ben beres | evangelist

written by Miranda k metcalf | published 16 jan 2019


I don’t want to use the word “zeitgeist” but I’m going to have to. Apologies in advance, but there is no other way of saying this: Ben Beres’ work is a mainline to our zeitgeist. His etchings are an unblushing look at our stifled anxieties delivered with a sugar coating of dark humor. Taking inspiration from the minimalist poet Aram Saroyan, Beres strips sentiments bare often using just two or three words for the gut punch. Homonymes, puns, placement, order and disorder are all deftly employed to create word images which you can get lost in, turning them over and over again in your mind like a worry stone. The personal and political interweave in images such as “Misspeak” which brings to mind, for this reporter, the delicate balancing act of being taken seriously as a woman. The policing of women’s language from vocal fry to “likes” and “ums” is woven into the fabric of every woman’s day to day interactions. So while you may be “peaking” physically, indubitably you’re going to say something wrong or say the right thing in the wrong way. Of course, I’m bringing my own baggage to this interpretation as we all do - that is where art finds its meaning -  but Beres’ ability to capture these complex feelings in one? -two? words is a particular kind of clever that keeps me coming back for more. In my conversation with him, I hesitated to call his work political, and sensing my mealy mouthing he interrupts with “Well, I don’t know if you’ve seen the news lately…”

Beres’ mark making could only come from etching. The roughness of the plates, the texture and the looseness of the sugarlift gives the words the feeling of crazed scrawling, something that’s been jot down in a fit of inspiration, standing as a complete juxtaposition to the time and care that goes into distilling the concepts into a word or two. For me, however, the most significant is the scale at which they are done. Utilizing printmaking’s ability to create the intimate art objects, Beres grabs the threads cycling through our collective conscious, and scales them down into hand held mementos. Some of them at 7 x 10 cm, fit in your palm and you must raise them up to meet your eyes, or lean in closely to a frame on the wall. This makes the viewer not a spectator in a crowd but the subject of a private screening, lending the experience to bend towards introspection and self reflection.

Beres is an instructor in printmaking at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.This gives him 3 to 4 days a week in their fantastic print studio. He and the technician Bradley Taylor dive deep to push printmaking outside its more narrowly defined boundaries. They slap the ground down on the plates, play with sugarlift, and throw rosin at the plate in a technique Beres’ calls “messy-tint.” In his most recent exhibition, Beres included vitreographs as well, which came from a fruitful and ongoing relationship with Pilchuck Glass School. In vitreography the artist uses a plane of glass as the matrix, it is manipulated much like a copper plate in traditional etching. While acid can be used in the mark making, other textures can be achieved through other devices such as sand blasting.

This interest in making, its minutiae and process was present from the beginning for Beres. His father was a pastor, he grew up in the church, and for most of his childhood thought that he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, he was always drawing, creating, and making things with his hands and this impulse was supported by his family. His father wasn’t a screaming-from-the-pulpit, fire and brimstone, kind of a pastor, but rather a youth pastor who brought his own creativity and exuberance to his work. One of the first Beres linocuts was a hill with a skull and three crosses. He sold the edition out to the members of church, thus we get the first inclination of Beres natural gift for marketing as well as making.

Beres draws some keen comparisons to either trade. “It’s gathering people around a central idea whether it’s art or God. You’re always asking for money, and there’s big sense of community, which comes together for the ‘greater good’ the main difference is that the art world is much less judgmental.” If you see Beres at one of his openings, he works the room like only the son of preacherman could. There is a genuine warmth and charm that comes from Beres. He’s skilled at putting everyone at ease, even the shy wanderers who are not sure if they’re really allowed to be in the gallery after six o’clock. His presence fosters a sense of community, but not just any community, one that you could be a part of. He was clearly born for this role, but he hated it growing up. He was an incredibly shy kid whose mother would point out who was sitting alone at a church event and give Ben instruction to go engage them. He’s been groomed to be a genuine people person, and became this hybrid of politician, artist, and pastor. He knows that some people feel anxious in large social situations, and he’s sympathetic but doesn’t quite understand it.

Beres is an evangelist for the printmaking community. He preaches the good word to his students and to the broader art world. He’s in the perfect position to do this because, as well as being an printmaker, he is the third of the trio -SuttonBeresCuller. SuttonBeresCuller is a group of Seattle based artists—John Sutton, Ben Beres, and Zac Culler—who met at Cornish and have worked collaboratively since 2000. For almost 20 years they have created installation, performance and public works. Their gallery works are represented by the Greg Kucera Gallery. So unlike many printmakers, Beres has one foot in the print world, and one in the broader art world. Printmaking is his solo practice, the medium that is his, and his alone. He doesn’t need to negotiate color or size with two other creative minds. Because of this, Beres has a deep love for his time with the plates. His uses this view to be critical as well. “So much of the problem of printmaking is that it’s just for printmakers, it needs to be technically sound, but you not knowing those techniques should not stop someone from being inspired by an image.” I love this hybridity and agility in his thinking. It’s something that not just printmakers will have to start thinking more and more as the 2020s sneak up on us.

Beres lives in Seattle, Washington, a city that has undergone great change in the past few years. Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft, just name a few, moved into the Seattle area and seemingly overnight changed it from a sleepy, artsy, grey, fishing town into a crowded, transplant-filled, grey, tech metropolis. Potential patrons are now 20 year olds with six figure salaries and 80 hour work weeks. They want Teslas and flat screens or Bali vacations but often lack the art education to even consider patronage. The art market is shifting --has shifted-- quickly in Seattle. As the industrial heart of America evolves from production of goods to production of code one can only imagine that it is not the first - or the last - city to undergo this transformation. (Amazon is coming for you Queens.) But Beres is a translator and an advocate, while he recognizes that these changes haven’t been good for a lot of people, they do create opportunities if you’re willing to learn how to play nice. For Beres, there is no other option but to make art. “All I know how to do, and the only thing I’m good at, is making art. I’m shouting into the void, but maybe now it’s a little more interesting.”

More information:

Personal representation: Davidson Galleries