Ben Boothby, a Maine native, currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. He received his BA in Studio Art from Wesleyan University, Connecticut, in 1997. He earned his MFA from The Academy of Art University, San Francisco, in 2011. In the 14 years between degrees he lived in Maine, DC, Iceland, and Oakland. From his studio in Bushwick, Ben teaches abstract painting online for the Graduate School of Fine Art at AAU.
“My paintings are built entirely from memories of architectural moments. They are mnemonic structures; holding a multitude of conflicting emotions from that place. Memory is a construction: layers of spatial ambiguities and shifting degrees of focus, scattered with representational details. I strive for this visualization of how memory exists, because I feel it shows how our minds actually function, on a cellular and chemical level. Memory is in flux, when we try to pin it down to examine the details, it will not sit still. Gestural splatters and hard-edged abstraction are combined to create a complex visual puzzle. The goal is to capture the pulsation of memory vibrating in self-contradictions. While these paintings are made out of moments from my own narrative, they are left open to each viewer’s personal associations. I hope to engage a viewer’s sense of nostalgia, as well as their curiosity. In order to make sense of the image, they access information from their own spatial memories – that align somehow with parts of the puzzle. Then the painting fulfills its purpose as a visualization of memory.
My process starts with rounds of sketching, using only what I can remember about a space from my past. I do not use any external reference to reconstruct that place. The next stage is a 3-point perspective drawing, where the memory meets logic and becomes a concrete structure. This architectural drawing is used on multiple paintings in a series, so that I can investigate various memories of that location – specific to years, seasons, and hours of the day. I paint with acrylic in the early layers, to build up an active ground. These splatters often look like spindle-armed neurons: our brain cells. The looping curves of flung paint represent the chemical pathways our memories are stored in. The architectural drawing is layered into the acrylic layers. Sometimes it is silkscreened onto the painting; otherwise it is drawn or painted using a projection. For the bulk of the painting process I use oil paints to achieve the luminous sensation of light. These layers break up the logic of the architectural drawing. I do not paint with a pre-defined idea of the finished state. The oil layers are where I work out the dynamic imbalance between various polarities. Sometimes that happens quickly, more often it is a longer process. Color choices are based on emotions and objects from different times in the space. My titles refer to smells, or sometimes tactile references.
‘Bialys, Lox & Grapefruit’ is based on memories of the back deck area of my grandparents’ house on Fire Island. There was an outdoor shower on the side of the shed. Coming back from the heat of the beach, we had to go and wash off all the sand before we could go in the house. The cold water was always shocking because we had just walked home on splintery, hot boardwalks. Around the corner was the sunny part of the deck. That is where we would eat breakfast, with the hot sun glinting off the silverware and glass table-top.
‘Bedroom Window Series’ is based on the view out of the bedroom window of the apartment I lived in for 6 years in Washington, DC. The building behind my apartment was much taller. It had a large patio with a barbecue pit, and a pool that its tenants would loudly enjoy. They also all had private decks, which somehow made their lives more public. There is a silent complicity between people who can see into each other’s living spaces, and the space between my window and that building vibrated with it. In this series there are memories from different seasons and weather patterns, as well as various relationships that had an emotional impact on the space.”
– Ben Boothby