Ben Reader in conversation with Bastien Rousseau


Ben Reader in conversation with Bastien Rousseau

Ben Reader is a Cornish painter currently based in Porto. His first artist book Lyonesse, inspired by early nineteenth century Japanese erotica (Shunga) and Cornish maritime culture and mythologies, was recently launched on the occasion of his first solo exhibition in Portugal. This interview was conducted online by the means of a popular messaging app over two days.

Those already familiar with your work may notice a change in your painting technique, perhaps lighter than two years ago.

Indeed, the panels in the book (in terms of pallet) are lighter and playful. The surroundings have a great influence on my works: the London portraits have an evident dim and slightly monochromatic filter whereas the book holds the buddings of Cornish spring.

I guess I meant in your recent paintings as well. I know you have had kept that London style when you and I met in residency at Deliceiras 18 in Porto. The portrait you had made of myself was alike.

Sure. So concerning the recent paintings: I have remained with a heavy opaque application. This is intensified also by the medium of oil. With the book, however, I have allowed to carry my style in a different street. Taking from the floating dilated simplicity of Japanese Shunga, I applied the richness to the book sparingly, giving the voyeur space to imagine. In this new work I have experimented with creating intense imagery though isolating focal points.

Hence the lightness in style which is similar to Ukiyo-e, the low-key erotic comics production popular during the Edo era in Japan, which has influenced the emergence of later manga. I have noticed quite a few humourous traits placed here and there. Do you enjoy mocking painting (the art form) thus, perhaps as a way to disregard it, even possibly with a disruptive eye?

I would say that I use the medium as an instrument of pleasure! It is after all a means of producing illusions, and if one feels amused then the work has succeeded.

Which has become a rather rare approach to so-called art making. Artists often take on the money-success-fame-glamour game with a deep focus on 'the conversation' happening across the globe and the aesthetic to be sold through specific channels. This performance has become an art form of its own kind.

Yes, but we must not forget individual satisfaction: the book is unhindered by popular genre because it is the first of its own. Alike to the name of an old shunga‘pillow book’, I do not expect the readers to be divulging their unique passages but covertly snatching the copies – similarly to the mysterious disappearance of the first edition from the opening exhibition! (Yes, this did happen.)

Do you feel the urge to make stuff like painting or drawing?

Yes of course as I am a painter, I wouldn't present anything half baked, I must enjoy the work as much as the viewer.

Funny enough, I would have thought of you to be nonchalant towards producing paintings. Although I reckon that the urge about which I am questioning you do apply to the making of your books, Lyonesse and Ictis!

You are right, the stimulating erotic overtone of the book does help to guide the unrelenting hand of the artist, like a dangling carrot tied to a goat. The explorations of sex infiltrate even the geographic bones of the book's landscape.

Do 'the geographic bones of the book's landscape' refer to the narrative or the actual landscape drawn as the ‘metamorphological’ continuation of the body, like a planet without firmament?

Good question. The skeleton refers to the construction of the book. In order to animate the characters, to simulate life they must first have a geography to reside in. This geography can also grow and bear fruit, and in places mimic the interior sexual scenes. And yes, by building this structure, the limits of this little universe are also set – the island contains the voyeur. The other celestial bodies will be revealed in the later volumes!

Exhibition Lyonesse was on view until January 26th 2019 at Junta de Freguesia do Bonfim, Porto, Portugal
Exhibition views © Bastien Rousseau Book snapshots © Ben Reader
Ben Reader’s studio is located in Porto Bonfim at Travessa de Anselmo, Braancamp 48, 4000-085 Porto, Portugal

For order inquiries and studio visits, do contact
instagram @readerben

Bastien Rousseau is a French curator based in Porto whose current work and research focus on the affective experience provided by artist books.