Interview | Ben Turnbull

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Left: Ben Turnbull; Right: Sunday Bloody Sunday', 115cm x 76cm, carved church pew, 2020

Eric Block


Ben Turnbull

 

On the eve of a major presentation of his sculptures in Bristol, ‘angry Pop Artist’ Ben Turnbull talks about the inspirations behind his work.

Can you tell us why you have used church pews and hymn books to create these artworks?

I’m always looking for a material or medium that can represent many layers which is why I’ve used anything and everything in the past. What people don’t understand about my work is that I see the multiple layers and meanings from the medium itself as the reason for beginning a project so once I had carving under my skillset (from the desk works relating to school shootings) I was always intending to use that again.

So, from around about 5 or 6 years ago I knew I’d use church paraphernalia but wasn’t sure at the time what I would do. Then fast forward a few years to thoughts of suicide, then pandemic times, the end of days and a plan becomes realised and one I consider worth living for.

As the work got to about the halfway point I noticed a change in my mindset as to what the project was going to really say, so by incorporating more of the church furnishings I felt I had a better way of getting messages across – i.e. – hymn boards as backboards to get quotes and thoughts that would embolden the Pew works and add more symbolic and personal meanings.

You’ve taken quotes from the Quran and Protestant graffiti in Northern Ireland. Is this a deliberately provocative approach to prompt people to consider the nature of terrorism and the ideas behind it?

The quotes and phrases are carefully sourced to work alongside the object, artwork and subject matter.

Angel of Death, 93cm x 104cm, carved church pew, 2020

This show is about experiences, personal and world ones. I craft these into my own worldview and standing in it. I have no relish or care for making a provocative gesture for shock value.

Perhaps the issue is that what I consider worthwhile working on and talking about are the more unsavoury aspects of life and living in this world. I see unhappiness and disorder as a starting point sometimes and then by evaluating that subject and analysing it and ultimately working on it, I exorcise it.


What inspired you to create this body of work?

The project became overwhelming to be honest because for the first time it was a natural evolution rather than a technical one of knowing exactly how it would turn out and what exactly it would say come the end. To be honest there are elements that even I might not be 100% sure of exact meaning.

Hymn No.1′, 71cm x 48cm, mixed media on hymn board, 2022

The thought process and working process was quite different for me this time around. It generally consisted of a six-hour constant session each day with specific electronic music (predominantly 90s house/rave) to keep me going. This music became a vital ingredient as the months wore on, to the displeasure of anyone in the vicinity of my workspace!

So, whilst hammering away with hammer and chisel I would find myself reminiscing about stuff which then I’d add in to later works in the show.

I would say that I have covered all stages of my upbringing and most of my adult life in this one show which is something I’ve never explored before in my work. From the early innocence of childhood at catholic school to wild teenage drink/drug related escapades to the angry frustrated adult you now see.

This work appears to be very rich in influence in the way that ‘I don’t like Mondays’ was quite singular in its commentary. Can you explain some of the influences that you drew on to create these works and if any of them have deep personal significance to you?

When you work the way I do which is under no guidance or help from any art establishment it can actually broaden your horizons on what’s possible when you consider a venue and how the work should be seen. I’ve turned my banishment(for crimes against the artworld) into a positive with this choice this time round. Why choose a boring open plan white walled space when you put the work back into its more natural habitat. I had to consider what I would end up with come the end of the show and having the works shot in glorious light through stained glass was the obvious way to go.

You have decided to hold this exhibition in Bristol. Can you explain your reasons for that, and why you chose to display the work in a church rather than a gallery?

The church in Bristol was a no brainer as soon as I walked through the door.

 This exhibition is backed by a huge poster campaign in Bristol. What sort of reaction are you hoping to get from that and would you say that the promotional aspect is in a sense an artwork as well?

Billboards of the exhibition have been posted across Bristol

The poster campaign is an integral part of this show and the truth is I wouldn’t have gone ahead with such a plan of action without it. It’s as close to urban art as someone like myself can get due to the time consideration on the works themselves and the environment they are made in, i.e., the workshop. Having the outside working in tandem with the inside/church venue gives it a feeling of a crusade. The idea being that an area will be bombarded with propaganda in order for people to know that the church at its centre will be exhibiting the artwork. Then we congregate for the final chapter and all hell breaks loose – There will be blood!

To learn more about Ben Turnbull’s exhibition, click here.

The Mount Without,
Upper Church Lane
Bristol BS2 8FN
Monday 6th – 9th of June 10am – 6pm

Interview by Eric Block


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