illex welcomes English collage artist Ben Giles. With his inventive and imaginative collages, Ben creates unique worlds that challenge the viewer to consider discordant perspectives. Ben’s work possesses those qualities that we search for at illex: experimentation, exploration, a sense of discovery.
Please enjoy his work and his interview.
Many of your collage works possess a strong sense of aesthetic harmony and aesthetic contrast. You have a remarkable ability to match facial structures while also contrasting colors and shapes. We are intrigued by this effort to assemble disparate visual elements. In the collage of the agricultural worker and the surgeon, for example, you have coordinated their facial characteristics while strongly contrasting the color of the two scenes. In another example, the collage of the woman in the jungle and the couple in black and white, you have again matched facial elements while contrasting color modes. With these collages you have created an exciting and challenging world of visual similarities and dissimilarities. Please help us in understanding more about your work.
I started these ”matching/juxtaposition” collages when I found a stack of old National Geographic magazines. This then led to an almost compulsive quest to find old encyclopedias and film autobiographies and postcards simply to have the pictures. In my mind I knew that I would use them for my artwork, and eventually I did.
The original aim of the first few collages that I created, such as the surgeon/agricultural collage and the jungle collage, was to create something in the space of something else, and in doing so I wanted to trick the viewer into believing an untrue thing. I had always been interested by parallel worlds and the subconscious, and this new medium allowed me to experiment with that idea in a broader way. I wanted to think of the idea that at any given place, someone else has already been there, and that any space has already been occupied by someone or something else at least once in the past. Within a given space, a person or an object that is in that space may copy another person or object that was once previously in that same space. These two people or two objects may be separated by a hundred years or may even be in two separate countries, but by combining these temporal and spacial realities, I want to perform a kind of trick, and form a new body and a new face, a combined timeline where I can play with the rules of perception.
As I continued creating these collages, I became better at forming bolder contrasts and more subtle connections. After I began working, I saw the work of John Stezaker, which coincidentally was very similar to my own work in some aspects. This gave me a bit of a push to use this medium of collage to create a stronger body of work. Another influence is a bit of a cliché, but powerful nonetheless: Picasso’s cubist work such as “Weeping Woman” and “Three Dancers” opened my mind to new structures and shapes within the face, to the point where I no longer wanted to even create a familiar juxtaposition .
Other contrasts that are apparent in your work exist beyond pure aesthetics. The figures that you bring together in your collages often exhibit disparities in age, class, culture, occupation, and sex. How do you arrive at these particular contrasts and what do you aim to express through representing them in such a striking way?
One of several ideas that I wanted to achieve was a sense of the future in the making, such as the collage [shown above] of sailors on a battleship on their way to a Pacific island melded together with a native tribesman resting on a hammock.
I admit that maybe 1 in every 10 collages I create is simply by coincidence. Two images may simply happen to be next to each other and the opportunity is too good to ignore, and the piece is created in two minutes. Other times I will painfully sift through hundreds of images and finally find what I want after about an hour or two or sometimes even a week later.
I love the combination of the nun and the young girl carrying a baby [shown above] and the child and mother with the man with pigs [shown above]. Each person has their own world which is miles away in both distance, time, feeling, lifestyle, quality of life, work, etc. Yet in these combinations they can appear similar, whether its the man with a pig in his arms and a pig by his feet, or the mother carrying her baby with a child at her feet
I am now currently experimenting with limbs and the continuation of bodies, like a never ending staircase or a tangle of arms and legs during sex. I want each piece to feel natural, yet sharp and obvious. I want people to initially “feel” when they see the combination, to catch, however brief, an emotion or memory that never existed or has never been felt. After a while I want the viewer to then start working out the piece, whether thinking of the contrast in cultures or the occupation of space. This process can at times feel uncomfortable to the viewer, yet it’s hard to describe why.
Please visit Ben’s Flickr and Cargo for more.