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Famous for adorning transit vans and trucks with moving drawings, the inspirational young artist talks about giant sculpture, symbolism, building sites and the all-important pursuit of true craft.
The Lancastrian artist Ben Long takes street art, shakes it by the neck and invigorates it with original, new and startling ideas. When he left Camberwell art college with no gallery, money or studio, he began to create detailed drawings in the grimy dirt on the back of white vans. The results were profoundly moving artworks that reached people way outside the frame of the art world.
Perhaps it is precisely because he grew up in an old, disused petrol station that his best known art pieces have had a car connection. However, he’s now focusing all his energies on super-sized sculptures made from scaffolding, the latest piece being a 35ft-high stag that will be erected in the unexpected location of London’s Elephant and Castle – an area that is, at the moment, little more than one big building site.
Dazed caught up with the artist to find out how he hopes to achieve works on such a massive scale, and to ask him exactly what it’s all about.
Dazed & Confused: Can you tell us about the background of the Scaffolding Sculpture?
Ben Long: My father – who has worked his whole life in the construction industry – used to employ me during academic holidays so that I could earn money and pay for my education. Working on building sites was formative for me as an artist, and the sculpture are inspired by the experiences and the attitudes I encountered.
D&C: Did you originally learn scaffolding in order to make thee enormous works?
BL: I conceived the idea for the sculptures and then be seen as the craftsman behind all my work because I think that impacts upon people’s appreciation of art. The first thing I did was to go and see a scaffolder, who I chose randomly from the Yellow Pages, and he explained how my ideas could best be realised. Then I pinched a load of tubes and couplers off a building site so I had something to practice with.
D&C: Why Elephant and Castle?
BL: They’re knocking down estates, taking out roads, demolishing the shopping centre – my intention is that the sculpture should inspire hope and be a visual symbol for the growth and transition that is taking place there.
D&C: Why focus on animals?
BL: I prefer to use imagery devoid of any narrative drive, and I look at a lot of decorative ephemera for my source material. Nature is a prevailing theme in the art and symbolism of all cultures, and I think that animals have always been used to imply idyllic states of the human condition – beauty, power, freedom, loyalty.
D&C: What do you like about giant scale?
BL: I like landmarks. Big Ben. Nelson’s Column. Backdrops for a billion holiday photos. I like art that does the same thing – that provides a sense of location and is a spectacle or wonder for the people of that area.
The Stag is to be erected in Elephant and Castle from March.