By Danger Coolidge
Unbelievably Bad Editor
Melbourne painter Ben Butcher asks all the tough questions. Questions such as: “Does quality belong in art”?
The self-proclaimed ‘Australia’s Worst Artist’, former recipient of the Itchiball Prize for Bad Art, is having a second solo exhibition at The Old Bar after his successful debut show there in 2013.
Exciting new works such as ‘A retired Black Caviar earns some petty cash by acting as a jousting horse at a medieval fair while Ned Kelly sells balloons to kids’ and ‘Vladimir Putin joins Ivan The Terrible in throwing dogs and a spare dolphin from the Kremlin tower at Pussy Riot’ will be on show.
UB talked art with the worst around.
When did you first discover you were Australia’s worst artist?
I always thought I was a pretty average artist so I didn’t really do it, except for a few little biro drawings when stuck on long train trips. But when I won the Itchiball Prize (for bad art) it seemed pretty clear that I was now holder of title. Of course I’m not the worst. My paintings are awesome, even if I do say so myself.
Has anything happened since then to reinforce your view or, conversely, to make you doubt yourself and your [lack of] talent?
This is my struggle. Do I strive to become even worse, or do I strive to be better? I was delighted with my result when entering my painting of Black Caviar into a fancy equine art prize. The prize is so fancy at they can’t even use the word horse in the title. All the shortlisted paintings depict majestic horses in the dawn mist by uber earnest artists, and I spend 40 minutes to paint Black Caviar being used as a shitty jousting horse at a fair, popping balloons held by crying kids. I failed to make the shortlist and the organisers won’t return my emails. Success!
What will normally trigger a creative burst, get you jazzed about putting brush to canvas/paper/Masonite…?
Usually simple pleasures, like doing a sneaky bomb at the pool. Or when I hear a story I’m not familiar with that’s somehow tragic and funny, like the one about Ivan the Terrible as a kid throwing dogs to their death from the Kremlin tower. Just add Vladimir Putin and Pussy Riot, and the tragedy becomes comedy.
Specifically, what inspired your work A retired Black Caviar earns some petty cash by acting as a jousting horse at a medieval fair while Ned Kelly sells balloons to kids? And is this work less political than say your paintings featuring figures like Jules Assange and Vlad Putin?
One day I was eating some dried liquorice root and thought to myself “now that Black Caviar has retired, I bet he’s picked up some casual work. I bet he’s actually a medieval buff who had to regretfully cut short his Dungeons & Dragons playing pursuits at a young age to chase his athletic dream. I bet he’s at a fair full of nerds right now!?” Of course, he’s really spending most of his time at a stud farm making it with the quality lady horses for a pretty penny, but when he gets some time off… In some ways this painting is more political than the Julian Assange one. My dream is for this painting to make its way into the clubhouse of some snooty pony or polo club, ruffle some feathers, shake up the system and OVERTHROW THE ESTABLISHMENT! …or at least get some chuckles. The Assange painting is just an innocent snapshot of a true story told to me by a schoolyard friend of Julian’s about something they used to do as kids. Sweet innocent nostalgia.
Do unicorns and rainbows have more significance at this point in human history than anytime previous?
Unicorns and rainbows are hot items right now. Not since Noah banned unicorns from the Ark have unicorns been trending so hard. Zeitgeist as fuck! But I’m moving on. Even though I pledge my allegiance to the Old Bar Unicorns footy and cricket teams, I even wrote their theme song, the hipsters have taken unicorns all the way to the bank. I’ve even seen unicorns shitting rainbow ice cream in order to promote good bowel movement technique! So once I can work out how to paint them properly, you’ll be seeing more bunyips in my paintings. They’re the Australian black metal version of the unicorn.
How would you respond to detractors who may try to tell you that painting should be done by people with some artistic talent?
To them I say, “Fuck you!” When has artistic talent ever resulted in exciting, groundbreaking or engaging art? Picasso, Van Gough, Butcher, Cezanne, Pollock, were all pretty much hopeless at art to begin with… But now all household names. Have you seen that inspirational movie about the artist who just takes it easy and becomes a brilliant and famous without trying? No, because it doesn’t happen. Evolution isn’t a series of upgrades. Evolution is a series of failures and “weird shit”, which we choose from to become the new “cool shit”. In order to avoid becoming boring the world needs me and my shit.
Ben Butcher’s Art Show (Ad for young hip movers and shakers):
Ben Butcher’s Art Show (Ad for the finer art connoisseur among us):
Ben Butcher’s Art Show is on at the upstairs gallery at The Old Bar (74-76 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne) for a limited time. Opening night is Tuesday, June 28 at 6pm and it runs until Saturday, July 2. For more info click to australiasworstartist.blogspot.com.au.