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VISUAL ARTS

Interview with Dutch-born Artist Arthur Benjamins on His Motor Sport Paintings

Kassandra Ramirez

By KBR

Dutch-born Arthur Benjamins has achieved acclaim in the United Kingdom as well as countries as far as Japan and Australia. He pioneered the use of enamel paints, which no other artist had ever attempted in motor racing art. His colorfully distinct photo-realistic style has caught the attention of the media and public from many corners of the world.

Arthur Benjamins is completely self taught, which enabled him to explore his visions without rigid guidelines set by specific tuition. He pioneered “Abstract Iconography”, where known and lesser-known iconic images are guided into a form of minimalism, a heartbeat away from abstraction. This style embraces portraits of musicians, actors, politicians, artists and racing drivers.

Arthur Benjamins had his first United States art exhibition in 2014 and now lives in Peoria, AZ as an artist with 1Pilgrim Studio. Benjamins shares his experience as a professional artist with the art community, giving further insight into the artistic perspective and process behind his notable motor sport paintings.

“No Surrender” - Arthur Benjamins

“No Surrender” - Arthur Benjamins

What is your story?

I was born in Holland in 1953, lived in Rhodesia for 6 years, returned to Holland in 1963 and moved to the UK in 1974, where I lived for 40 years. I became one of their foremost motoring artists from 1983 onwards and booked many successes through many exhibitions, countless magazine and newspaper articles, fine art prints, book covers and several television appearances. I am also totally self-taught – something that some self-styled 'movers and shakers' may find unattractive.

I now live in Phoenix, Arizona and from where I am now, I intend to build up my reputation as an innovative and contemporary artist in the USA and beyond In throw I ame full knowledge that I would never become a racing driver – I wanted to use a very specific – but very tricky medium that could portray all the bright colors associated with motor racing. I decided to use enamel paints – the same ones that I painted my models with. It was a complete revelation as that medium conveyed all that I wanted to. Over the years, this medium caused a bit of an uproar among the several established motoring artists, eliciting that they said they were also going to try that medium. To my knowledge, none of them did.

When did you discover you wanted to be a professional artist?

Knowing that a part of my father’s family were successful artists was certainly an ever-present spark. I was kicked into a sudden artistic direction. I was never a child prodigy like some other artists. I started late, possibly around my mid teens and the people around me treated my aspirations with indulgent kindness. I never developed a self-identity until much later.

What is your dream art collaboration?

 A Facebook artist I befriended some years ago, suggested a collaboration whereby we'd both repaint one of each others' images in our own styles. Our techniques and styles are poles apart, however, his forte is the female form in many guises – an art form that ticks all my boxes!

“The Green Hell” - Arthur Benjamins

“The Green Hell” - Arthur Benjamins

What visual artists inspire you in your work?

The Dutch artist who inspired me in 1968 was Jack de Rijk – an average artist who had serendipitously broken into motor racing art before it became popular. As a result, his works were featured on TV and various newspaper articles – many of which I cut out and still have. He hit the jackpot with his automotive art and his first large exhibition was bought out in one fell swoop by Ford. The very moment I saw him on TV, I knew exactly what I really wanted in life.


De Rijk passed away in 2005 and I regret never having contacted him to convey that he had single handedly steered me onto a path from which I had never deviated. Sadder, still – his online presence is marked by only a few images of his later art. To this day, my own role in motor racing art has mirrored De Rijk's, as I receive regular contacts from other artists who were buoyed in exactly the same manner when they saw my work at Racing Car Shows. Full circle! 

I am buoyed by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Willem de Kooning, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and various more. Not necessarily their art – but more of their own personal stories – their struggles amongst the myriad New York critics who ruled imperiously around the 40s, 50s and 60s. De Kooning, who stowed-away onto USA soil in 1926 and became highly feted in the the New York art world, only reached financial successes well over 30 years later! The other artists would also face equal hardships till their time came, too.

How would you describe your unique style?

