In the Studio with Ben Pearce

Tell us about your current studio space; how does it affect the work you’re making?  

My current studio, where I have been working for four years, is a room downstairs in the back of an old 1866 house we bought. I’m soon to move into a new 10sqm studio that I built myself in between shows. My favourite feature is the high pitch stud. A huge window looks out to a well established Morton Bay Fig tree that I had to carefully build around. I’ll be working in my own little jungle.

What is the first thing you tend to do when you enter your studio for the day? Do you have a creative exercise or process that helps you begin your work? 

A lot of my process happens outside the studio. I’m constantly writing down thoughts or sketching images that come to me throughout the day. These ideas swill around for months from my mind to my sketchbook and back before I start making. It gets very loud inside and at some point I’m forced to make things just to quieten it down. I find I have too many ideas pulling me in too many directions; one of my greatest challenges as an artist is narrowing down and then expanding on certain ideas. Deadlines really help my process. Without them I fear all of my ideas would still be spinning around in the ether of my mind.

Can you identify a pivotal place or experience that you feel has had a particular influence over the current direction of your work?

Recently I had a job documenting some makers I admire — Laurie Steer, Francis Upritchard and Martino Gamper — up at Driving Creek Railway in the Coromandel. Watching them work was pivotal for me. They are all deeply intellectual about their practices and very skilled, but seeing how relaxed and confident they were as makers inspired me. They experiment a lot and have fun. There was a certain magic in the room when they were all together. It has influenced my latest body of work in a figurative way, but also in the sense that it encouraged me to relax into my practice.

If you could place any piece of artwork from history within your home what would it be and where would you place it?

I keep coming back Louise Bourgeois’s Maman. I love how she uses insects and animals as metaphors or representations of the human condition and the family dynamic. I’d get a Maman large enough to sit over our whole house. Imagine how amazing that would be.

When you have a day away from the studio where do you like to go?

I love traveling around New Zealand visiting artist friends; up to the Coromandel, over to Whanganui and down to Wellington or Dunedin. I always take my camera and like to document their studios, sometimes having my photos published. I always make time for the local galleries too.

What are the main themes you seek to explore within your practice?

Our realities are warped by our memories, which we rarely have any control over. In my work I’m trying to create some kind of form around these abstract ideas. I try to talk about human emotion by alluding to landscape. I try to give shape to an internal consciousness through creating sculptures with human proportions or surfacing. And at the same time I’m trying to create a channel for escape from the body.

What’s the best arts-related advice you’ve been given? 

That if I mentally traveled into a forest and was lost, and followed a familiar sound or light, I’d find a true version of myself and absorb him and come out from the thick bracken with clarity. That came from Peter McLeavey.

What projects are you currently working towards? 

My installation, Life Will Go On Long After Money, will tour to The Suter Gallery later this year. Towards the end of January 2020 I’ve got a residency at Driving Creek Potteries. Right now, I’m excited about my current exhibition at Parlour Projects. La Jetée continues through September 14.

In the Studio with Ben Pearce