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Ben Strawn

Article by Sue Snively

Local Artist – December 2003 – Colorado Central Magazine

“As an artist, I rely on intuition, spontaneity, movement, immediacy and serendipity. What is important is to be engaging with the media at an intuitive or felt level. My work becomes a record of that process. I want my art to surprise me — to reveal to me what art is and can be, to express my humanity in ways my intellect alone is unable to conceive”

These are the words of the very creative, versatile, spontaneous and magical artist, Ben Strawn.

Ben Strawn in studio
Ben Strawn in studio

To visit Ben’s studio in downtown Salida, is to visit a world apart with its many abstract paintings, which mingle with more realistic nudes. Then there are, at one end of the studio, plastic soldiers mounted on plates turned upside down. These plates spin and are called simply, “Prayer Wheels.”

In fact, the exhibit that Strawn recently displayed at the Steamplant in Salida was called “Prayer Wheels.” Another work included in the exhibit was called “Army Men Mandala” which presented army men standing in fighting positions on a checkerboard. The “Martyr Panels” are three seven-foot tall pieces of fabric with willow twigs piercing the cloth. Accompanying all of this is a display of words which express the feelings of the artist and bring out the reason for this creation:

Play at War

Charring of flesh

Tourniquet twists

Tighten the grip

Red of Earth and Iron

Soaking through

Layers of hardened

Mind and guts

Exposed cast aside

We lie faces down

in dust and rock

by the side of the road

blackened steel twists

in turn in hearts faith

in God to protect and destroy

The prayer wheels turn

The prayer wheels turn.

Army Man Mandala, acrylic and mixed media on wood, 24 in x 24 in
Army Man Mandala, acrylic and mixed media on wood, 24 in x 24 in

THE SPIRIT AND INTELLECT of this unusual artist can not be expressed in words; the power of his work can only be realized by viewing it. As seen in the Prayer Wheel exhibit, Strawn’s art can seem apart from the world, but this exhibit and others show him as very much aware of worldly events.

Ben’s paintings, as he says, “are a style that is referred to as abstract. But that’s not completely accurate. They’re not abstracted from some idea or image or form. They are not consciously and deductively planned and executed. Instead, they develop; they evolve. They are dialogues with living at a particular moment — color, form, meanderings of lines that take the place of words. My work is not abstract in the sense of being minimalist or without content. Each piece is a diagram and reflection of my consciousness, of me, at that moment. Imagery, style, gesture, mood are informed by what I find meaningful and compelling in life.”

One piece that speaks to these words is an acrylic/collage on canvas called “Jazz Group.” This piece reflects Ben’s interest in music and in the bands he has been a part of. People and instruments are not clearly defined in this work’s swirling black lines and colorful background, but I could almost hear the music as it flowed through the painting and I could feel the fun of the players as they danced through the musical renditions.

Thistle Blues, acrylic on canvas, 60 in x 72 in
Thistle Blues, acrylic on canvas, 60 in x 72 in

In creating, Ben is able to close his eyes and picture what he wants. Although he sometimes draws rough sketches, more often he just works from the vision in his head. Ideas and feelings then manifest that essence into the materials as he creates. Ratios and relationships engineer themselves in his mind and it all comes together in the finished product. Strawn knows when he is done with a piece when the initial impulse is essentially “burned up. It’s like dinner party conversations; when they are drawn out it is time to go on to something else; when the debate is done, it’s over.”

My first exposure to Ben Strawn’s work came in viewing several tables on display at the cultureclash gallery in Salida. They were both beautiful and intriguing, combining stunning artistry with functional design. One piece, called “Table Saw” incorporates a large saw blade cutting through an exquisite mixture of finished maple, walnut and mahogany. Another table combines steel, marble, glass and ash wood. These pieces are magnificent and speak to Strawn’s versatility and skill. But I’ve said enough about them — seeing is believing.

Table Saw, found steel and wood, 51 in x 30 in x 13 in
Table Saw, found steel and wood, 51 in x 30 in x 13 in

Ben Strawn was born into a family of artists. His parents are both well-known artists, and Ben spent several years working in his brother’s furniture-making shop to learn the skills necessary to fine tune his artistic tables. So what reaction does Ben Strawn have to being a part of such an artistic family?

When asked, Strawn thought for a bit, then his eyes lit up as he said with force, “My tendency is to RUN!!”

But instead, he has earned a place in the art world on his own. Ben has a degree from the University of Denver in painting and printmaking, and his résumé includes a long list of exhibits and shows dating from 1986 .

Many galleries have carried Ben’s work — just last month, the Walker Fine Art Gallery in Denver featured his art — and currently he has work on display at cultureclash in Salida; the Trembling Aspen Gallery in Buena Vista; and in several businesses in Colorado.

Truly there is magic in Ben Strawn’s work. As he says:

“Magic is the child of nature. An artist is literally an alchemist — working with color, form, frequencies, and the balance of elements to create something magical, something that does not so much reflect the life force as embody it. My hope and intention as an artist is to tap into this magic, to create works that express the essence or essences of life itself, of living.”

Sue Snively lives in Buena Vista and enjoys writing about art and artists.

6 Writes, monoprint, 16 in x 18 in
6 Writes, monoprint, 16 in x 18 in