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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Ben Mefford

Ben Mefford photo by Adam DabrowskiWho are you?
I consider myself an emerging artist. I have apprenticed or assisted three sculptors over seven years on video projects, site-specific mixed media installations, gallery stone sculptures, and large scale granite sculptures for public commissions. I have a bachelor’s degree in studio art and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies (research writing). I created my first large sculpture in October of 2016.  I became a father in 2015, and it has been chaos ever since, and yet I finally feel like an adult. I am pushing hard to make art the central focus of my life. I am also interested in arts administration, and have a dream of inventing a new kind of art museum by the time I am forty.  I believe in what we do as artists, that there is an inherent value to it.  I spent too much of my youth sitting around, directionless, waiting for something exciting to happen on its own. I am tired of thinking things are impossible just because I don’t know how to accomplish them, and I am not afraid of failure anymore.  

Discovery 2016, Soapstone by Ben MeffordWhat is your life history as it relates to being an artist?
Little things that I did as a child are core to my art-making, though I didn’t recognize it at the time. Building with Lego’s, making pictures with a typewriter, playing with magnets on opposite sides of a glass table – in a word, experimenting. I used to think that art had to be a certain way, like paintings from the renaissance, and I couldn’t draw like that so I felt discouraged and came to art late. I finally took photography classes in my mid-twenties and it quickly got to the point that I started skipping work to walk around Seattle photographing. By chance I got to carve soapstone on a trip to Alaska in 2008 and was instantly addicted. I moved from Seattle to Portland for a fresh start and eventually found my way to Portland Community College where I started exclusively taking studio art classes. From there, I started to accept this direction of my life, and haven’t looked back.
Why did you become an artist?When I first experienced the process of making art as an adult, it felt right at a time when nothing else did. The more I embraced it, the happier and more productive I became in every aspect of my life.

Ra 2016, granite by Ben MeffordWhat key life experiences affected your direction in art?
I had a great early childhood, and grew up with a big back yard, near a beautiful wooded park, and we went hiking in the mountains a lot through the year.  My parents were both mountain climbers before they had children, so we had lots of experiences together in nature and it is where I feel at home. I like to explore and go off the path, see what I can find that maybe no one has seen before. I am subconsciously always trying to capture that. So, my artwork at its best incorporates elements of exploration and organized chaos, or an asymmetrical balance, and these things remind me of nature. Art is also psychological therapy for me. For example, I can be indecisive at times, and stone carving forces decisions, so I have noticed that I gravitate toward mediums that balance out my weaknesses.

Why is art important to you?
It is how I connect to myself and connect to the world around me. Art making is the only way I have found that offers the freedom to really say what I want to say, without even consciously knowing what I want to say beforehand.  

Stories 2016, by Ben MeffordHow does your art reflect your philosophy?
Making art is the most direct way that I can find of accessing my subconscious. I have come to trust my intuition implicitly. I believe that a cycle exists where persisting in art makes me a better person, and that being a better person will make my artwork more valuable. Uchida sensei has said something like this, that if all people should live as if they are a cell of a single body, the world would be in harmony.  

What is the source of inspiration of your forms, language, or imagery?alabaster maquette
I believe it all comes up from the subconscious grabbing onto various ideas and knotting them together. Usually I don’t have an explanation for something until after it is done. It is a lot like dreaming, getting into a state where experiences are synthesized into a story that rewrites history yet reaches a deeper truth.

What are you trying to express?
Myself! I do want to prove that I am capable of accomplishing technically challenging things, and I also just have an odd sense of humor and think differently than most. I think lots of things are amusing by themselves, just by existing. So, things I don’t express every day because I think they are odd, can find a quiet voice in my artwork.

How do you develop them (by direct carving, drawing, modeling, etc.)?basalt column chain early rough stage
Visualizing, sometimes writing, occasionally drawing and modeling.  Mostly I just think about a form or a relationship in my mind until I have to start making it tangible to find out what the rest of it looks like.

basalt column chain, Ben MeffordWhat have been your satisfactions in your life as an artist?
This last year has been very satisfying. Last summer I made my first paid artwork by working on a very small commission for a memorial stone. I then got an opportunity grant from to create my first large sculpture (“Know Time”) which has since been on public display at Marenakos in Fall City, Washington. I was awarded a professional development grant to visit Japan for three weeks in March-April 2017 and work with Kazutaka Uchida at his studio (which was a life-changing opportunity, and has many stories to go with it). I got my first public art commission for my current project for the city of Lake Oswego, OR, due to be finished by August 2017.  I have also been awarded a paper-making residency and show that start in September 2017. Each of these things are rewarding by themselves, but they have also felt like recognition that, yes, I am an artist, and yes, I can do this.  

What scale or size do you work in, and do you have a favorite scale?
I spent so much time working for Brian Goldbloom on massive granite sculptures that I actually have the most experience working at this scale now, even though I do not have a studio or enough tools to be able to easily tackle things like this on my own. Verena Schwippert has helped me a couple of times, first letting me use her studio in October 2016, and currently with my first public commission (which started as about six tons of basalt).  

How do you get your ideas?
Dreams have given me some great ideas. Physics and geometry are areas of particular interest for me. I spend a lot of time trying to visualize the structure of the universe or how mass is composed of energy, so that we are all just a bunch of swirling waves of energy (literally). That ties into my feelings about nature as well. I also think a lot about physical health. Injuries that I have sustained, anxiety, sleep apnea, all have me reflecting a lot about the body and about what it means to live well.