 My motor racing style started out as very graphic. When I still lived in Holland, I began to produce in quantity and with the absolute minimum of detail, I set about to portray the technical aspects of the cars, which hitherto had never been attempted by any other automotive artist, whose styles had been marked by provocative slashes and blobs of random color – very popular in the 1960s – and which was considered to have an eternal life.
A few random European artists reigned fairly supreme in their own countries and I was fortunate to have met various other high echelon British artists and to have exhibited alongside them at the larger shows.

My pioneering use of enamel paints was viewed with considerable surprise and possible suspicion by other artists and patrons alike – but which was never emulated by anyone else. Modern acrylics have a much shorter drying time, allowing me to work with increased spontaneity and have almost similar traits of enamel paints which are sadly covered by stringent USA Hazmat regulations.
The mid 1980s saw me move towards a pioneering photo-realistic style, which hit the mark in Great Britain after I had moved there in 1974. It would be up to around the end of the millennium that I would discard this and return to my first love – the graphic style.

“Grand Prix Homage” by Arthur Benjamins

“Grand Prix Homage” by Arthur Benjamins

What is the hardest part of living as a professional artist?

Becoming a professional artist is all good and well if you can support yourself independently from your art.
Many artists would take these logical steps. When I lived in the UK, I deliberately remained an engineering designer up to the point where 'age-ism' began to rule supreme and much less experienced people became the 'new world'. 
However, by that time the UK had shown to have fallen irretrievably behind as the motoring art leaders. That decline started with the late 1980s recession from which it never recovered.
By that time I had pioneered my “Abstract Iconography” - a genre which portrays known and lesser-known icons and iconic images and reduces them to a point where they exist a fraction away from recognizability.
The UK was a hotbed of embarrassed looks and curtailed small talk, party-time conversations when I answered that I was a professional artist. I might have well told them that I had some kind of venereal disease, such were their stunned reactions.
I am happy to say that the reactions in the USA are diametrically the opposite. The fact that I'm a professional artist elicits genuine interest.

Give us insight into the production of your last project. What was the biggest highlight of the process?

 One of the most recent exciting automotive art projects was to introduce an aspect into my work which I had never considered before. The germ of the idea came to me when looking through one of my books on Roy Lichtenstein's early work, whose generic use of comic-and-strip cartooning featured predominantly and would re-nourish my own love for drawing cartoons – something I hadn't done for over 40 years. This new project also fits in beautifully with my graphic predilection towards simplification, abstraction, even.


With the Indianapolis 500 coming ever closer, which I have always loved, I multi-angled my idea into combining that race with the hope and dreams of all racing drivers – to drive and win at the Indy 500.
I would choose a hero of my own, calling him, Mike – after my own middle name, Michael. Mike is sitting in his race car and dreams of winning that race, his finger pointing upwards and with a heroic smirk and dreamlike eyes gazing into the middle distance like so many had done before him. I would call my painting, “Believe And Achieve.” Through this painting, I had weaved myself into motor racing greatness after all.

My following project is to make a range of smaller paintings, combining strip cartoon ethos with biting humor and satire. My other recent painting, “The 1000 Mile Hell”, was to embrace famous races and depict them into “what-if”, projects of which the possibilities are limitless.

“The 100 Mile Hell” by Arthur Benjamins

“The 100 Mile Hell” by Arthur Benjamins

What are you favorite colors to use in your art?

Living in Arizona, I have to painfully endure the enduring love affair with a gamut of brown hues from which too many refuse to move away. Very few of those people don't realize that their own south-western style homes can happily live with art that doesn’t follow the rules they think they need to follow. There isn't a color I would not wish to use, only the relationships between colors I wish to address. Red is the color I like to spice up images with. Always add a little red to any image and it will become more appealing to potentials. To that effect, Johannes Itten's “The Elements Of Color”, is a highly recommended book on the relationship between all sorts of colors and their hues. It is available on Amazon.

What is your favorite element about creating?

 If there isn't a mold that fits you, make one that does. You can follow a trend trying to cash in on it, hopefully making money in the process. That doesn’t mean you'll be a good artist – just a copyist – and there are plenty of those about.

