There is something brilliantly immediate about Ben Grasso’s paintings. A sort of half-wonder, half-fear as huge architectural and natural structures are reduced to their component parts in one, slowed-down moment of orchestrated dissembling/assembling. What with their faintly apocalyptic undertone and prairie light, there was more than enough intrigue for us to talk to the man himself about his process…
Do you look at other things they way you look at houses and deconstruct them with your mind? If yes, this must be very distracting for you…
I guess so, or I never really thought about it that way. I like looking at old photos of places I know and seeing how they changed over time, and I like exploring places that are otherwise forgotten and try to imagine their history. I think a lot of the subjects in my paintings are a result of where I’ve been exploring. And yes, I always feel distracted.
What can you tell me about the process, do you imagine the whole and plan them out or just sort of go with it?
I really try to plan things out, for example, I might make a lot of small studies to see if I can clarify what I’m thinking before I jump into another painting which usually becomes something else in spite of my efforts. It becomes its own thing and I kind of resign myself to it. Maybe that’s why I started making pictures of things that were incomplete in a way, or that maybe didn’t have such a tight connection with reality. I work in layers and gradually come up with an image through an additive process that involves a lot of drawing. I guess there’s no real point in my making studies other than to go through some ritual before starting another painting, but I have always done this.
Your paintings are very exciting, do you find painting exciting?
Thank you and of course I find painting exciting. Well, I guess, it depends whose painting we’re talking about. There is a lot of work being made and shown here in New York and the abundance makes it really hard for something to distinguish itself. Today that feeling is a lot less frequent than it was even a few years ago, but I think the most alarming time in my life was when I first started undergrad. It’s hard to keep that attitude, of willing to fail, but it’s the most important thing.
Do you also build bikes and sculpt ice?
Did you guess that just from looking at my work? That’s incredible. I’ve worked for a friend’s ice sculpture company since 2006. In recent years I haven’t really been doing it unless it’s some really big job. I am working on completing first bicycle frame, although, I’ve been really busy and kind of stopped working on it last year. I made a blog to document my process and it too has been equally neglected.