Studio Visit – Benny Wilding
30 August 2018
His Plateau studio, which he once shared with late Montreal artist, Scaner, has an iconic vibe to it. The exterior walls surrounding the studio are lined with murals and graffiti which continue into the doors and within the studio. Clearly, these walls have seen several visual artists.
What was once an old paper mill, Benny Wilding’s shop is a true playground for him and his new roommate, Stare, who was a muralist at this year’s MURAL. All sorts of tools and different mediums are available at their fingertips, from spray cans to tools to work cement or to bend metal.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and when your journey as an artist started?
I developed an interest for art at a very young age, but I didn’t really know which path to take. When I was young, I visited New York City where the graffiti scene was rapidly growing and I knew right away that this was my path. When I came back to Montreal, where the scene wasn’t as developed, I immediately started doing graffiti. I did that for about 15 to 20 years. I never went to art school, I learned it all by myself.
It was my friend Scaner who inspired me to take the plunge into the art world, because he did it before me. We started doing graffiti around the same time, we hung out with the same people. At first, I didn’t really believe in the idea of making a living out of your art. For years, he did paint touch-up contracts for bars and restaurants, he had a pretty good network. Once his contacts learned about his graffiti skills, they suggested for him to take a more artistic approach rather than simply repainting in white. When he saw how big the demand was, he came to get me right away and take me under his wing. At this time, I was working as a buyer in an office. I didn’t really believe in it at first. It’s truly because of him that I made the transition.
As for my work as a muralist, it all started with MURAL Festival. Before that, I was only doing graffiti, I hadn’t explored other styles and mediums yet. They first approached me to do a mural sporting my graffiti style. I showed them something different I was working on in my spare time and they really liked it. That’s when I started doing murals and paintings.
What’s your take on street art versus gallery work?
What brought me to painting is really graffiti. With commissioned work, most of the time the subject matter and theme is established by the client. When I do graffiti, I don’t have any constraints, I do exactly what I have in mind.
If I could, I would only do that, but graffiti allowed me to discover the expansiveness of the art world. I also feel like that because I didn’t study the arts in school, I’m more attracted in learning about all the different types of mediums. Right now, I’m creating lettering inspired by graffiti with metal. I’m constantly learning. I spent so many years limiting myself to graffiti only, and even to a particular style of graffiti, now I want to explore and try new things.
Thanks to MURAL Festival also who brought so many different types of art to Montreal, it opened my eyes to more possibilities. So, this studio, when I’m not out creating in the streets, is where I experiment with other mediums, such as sculpture or paintings.
Who are the artists who inspired you early on?
I was more inspired by the movement in general than by a particular visual signature. At the time, it was still very marginalized and I found it admirable that these people believed in it and made the movement grow to the point where today it is more accepted and more in demand. I admire the New-York artists of the time so much. The artists who couldn’t make a living out of this, but still continued doing it and pushing the limits just for the love of this type of art.
I’m thinking of artists like Skeme, Duster, Dash, FC, etc. Even in Montreal, there were very impressive artists, like Stake, Cast and Sike, who inspired me to pursue in this direction. They are all people who paved the way for us. Thanks to them, it’s a lot less taboo to have a career making graffiti than it was 20 years ago.
Can you tell us more about your inspirations and the universe behind your artworks?
I love pop-art a lot. The masters like Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat have influenced me a lot. My graffiti style is more inspired of what was made in New-York City in the 90’s. There are also a lot of references to images with which I grew up during my childhood, especially those of American television at the time.
Can you tell us a bit more about your artistic process and the different steps you go through when creating artworks?
As I was saying, I never went to art school. So, my process isn’t conventional. I learned painting by myself.
It always starts with an image research. Whether on the internet or in the streets, here or on a trip, I’m constantly aware of imagery, letterings, logos and other visuals that would stand out. I like digging up visuals that are less known, that the majority of people haven’t notice. I try to use characters that are more obscure and vintage, ones that haven’t been used yet in the graffiti scene.
For example, at Under Pressure, a couple of weeks ago, me and two of my friends did a collaborative mural in which we brought back Wacky Races characters, which was a tv show that played during the 70’s and 80’s. A tv show that even I have never watched, because I was too young, but a tv show in which the characters inspired us.
After that, I don’t really have steps that I repeat from one project to another. I go about it organically, depending on what I think will look good. Once I have my reference images, I’m good to go.
I don’t create anything on the image side, it’s on the lettering side that I create something. So, the images are there to complement the graffiti, even though it usually attracts less attention.
Soon, you will create a mural for the city of Saint-Jérôme, in addition to create a merchandising item for the festival. Can you reveal us some details of what you’re preparing for P’tit Fest du Nord?
They gave a theme, in fact. As the old train station and its park, P’tit train du Nord, are icons of Saint-Jérôme and that it inspired a lot the name of the festival, I’ve been asked to go in that direction. I thus made a image research to find characters, old railway logos and vectorial images of trains in different perspectives that would fit naturally with the theme, while also fitting with my style. And, for the merchandising item, it will be very characteristic of my style, though it’s still in progress.
Are there other projects you’re working on right now that you can talk to us about?
This year, I worked a lot with the restaurant L’Avenue. They have big projects in progress and a lot of work for me. It was originally a contract with Scaner and he was the one to suggest that they pass me the torch. The owner is really cool, he loves art and he’s very open to any ideas you bring him. I just finished working on a 3-story mural for their new establishment in Boucherville. I’m also working on their sign which will be chinese lettering, like the ones I showed you earlier.
In addition to this larger contracts, I also have a couple projects with the city and different districts. Right now, I’m finalising a mural about the 1976 Olympics near the Olympic Stadium. I’ve been working day and night this summer. It never stops!
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