes it easier to pick materials to design it. For a number of years I had been creating things that were, for the most part, purely for aesthetic value, and in simplifying my creative aims I could focus on the process and methodology of generating works. I’d have investigations laid out like lab experiments, arbitrarily limiting what materials or objects I could use for each experiment. It took a while to adopt this regime of self-imposed boundaries but I believe it’s helped me immensely. From an early point in an idea’s existence I can now easily apply these techniques and critical observations to produce something that can grow beyond pure aesthetics and take on more meaning. Being able to plan in such a methodical way makes sculpture an excellent medium, when I have an idea that is interesting enough.

A: What other artistic forms do you work with?
BA: I work predominantly with photographs/digital composites, and for the past 18 months I have been creating a series of macro photographs of materials wedged between perspex. I have established an archive of a large number of different paints, mostly oils as it’s a medium I am very familiar with. When I first developed an interest in art it was painting that held the greatest attraction to me, and it was the first medium I took on. The paint-photographs began to take on interesting qualities and certain consistencies and pigments began to look like spatial phenomena or astronomical objects. After this, it became a process of creating tiny paintings that presented great complexity where the original size was blown up many times – so blocks of colour around 1 x 2 cm can end up to 2 – 4 metres wide. I had to build and perfect a camera rig that would allow the camera to move in all three directions independently and to pan across the paintings in tiny increments. That has been my main focus, but I try to maintain strands of radically different ideas. These ideas have included site-specific light installations and an evolving project based around converting or “transposing” sheet music into visual forms. The sheet music becomes static grids containing tones of colour that require a “key” and animations to understand how the piece of music evolves over time.

A: How do you begin a sculpture?
BA: The starting point for Tangential Meditation was a brief that my friend had prepared for a two-part exhibition he was planning. The exact wording is hard to recall, but the understanding I took away from it was that it concerned semiotics and space. At the time I was playing around with vector-based drawings and creating simple illusions of 3-dimensionality with straight lines on a flat surface and after researching some ideas, and with spatial phenomena still fresh in my mind from the ongoing macro paintings, I reached a point where I wanted to use a physics model as a basis for some sort of construct. I remember flicking through a magazine a couple of years previously and coming across an article featuring a sculpture by Marilene Oliver, it was made up of printed layers of full body MRI scans stacked in such a way as to create the illusion of the physical presence of a person. I’d mostly forgotten about it until I had drawn out cross sections of a simple shape and was wondering how to go about creating a similar effect. It had some of the desirable qualities of what I wanted to make, but I felt it also needed to be a piece that you could look at from any angle and still see a shape that wasn’t actually there. Eventually I decided upon making a perspex box and using thread to mark the straight lines, it was still faithful to my original ideas but it elevated them in a way that only a sculpture could.

A: How does it feel to be part of the Aesthetica Art Prize?
BA: It feels incredible, it was quite a shock to hear I had made it into the longlist and it did take a while for it to sink in. When I told a few friends it suddenly became real. It was a huge boost to my confidence and has further inspired me to persist wholeheartedly with my work. The standard of all the other work in the competition and the previous year’s winners is pretty staggering and it is such an honour to even get through the first stage of the competition.

A: Which artists have inspired you?
BA: While I have no doubt that nearly all the artists I look at have inspired me in some way, there are a few artists who I am a big fan of; Mark Rothko, Gerhard Richter, Dan Flavin, the photography duo Robert and Shana Parkeharrison, Norman McLaren and Frans Lanting. I went to the last Venice Bienialle and amassed a large list of artists I wanted to keep an eye on, including Markus Schinwald and Haroon Mirza. More recently, I have really enjoyed the work of Mariko Mori. A lot of the time I also find myself inspired by my friends (most of whom are fellow artists), their opinions usually open up really exciting ideas.

A: What do you have planned for the future?
BA: I’m juggling a few things around in my head at the moment. I am hoping to set up a more permanent studio/workshop and I have also got a few spaces and people I would like to approach about holding some one-off exhibitions. There’s a project or two that would require some willing musicians which is related to the other music project I mentioned. However, that project would require some considerable planning and research even though it has been on my to-do list for a while.

Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition, 8 March – 28 April, York St Mary’s, York.

Images courtesy of Aesthetica and Ben Applegarth.