It will take some time for you to find your own style and that journey can be as you personally direct it. In the beginning you will partly or completely follow in another's footsteps up until the point you move away and find your own corner or niche. The main element of finding your own way is the utmost need to create something – whether it's existing or new. I remember an occurrence many years ago when I was drawing up a Sci-Fi painting where weird beings are climbing out from a precipice and making their way towards the viewer. A friend happened to be looking over my shoulder wondering what I was doing. The very moment he saw what I had drawn, he muttered something and fled the room. I was somewhat alarmed at first but that turned into deep satisfaction when I realized what my work could actually do!

A famous artist who made his name when he painted the first Star Wars poster and remains prodigious, told me that he paints because he 'wants to get it right'.  The reasons for creating something are many fold and cannot be put in a paragraph or two. My own personal reasons are that I wish to speak through my work – not as in a message as I have stated before – but to shake up the viewer – to get them to think and ask themselves questions – to elicit responses, whether they are good or bad.

 

Twelve Tips for Aspiring Visual Artists by Arthur Benjamins

Arthur Benjamins


By Arthur Benjamins

1. Becoming a professional artist is all good and well if you can support yourself independently from your art alone.

Many artists would take these logical steps. When I lived in the UK, I deliberately remained an engineering designer up to the point where 'age-ism' began to rule supreme and much less experienced people became the 'new world'. 

However, by that time the UK had shown to have fallen irretrievably behind as the leaders of motoring art. That decline started with the late 1980s recession from which it never recovered.

By that time I had pioneered my “Abstract Iconography” - a genre which portrays known and lesser-known icons and iconic images and reduces them to a point where they exist a fraction away from recognizability.

The UK became a hotbed of embarrassed looks, smirks and curtailed small talk, party-time conversations when I answered that I was a professional artist. I might have well told them that I had some kind of venereal disease, such were their stunned reactions.

I am happy to say that the reactions in the USA are diametrically the opposite. The fact that I'm a professional artist elicits genuine interest.


2. It is absolutely necessary that you believe in yourself. 

Any hesitation in your conviction will be smelt out like a dog that smells fear. You are not to picture yourself as a 'Sunday painter' and any potential client should come away with the distinct feeling that your work governs every living, breathing second of the day and night.

Nothing wrong with being and remaining a “Sunday painter' and occasionally selling your work for the price of the materials you put into them. I still hear of artists who are happy to remain in that corner and simply don't understand why their work isn't as popular as they hope or galleries beating a path to their doors.

As time progresses and you have several or more shows under your belt, it is imperative that your self-confidence increases – even if sales do not match your efforts.

It is the confidence that you exude, which can persuade the viewer to invest in your work and become a collector, hopefully long-term.   

“Blue” by Arthur Benjamins

“Blue” by Arthur Benjamins


3. You MUST have a 'story' about yourself, your journey, and the individual works you are showing.

People love that. They're not only buying your art – they are also buying a bit of YOU. Long after they've bought your work – they can still savior the atmosphere you conjured when describing your particular piece. 

If you don't have a 'real' story about one or more of your works, make one up without too much exaggeration. Embellish your stories and change them as you see fit. Sometimes you have to measure them to the viewer of that particular work. If that viewer comes from Texas for instance, then perhaps mention that a too short of a visit to their state inspired you to do that particular piece of art.

The spoken word is and remains very powerful.


4. Develop a very thick skin for criticism.

Many viewers, have absolutely NO idea what they're looking at or how to deal with it.

Many will venture into a gallery or show with zero knowledge of art or intent to purchase. They see you and your work as an exhibit in a museum. Their questions – invariably stupid – will test the most hardy of individuals. 

Be prepared to have serious questions asked by individuals, who are nothing but artists themselves, wishing to short cut their own process by asking all about your own techniques. Their most standard opening lines are, “Tell me, how DO you do that?”. I've now reduced the answering process to surgical precision without wasting my own time by answering, “What medium do YOU use?”.

A great many visiting artists are dedicated amateurs and have nothing else to do but ask you about your business. Unless you actually enjoy giving away all your secrets to them, the pastime is quite nice - but it won't get you paying clients.

 I know of an artist who was commissioned to paint on various building walls in downtown Phoenix. As totally expected, it wasn't long before her work got 'tagged'. 