Describe your art in your own terms – focusing on your stone carving.basalt column chain Ben Mefford
I jump around to different mediums, but at this point, I look at all of them through the spatial and reductive lens of stone sculpting. Photography, painting, sculpture, etc., I approach it all the same way mentally. Somehow this allows consistent themes to emerge across mediums, in spite of using different techniques. I am basically always looking to create organized chaos.  In practice, this means experimenting, discovering something, developing a process or pattern, becoming aware that I am getting repetitive, and then I change something – throw off the balance to create a new element of uncertainty and experiment some more. I don’t really know why I do this, but it is always the same and always different, and the more I am able to let go of control in this process, the happier I am with the final result.

Artist Spotlight: Jim Ballard

Background“ThresholdJim Ballard stands beside “Threshold”, installed at the Lakewold Gardens in Lakewood, WA, California black granite, 4'H x 2'W x 6"D at the base, tapering to 3 1/2"D at the top, on sandstone pedestal and sandstone base, 9' tall overall.

When I was ten years old, my father built himself a darkroom in the basement of our home. There he taught me how to develop film and print black and white photographs. This initial interest in photography continued throughout my life and I was fortunate to teach darkroom techniques and camera operation classes at community colleges in the Seattle area for about twenty-five years. I later supplied photos to Getty Images, one of the largest stock photo agencies in the world.

I enjoyed taking and making photographs but I wanted to explore 3D art forms. My cousin made a living carving realistic fish using cedar and other woods. He helped me select wood carving tools and I began carving many different kinds of fish, at first imitating his carving style but later developing my own interpretative method. I carved about sixty wooden fish, some fanciful and some realistic.

While I was carving wood in the late 80s, I read about the Northwest Stone Sculptors Association. The idea of carving stone as well as wood greatly appealed to me, even though I knew nothing about stone sculpting. I joined the NWSSA in early 1991 and attended my first stone-sculpting symposium at Camp Brotherhood in August of that year. It was here that I first met Richard Hestekind, an individual who conveyed his passion for carving stone to all of us attending that symposium and many others. Richard and I eventually shared a carving studio at the Marenakos Rock Center near Preston, WA.

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Giant Lizard Comes to Art City!

"Lizard" Jim Heltsley Oolitic LimestoneMy studio is located at Art City Studios in Ventura, California. It is one of 24 spaces rented to artists by Paul Lindhard – owner/operator/artist. Jim Heltsley & Duane O'Connor at an early stage of carving the Lizard.

A few years ago, Paul came to me asking if I would like sculpt something large with one of his stones. Over the years I have carved quite a few lizards out of pumice, limestone and marble and had always wanted to do a large lizard with a saddle on his back.

I had imagined doing a piece with an invitation to interact with it. It could be a photo opportunity for parents to take a picture of their kids riding it. A possible entrance to a zoo, a large hotel or a park.

I told Paul about this idea of mine and the next day he came back to me and told me, “I found your lizard.” It was 7 ½ feet long X 3 feet wide X 4 feet high and about 2500 pounds of oolitic limestone. I sat on that stone every day for about a week and finally I saw the lizard!

I lost a large portion of my eyesight over four years ago and taking on this project alone was a daunting task. At the time I was working with another artist from Art City named Duane O’Connor. We had been working together for about a year and he agreed to work on the lizard with me. That was the spring of 2014.Kids taking their first ride on what is beginning to look like a lizard.

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Artist Spotlight: Kentaro Kojima

Meet Kentaro Kojima Kentaro Kojima

I was born and raised in Guatemala. My parents, both Japanese, met in Guatemala and had a family and, in fact, they still live there.

In the 60’s, it was very rare and difficult for a young Japanese artist/designer to get out of Japan, but it was rarer still for a single woman, in her early twenties, to go out of Japan. It was pretty much unheard of at the time. Even today, I am constantly surprised at the resistance some young Japanese people seem to feel about going outside of Japan, let alone altogether moving out of it. So, you might say that the two black sheep that were my parents, met in Guatemala and raised a family of black sheep. (Their life story is a lot more interesting than mine.)

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Artist Spotlight: Bob Leverich

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT •	Home and Away, Lavender Gray Maine Granite, 9’-2” H x 7’-10” W x 22’-10” W Bob Leverich
By Bob Leverich

Who are you and how has art come to fit into your life?

I grew up on a dairy farm in western Wisconsin not far from the Mississippi, in an era when rural kids had the whole world to range over – pastures and fields, orchards and woods, hills and streams, in all seasons. There was always work to do on the farm, but it afforded a closeness to the natural world that still informs who I am and how I think about much of my work. I count myself lucky for that.

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Brian Goldbloom's “THRESHOLD”

BrianinholeA Multi Pieced Work in Granite
for Portland’s TriMet Milwaukie/Main Street Light Rail Station in Milwaukie, Oregon. 

“Threshold” spans the length of the Milwaukie/Main Street Station, with three pieces that take their cues from the site’s history. The north end of the platform is in downtown Milwaukie, while the south end faces Kellogg Lake. The lake began as a natural creek before becoming a millpond for a largeflourmill in the mid 1800s. Later, it was enjoyed for recreational use until around the mind-1950s when it began to decline. Now there are ongoing citizen efforts to restore its scenic integrity and healthy habitat.

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