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Sunday 10th March 2013Interview with Newcastle Free Press



NFP meets local artist Ben Applegarth, nominee for the Aesthetica Art Prize. Having graduated from Newcastle University with a BA Fine Art, he talks about his experiences as an emerging artist and his shortlisted piece, Tangential Meditation.



Hi Ben, so tell me a bit about you and your work?



Well I’ve got a few different strands of work I maintain. The piece that got in is a sculpture based around Parabolas and using them to create artificial 3D shapes. I’d tried it a couple of times before with trying to make a sphere in a box: elastic strings in straights lines using the box as the edge to hold everything in place. But that didn’t quite succeed and didn’t quite fail, because obviously I hadn’t realised that I’d still need to be able to get my hand inside the box in order to thread it through. So it was only 5 sides of the cube, it ended up being just sort of sheets of the string put together. But when it came to the cone I’d already figured that out so I managed to leave myself a little hole to actually work through. I’d still like to try and remake the cone because it’s just a little bit messy around the edges, and that Perspex was cut on a table so it ended up being very sharp so there’s a bit of my blood on each of the corners.



So how big is the actual piece then?



51cm cubed. It seemed like it would be a manageable size when I thought of it but when it’s built it’s very tricky to carry around.
I’ve also got an ongoing project of about a year and a half, maybe 2 years, of taking macro photographs of oil paint under slides. Using Perspex because it’s pretty easy to clean and you can see through it. That kind of evolved into making these massive panoramas. I ended up with things that were kind of like space, sort of nebulas and stuff.

And the last one is to do with music which I haven’t actually got back to in quite a while but it was in effect transposing sheet music into pure blocks of colour. In its simplest form: the lowest note on the piano is number 1 and the highest is 88 and each bar is an average, well it depends which grid its set out in, but its right hand on top left on the bottom as it is in sheet music. The middle is sort of an average out, so you can see, if it maintains perfectly balanced right in the middle you see, then it’ll remain cyan in colour in the middle band. But if you set it higher than that then it gets more blue, then you know that the entire song shifts upwards.



So you graduated from Newcastle University last July, since then have you been working full time on this?



I have to admit that when I finished the degree show, then when we took it down to London to a smaller version of the degree show, after than I felt a bit, I struggle to find the word, but disenfranchised. Its such a shift from having a place to go into uni and just carrying on with things, to having to go to a different part of a room in your flat and try to make things. I kept sending stuff to competitions and prizes and what have you.



And then eventually this! So are you working from home at the moment then?



Yes, well my family lives about 20 miles west so I’ve got an attic to play around with which is sort of where I’m set up. There’s sort of boxes and things, and it’s not ideal, the cat keeps bothering me too.



Do you have much experience of the arts scene within Newcastle then?



A little bit, I’ve had 3 or 4 group shows up here in various places, one in Durham. But it was mainly with Newcastle students in my year as well. It was pretty easy with a group, a solo show its a bit trickier. That’s because you have to find a space that really suits the work you’re making, because once you’re finished you’re not thinking about making everything as big and impressive as possible. It’s a good scene, I think I was talking about this with a friend the other day and its getting to the point where you can’t throw a stone and not hit an empty shop that’s been turned into some sort of gallery part time. It is pretty cool.



Tell me a little bit about how it felt to be nominated for the award.



It was disbelief to begin with, I didn’t quite register what it said. A few days later, maybe a week, I looked back at the email and thought about what it meant. So yea, it was really exciting. Inspired me to actually carry on more, as I wasn’t doing a whole lot, mostly sort of planning other works. I work a lot with vector drawing programmes, like Adobe Illustrator.



So it sounds like you work with quite a lot of different mediums, and are varied in what you do. Is that 

something that keeps you inspired, changing and playing around with new things?



I think it used to be that after several months working on one thing I just needed to do something that was utterly different to keep myself sane. Originally the music project took like a certain state of mind to actually think about what I was doing in it.



Is the mathematical and scientific way of working way a recurring theme then?



I do prefer to work methodically, maybe not clinically. Well, back in school around 6th form, I was mostly just working however I felt. At that time they sort of give you a bit of a free reign, but quite a formal structure, so I started doing a very basic music project. It was listening to a song over and over and trying to paint everything I was hearing in abstract terms. About halfway through second year of uni I started to realise that a half of the time is spent thinking about what to do, and the other half is making it. 
I originally came up with ways of working as opposed to things to work on, as a way of imposing structures on myself. I was a big fan of using the word ‘experiment’ when I was making things, I had a lot of fun reading a school supply website for prism retort stands and lasers. Sort of creating images from scratch, saying I could only use the shape of prism or I could only have light coming from one side and the camera in one position. And from there sort of playing around stretching the boundaries of that. From that point it became easier, once I had an idea I had a whole host of ways of working that I can apply to it.



Where do you see your work going next?



Well I’m carrying on with the spacey-paint-panorama photographs, as I’ve only really photographed four of the sort of splodges of paint I’ve been using. It was a big sheet, so I thought I know what will make the best use of this space, I need to do at least a dozen or so different things on the sheet. So I did, squashed it, some turned out horribly but might be interesting close up, others looked interesting. But the most interesting ones to begin with are the ones I started doing, there’s only been about 3 maybe 4 of those I’ve done so far so I’ve still got that sheet to work through.

I’ve got another one involving the music thing, it’s a bit complicated and I don’t know how to do it. It’s basically the exact opposite, so starting with an animation of different colours and shapes and I’m hoping to show it to different musicians in a sort of blind study to see if, if they’re shown the exact same thing, they come out with some sort of coherent musical composition. I think I need to do some sort of Derren Brown type things really, figure out the sort of people I need for it and guess how they might react.

A few other ideas that have just started off as sort of pictures in my head and I need to work my way up to justifying them. I wanted to plant half a car into a wall and, you know how in films and tv and it looks like they’re travelling, but it’s just that screen that’s scrolling past or sometimes a projection that’s just moving past. So I wanted to project that along the outside of the car. But that’s a tricky one to do, once I’ve started that I have to commit to that.



Any Exhibitions coming up?



The preview is Thursday (7 March) in York St Mary’s, about 10 minutes from the station, and runs until 28th April. I have no other exhibitions planned for the foreseeable future. Probably in a month’s time I’ll force myself to do something, my girlfriend’s going on Erasmus as of next week so I’ll have a lot of free time and I’ll have to keep myself busy.



Well Good Luck in the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition, it was lovely to chat to you!

The Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition is on display at York St Mary’s from 8 March – 28 April.

Posted on March 10th 2013 on 08:06pm


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