Wailing on Facebook like a deranged banshee, she posted pictures of this 'desecration' and which were so minute, that I actually had to ask very diplomatically what or where this 'damage' was.

Take any show without sales or leads as valuable experiences for the next and do not despair. I've seen far too many newbies – old or young – fall into a decline because they didn't sell out at their first show. I felt it was up to me to gently inform them of the many pitfalls that befalls any artist.


5. Talk to other artists about their experiences. That journey never stops. Never. 

Many artists have been around the block many times. They will tell you hair-raising stories of their own and if you persevere, it won't be long before you will join their ranks. 

The stupidity of people cannot be overestimated. Once you fully realize that, you can learn to roll with the punches. What doesn’t kill you – makes you stronger.

Unlike what I thought before my first USA expo, I felt that 98% of visitors were potential buyers who had payed their entrance fee because they were genuinely interested in buying art for their homes – which are being rapidly built here near Phoenix and beyond.

I was wrong. A tragically high % of visitors will happily drive a (sometimes considerable) distance to put $10 down to treat the show as if it was some sort of museum.

On your perhaps stoney path, you'll meet a vast array of all types. They can be terribly humble or aggressively cocky and it is up to you how you want to listen and learn from them. They all have their stories which you will take on board. 

“Believe and Achieve” by Arthur Benjamins

“Believe and Achieve” by Arthur Benjamins

6. Study other, well known, famous and world-wide renowned artists.

Study their work, and techniques. I strongly advise to be conversant with their experiences and personal lives. This adds gravitas to your stories and gives the patron an excellent picture of your commitment.

As a personal example – Dutch-born artists Piet Mondrian came to the USA as a war refugee and Willem de Kooning as a stow away on a small freighter. Apart from being one of their fellow countrymen, I can say that I lived in Mondrian's birth place and am perpetuating his Neoplasticism in my own unique manner. I can also boast that De Kooning and I were both born in Rotterdam, Holland. 

I will joke that my entrance to this country did not involve large scale conflicts or hiding away on ships, and is far more benevolent than theirs. 

These are not earth shaking details, but if you build it up coherently and with some humor, they do all add up to a very positive and pleasant picture of yourself.


7. NEVER belittle or criticize any other artist.

A potential client may already have one or more of their works.

Even if you are specifically asked for your opinion, it is better to say that you are not familiar with that artist than come out with negative comments which never reflect well on you.

Even if the client agrees with you, there comes to exist an aura of negativity around you and your work – something you should strive to prevent at all costs.

Instead, voice the positive aspects of that artist's work – even if you don't directly answer the questions directed to you.

You simply voice why your work is different to the others but without making direct and poignant comparisons.

Negativity feeds on itself, it also increases and becomes self-destructive. A day which started out very well, may just end because you let a bad thought or feeling multiply.


9. Not everyone is going to like your work it.

This can manifest itself with blank looks, stares, and wandering past your works muttering some comment or voicing horror at your prices. The vast majority of viewers will not say anything but just move on. Rejoice at the hecklers and others who voice their negative opinions of your work. At least you can answer them or counter them in any shape you see fit.

It is important that appreciative viewers get to understand that your reputation as a serious artist is growing. You can point out various lower priced works which form an affordable  platform from which they can start collecting your works.

The importance of this is two-fold. It shows that your are a totally committed artist and which will attract the serious collector. It will also frighten away the enviable time wasters.

Any artist who claims that they are not seeking an audience is lying. We sell our souls to ones who have polarized ideas and passions, conversely hoping they will listen. 

Once an artist realizes that the world sees them as entertainment – as monkeys in a cage, ready to be poked with sticks – a large burden will fall off their shoulders. 

The world no longer looks at artists as a barometer of social issues, or that it allows its hackles to be raised, warranting ostracizing or widespread condemnation. There has been nothing new since the 1960s. Copyists are being championed through galleries, time and time again and without signs of stopping.

It depends on the individual artist how they allow prevailing attitudes to affect them. If you work to your advantage,  you will become stronger, resilient and utterly determined to spread your own gospel and with the sterling assistance of the ones who want to listen, write your own ticket to success.

