catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 23 :: 2005.12.16 — 2005.12.29


Life in a box

Ben Keys
is an emerging artist whose passion for painting can be traced back to
the influence of his mother, painter Jeanie Collin Keys; the strong
ties of his family to their European roots; and his European travels.
In 2003, Keys studied painting with Dan Gustin at the Art Institute of
Chicago, and spent the summer of 2004 in Italy at the International
School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture in Umbria. Keys has a unique
perspective on the transforming effect that Art can have on the
individual, as he was once a business major at Virginia Tech and worked
in the "dot com" world before devoting himself to painting. He
currently resides in Wilmington, North Carolina and is working on a
home portrait series for Wrightsville Cottage, Inc.

What are the origins of the TV Head series?

As a new Christian, I felt a need to mass communicate. I wanted to
use the most legible and contemporary visual language I could find.
After several months of looking, I found it on the cover of an AOL
promo CD. It was a "eureka" moment inspired by the AOL running man
logo. I started the series the next day.

Who or what informs the images?

Other than the AOL iconography, and Dilbert, the subject matter is
drawn from life: observations of human behavior, preferences,
obsessions, conversations, perceived values, relationships to
technology, my experiences working in the dot-com world and my
intuitive responses to these experiences. Sitting at an IHOP one
Sunday, images started coming to me. I quickly jotted down ideas for
several paintings. Most of the series came to me that way, in the form
of logos. All I did was make alterations to create more paintings.

What is the relationship between the graphic style of the series and
the content?

The graphic style is the culmination of mass media languages and the
product of a rapid, global, commercial communication need. I use the
style to address the condition symptomatic of it. The relationship is

What are your hopes for those viewing the works in the TV Head series?

My hope is to expose the artificiality of the commercial-reality paradigm by signifying spiritual conditions caused by it.

What is TV Head's "spiritual condition"?

TV Head is a consumer. His spiritual condtion is regulated by media input and his consumptive patterns. Re-Pete and Hooked are the most concise descriptions of his condition. Hooked illustrates his media need, and Re-Pete
expresses his media output. However, all images serve as character
witnesses and I welcome the viewer to discover facets of his
personality that I have not intended.

Talk about TV Head as a character. Is he an abstract of things that are
wrong with society or do you—does God—find something to love in him? Is
there anything authentic in, for example, the expression of joy in
Tubilation or the interpersonal connection in Compatibility or are we,
the viewers expected to respond only to the flaws in ourselves as revealed
by the TV Head world?

TV Head is very lovable. His character is constructed of media
responses and viewpoints. At times his behavior reminds us of our own.
His responses are all authentic but misguided. Because he has no
Scriptural belief system, he relies solely on taste and preferences for
all of his choices. The media is his voice of God. And his God, who
created him, loves him.

What is the significance of the small planets that make an appearance
as sharply curved horizon lines in pieces like Envy-Us and Moon

The outer space scenes are indicative of his state of mind. He makes
no distinction between reality and fantasy. Due to the confusing
juxtaposition of fantasy and reality on television and his bionic
connection, he makes no differentiation between television and his own
life, hence the blast-offs into outer space. The moon is one of his
favorite places to go because it is where heroes travel. Vicariously,
he is an astronaut.

Flags appear in several of the paintings. How does TV Head
generally feel about patriotism and the United States? About religion?
Where does he get his opinions?

TV Head is pro-democracy because it facilitates his consumer ideals.
He loves the United States because it is a land of free choice and he
has the privilege of exercising these rights at all times. He doesn't
know any different. TV Head loves religion as long as he gets to
choose. He has no opinions. He is free from this responsibility because
the media has obliterated his ability to think, hence the blank screen.
But at least he has fun doing it.

How do you feel the TV Head series communicates your values as they emerge from your faith?

TV Head represents a comparison to faith. All works of art carry a
latent worldview. TV Head presents a standard for worthy comparison.

TV Head as a series is a celebration of freedom in Christ's victory
and in the United States. I hope to achieve irony in all of my works:
the impact of joy and other layers of other meaning which resonate
deeper, more profound truths. The Weathered Man
is the culmination of this statement in the series and was the final
painting I created as an end cap to punctuate my overall intention. All
works are full of symbols and made for the purpose of viewing pleasure
and entertaining meaning possibilities. My hope is to instill joy and
peace and love in all works by the use of bright color, line, humor and
irony. I experienced tremendous joy creating the series and hope the
viewers will be able to engage in and share in this fun experience.

Original paintings are available at Keys' web site. 11 × 17 posters of all images are available for $19.99 by e-mail.

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