Meet the Crafters: Benjamin Allain
One more sleep till showtime! Tomorrow the Beary Merry Winter Market will open at 10 AM, at the Olympic Centre, 2304 Hunter Street. Admission is free! Don’t forget that most vendors take cash only, there is an ATM on site if you need it (: Also make sure to come hungry – there are lots of great food vendors on site, lots of delicious treats, as well as some great lunch options from Homeschool Catering.
The last Crafter we’d like introduce to you before the show is Benjamin Allain. He makes paintings, tells stories with collages made from his collections of found materials and words. Make sure to visit his table, no two of his paintings are alike!
What do you make?
I make small, humble vignettes that depict characters in a surreal, understated sort of fairytale. I like to use materials that I find at thrift stores and yard sales in my narratives because these objects already have a history of their own, and can contribute to my stories with much more gusto than a canvas that has only seen the inside of a factory. I use text as a thread to punctuate subjects within the work that may seem disjointed. I combine elements of folklore, regionalisms, antiquated illustrations, gallows humour and, most importantly, chance to create an awkward moment in a whimsical story.
What is your process?
It’s sort of a factory line with no blueprints and the employees are all four minutes away from quitting time. I am an accumulator of things firstly. I have stashes of phrases, photographs, old drawings, branches, seashells. I continuously collect free and cheap things, useless things, garbage, driftwood, pages from novels. I’m not organized. I don’t even live in its district. Everything is everywhere and it is only by minor miracle that any of it comes together. I don’t know. I’ll just have a really great day and sit down with all this junk and start drawings things, gluing things together. This is the factory line with no plan. I’ll have a stack of paper, a stack of cutouts, some phrases in mind. Works are built up in layers and layers, sometimes over many years, as I keep and continuously change any work that is in my possession. When things start rolling, the pieces feed off of each other, and a narrative takes place within the whole pile. I find it much more fun to create a narrative as I go rather than adhering to a predisposed idea of what a piece should look like or say.
How long have you been a crafter?
I’m not sure of the exact date, but my oldest surviving work is a large scale drawing of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their enemies I drew on the back pages of my mothers cookbook when I was two-and-a-half.
What is your background/How did you get started?
I had been studying Rorscach and chance in different classes during my schooling, and those ideas sort of unified in these drawings I had made by mapping out forms I saw in coffee spills. From there I’d spend a lot of time thinking about poems and titles to go along with the now-concrete forms. I realized I loved figuring out what story was going on in these completely random spills. It’s still how I make my work, although now I try to find an interesting narrative in things with a few more materials and layers. It’s as much fun trying to make sense of a canoe in a gold oval frame as it is a spill of coffee.
Why do you do what you do?
To create private jokes between me and the viewers of my work. My work is very purposefully cryptic, but definitely not random. There are dots to be connected between the text, the images, the painted-over parts, the fingerprints… when someone looks through all of the parts and they find a story similiar to the one i had intended (or a more interesting one i had no idea was in there!) it’s kind of like you just broke the ice with that person. It’s a wonderful thing to share with a stranger or even an old friend who you thought would never get that silly drawing of twelve soldiers with a rabbit on a TV.
When you’re not selling at Crafters markets, where can I find your work?
If you’ve not found one of the drawings I deposit in between bookpages all over the maritimes, you can see most of my new work on my Tumblr page and as part a wonderful collaborative community called Feelsgood. You can also see some of my work at music shows and stores. I’ve been really lucky to get to design album artwork or posters for the Grass Mountain Hobos (RIP), Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys, Owen Dacombe Steel, Mike Trask, the Belle Comedians, Carleton Stone, Andrew James O’Brien, Scott MacKay, Ashelin, and the Ross Family Band. I’ve only recently come to terms with actively looking to show my work, so keep them peepers peeled in the coming months for shows from here to Vancouver. And in between, too!
What makes Halifax Crafters different from other shows?
Everything just seems so dang honest and the overall impression I get is both timeless and 2012. At some other markets, I felt like the some crafters were just there to sell their wares. Which is fine and all, but it’s a much better feeling to get to talk to an artist or crafter about their work and see genuine interest in their voice, regardless of whether or not you buy something. Because of that ingenuity, I found it much easier to part with money for something so loved by its maker.
What are you excited about seeing at the Winter Market?
Oh goodness. Everything. It’s ennobling to be immersed in the collective fruits of many months worth of work, my only hope is that I can fandangle someone into watching my table for an hour or two so I can meander around at a good, slow pace.
What inspires you to create?
Whichever book I am reading. Whichever album I am listening to. Finding an interesting piece of wood or a charmin’ little piece of brick-a-brac. It’s usually just being in the right mood to make what I’m making. I’m lucky to have made associations in my brain that make me want to make artwork no matter my mood. I have things I can work on when it’s three am and I’ve just returned from a really exciting evening. Or on rainy Sunday mornings. Or when I get to listen to a new album. In terms of phrases, I’ll usually hear something really interesting while I’m back home on PEI hanging out with my elder kinfolk. The phrases and small changes made to personalize regional dialect are endless wells of textual inspiration.
How do you begin a new project?
I think I am working on a continuous project.
Where do you do your work?
Lately I’ve been scavenging for materials, so I might say I do a lot of my work on the shore and thrift stores and roadside giveaways. Once I have my materials, I joyously sequester myself in my room for a few days with the essentials of creating and lose track of straight time. Things usually go willynilly till sometime after midnight, which has always been the way. I think I convinced myself of two very important things at a young age: During the day, there are many more minds to intercept good ideas from the air. When everyone else is asleep the odds are in your favour. And there is something very inspiring about the moon at three am.
What kind of music do you listen to while you work?
I will answer the predictable answer of ‘everything.’ The only real rule I’ve put on myself is to listen to music without lyrics or with lyrics in another tongue so I don’t make impulsive decisions on what text to add based on the feeling I get from a song. A lot of the times those words don’t translate to what I’m working on. I think I decided this when I had a really great drawing of a dozen crows tied to a ladder via rope and put “Love in an elevator” in huge letters at the top.
A place you love?
Favourite time of the year?
I’m a sap for whatever season is current. Right now I love autumn for all the right reasons. Wool. And in a few short weeks, I am going to love the cold embrace of crystalline air and the various crunchings of solidified water.
Three things you need in order to create?
Coffee, tobacco and candlelight.
A favourite quote?
“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Tom Robbins, last line of Still Life with Woodpecker.
A film or book you love?
Any book by Tom Robbins is guaranteed to fill my head to the brim with his wild concoction of philosophical ramblings, romantic tangents, absurdiy and truth. Actually, his work may be the single biggest indirect influence on me at this point in my artmaking.
What’s your favourite way to procrastinate?
Well, during these hermitty days in my room when I’m absent from day-to-day, the pangs of hunger eventually hit and I’ll end up spending a few hours going out to get ingredients, putting on the CBC, fixing a drink and filling the kitchen with the warmth of a very amateur cook who spends much more time in the kitchen than he maybe ought to.