The old adage is as true here, as it is elsewhere - “If you need something done properly, do it yourself”


10. ALL viewers must be considered potential clients.

No exceptions, as difficult as this may seem or become. Uncommitted or boorish visitors one day may well become a collector of your work. This may take several years or more. I know of one bespoke furniture maker who received commissions from a show visitor 7 years previous!

Even the individuals who talk trash to you, and who you wish to send packing as time wasters, may well become the very best client you ever had.

Many want to fill in empty spaces on their walls. Whether they buy books or art 'by the yard', the ultimate choices are price governed. I've heard visitors bitterly complain that the works on show surpassed their $50 art budget, making me suggest that their local thrift or Dollar Shop would supply exactly what they were looking for.

On the other hand, I've had clients who'll spend $15,000 without haggling or blinking an eye.

The wife and agent of a very well known cartoonist and illustrator told me that a fairly drunk young visitor came to their booth one evening and spent an hour and a half talking about himself, art and the world in general. It was getting late and she was seriously contemplating telling him that she wanted to close the booth and go to bed. 

In that one minute of contemplation, the young guy had got out his checkbook and bought $45,000 worth of art.

Every serious artist you'll ever talk to has one or more stories like this.


11. Dealing with galleries will open up new and unforgettable experiences. Be very prepared.

As far back as the 50s, they would champion artists and try and place them on the map. Compared to these days, there were relatively few galleries about and most of them had some real clout in the art world, liaising or colluding with the few big-named art critics who had the power to make or break galleries and artists alike. New York critic Clement Greenberg was one such critic who gained Messianic status. This 'king maker' as he was named, could – and would – single handedly destroy any reputation if it suited him. A flawed character whose writings carried much weight but sounded inarticulate when speaking to an eager audience.

Although their websites will tout for 'new talent', the plethora of galleries that have risen like wild mushrooms, are not geared to introduce and nurture new talent but solely in business to make a quick buck from – in a great many cases – mediocre work..

Their outlook is to garner as many local artists with some track record of success, and to latch onto their clientele in order to expand their own headcount of potential customers.

In order to get an immediate response from a gallery, it is imperative to walk inside to present yourself and your work. If you are fortunate, you'll get either a negative of positive reply. Either way, you'll know where you stand.

Should you wish to deal with them per email, be very prepared never to receive any reply whatsoever.

Beware of the so-called 'vanity galleries'. Their task is to contact and promise artists high levels of success if they would sign up to their scheme where the artist pays a serious premium for an exhibition. To add insult to injury, the artist is responsible for art transport, opening night entertainment and to pay the gallery a minimum of 50% commission for sold work.

Galleries are also notorious for having little or no respect for stored works of art. I have seen them haphazardly stacked against each other with sharp edges digging into the canvas. 

Delivering well-packed artwork is no guarantee that the gallery will use them again in storage. In many cases the packaging is discarded as it takes up too much room and can be fire hazard.


12. Accept to put in long hours to promote yourself.

With the advent of the internet, there are many platforms on which to promote your work. Start your own website which putting together is no longer considered to be a black and costly business. Consider the ubiquitous Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Etsy, Fine Art America, Saatchi, Deviant Art. etc. etc.

Up-keeping them is just as important as starting them, which can really bite into your time and take much effort. Once you have your own rhythm sorted out, maintaining them becomes an enjoyable business.

“Presidents” by Arthur Benjamins

“Presidents” by Arthur Benjamins



My artists tips are built on the accumulation of experiences spanning over 45 years living in Holland, Great Britain and now, the USA. The beautiful thing is that this experience remains ongoing and I prefer to be honest with the reader and convey the problems they can can face on their chosen path of life. All artists are gifted with that special 'zing', which allows them to connect to a more intense level of existence.

I am proud to be one of them.






Artist Tips: Dealing With Criticism and Disapproval

Arthur Benjamins

By Arthur Benjamins

There are two methods of criticism and disapproval

1 – Verbal

2 – Non-verbal


The reasons in which the verbal manifests itself can be split into several camps.

1 – Ignorance

2 – Genuine attempt to assist through criticism

3 – Genuine attempt to be hurtful.


It is fully understandable from the artists' point of view that all criticism is hurtful no matter how it is worded. Many people simply do not possess the power or ability to bring their thoughts into a manner which is both positive and constructive. Even the people who have been asked to give their opinions on what you've created may not have the proper ability to do so.

Although countless artists have created work for many years, showing it to the general public is a great deal different than to friends and family, those who may patiently indulge you. Like stand-up comedians, bringing it to the masses is a memorable experience that will either make or break you. Two clearly marked choices determine if you're going to slink away with your tail between your legs or get up, dust yourself off and stay on your path. Far too many times have I needed to talk real courage into artists when their very first show didn't meet their expectations. I was right there, July 1979 for my own first solo show in London.

Science Fantasy art from Arthur Benjamins’s first solo show in 1979

“Beth” by Arthur Benjamins

“Beth” by Arthur Benjamins

 
“Broken Bridges” by Arthur Benjamins

“Broken Bridges” by Arthur Benjamins

I didn't realize for one second that the gallery owner had her own coterie of narrow-minded clientele and who would not be interested in my automotive paintings. It was a major lesson to me, it hurt like hell but I got over it and became much stronger.


Sucking it up:

One of my own steps for survival has become a total shift of attitude and a different viewpoint that does not run parallel with the usual manner of reasoning. Instead of becoming bitter and twisted and becoming obsessed with criticism by a gallery owner, potential client, magazine editor, etc., simply look at it from an audacious new direction.

Despite your work being the best thing they must have seen for many years and ALL of your tremendous and hard work, they forced you to take them by the scruff of the neck and make them listen up. They simply did not have the wherewithal to recognize your genius and to join you on your path all the way to the top! In short – they all missed your boat towards a fresh new future.

There – doesn't sound that more uplifting?

This may sound big headed and pompous, but you are not in the business of catering to the preconceived ideas of others who think differently as to how artists should present themselves to the world.

When you let your art speak for itself, you can also let your art views be known in no uncertain way. Artists are not known to be verbal, so be different. Speak out. SHOUT out..

The above suggestion should only be considered when you've been in the game for a long time. A critical outlook on the clientele world through artists' eyes is a serious privilege that should be earned and not taken on at the start of one's career.

A good artist automatically knows when his/her work has reached a plateau where they can wear the coat of an artist who is ready for the world, and on your path you will meet dissatisfied artists who are nowhere near that point yet.


Legitimate criticism:

I recently asked a friend of mine - a well-known and very accomplished artist who produced the very first 'Star Wars' poster and who's name remained very high on the firmament of strip cartoon art and beyond – just how he dealt with the criticism (and more) from his agent & manager.

Now consider that this particular criticism would come from an exceptionally capable source which should be seen more as guidance than anything else - his answer still rung a distinct bell with me as it mirrored my feelings when my own agent & partner passes criticism on any of my own works – I become very defensive.

In his case, his agent suggested a subject he should paint and to which he reacted negatively. He painted it after all, and it sold within a week for an excellent price!

It is very important to have a reliable person who will be totally honest with you even if you are told things you don't want to hear. In many cases the opinion will be worth it and much of my work has been greatly helped.


Interaction:

As mentioned earlier in the article on my interview, the non-verbal side of criticism is a treacherous one, as the viewer does not communicate with you which may seem fine but it won't allow you to interact with them, getting the necessary and intuitive response experience which can turn a neutral or potentially negative situation into a positive one. As odd as it sounds, you need the bitter experience with all the 'hecklers' out there.


At the very least, ALL 'criticism', regardless of the source should be considered. It's up to you to process that in any shape you wish to. In the same manner that every cloud has a silver lining – every piece of unhelpful or negative commentary DOES build you up and make you stronger.


Motor Racing art rom Arthur Benjamins’s first solo show in 1979

“917-10 vs McLaren” by Arthur Benjamins

“917-10 vs McLaren” by Arthur Benjamins

“Lauda at Monaco” by Arthur Benjamins

“Lauda at Monaco” by Arthur Benjamins