Art Maker: Ben Sears, painter and illustrator

  • Ben Sears with some of his work at Hosmer Gallery in Forbes Library. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ben Sears with some of his work at Hosmer Gallery in Forbes Library. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ben Sears with some of his work at Hosmer Gallery in Forbes Library. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • “Capacity Crowd,” mixed media on paper. Image courtesy of Ben Sears

  • “Spin Cycle,” mixed media on paper Image courtesy of Ben Sears

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Whether he’s painting, drawing or making a print, Ben Sears generally relies on a dark palette and his own imagination. As he says in notes for a new exhibit of his work, “Ultimately I am pursuing my own inner landscape, peeling back the layers to reveal the secrets beneath the surface of things.”

Sears, who teaches art at Amherst Regional High School, earned a BFA in Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and holds an MFA in Painting from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. He has exhibited his work throughout New England and New York State.

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve? 

Ben Sears: I am currently working on mixed media drawings of stadium and arena interiors. These spaces have fascinated me for a while. Whether it’s the Colosseum or a contemporary concert venue, these performance spaces seem to hold a lot of potential energy, even when empty.

I am also interested in the relationship between the stage and the audience. At a performance, there is a spectacle happening that we are directed to look at, but I find the rest of what is going on just as interesting.

HL: What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have any “Eureka!” moments?

BS: I work mostly from my imagination, but I draw a lot of inspiration from everyday life. I made a series of truck drawings several years ago based on seeing them go down the busy street I live on. The more I observed them, the more personality the trucks seemed to have. Some were very serious and self-important, while others seemed playful and silly.

I used these observations as a starting point for my drawings and let my imagination take over from there. For me, the “Eureka” moments happen in the beginning of the process, after which comes the hard work of making each visually compelling.

HL: How do you know when your work is finished?

BS: If I can walk past one of my drawings without part of it bothering me, I usually call it finished. Unfortunately, this sometimes takes years. I often reach a stage where I think a drawing might be done, at which point I might have my wife look at it. She has a great eye, and I can tell just by the look on her face whether or not I need to head back down to my basement studio.

HL: Have you ever had a “mistake” — a project that seemed to be going south — turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

BS: I reach the point in almost every drawing when I think it is doomed to fail. Getting past that usually involves taking a risk, completely reworking an area or introducing a random element. These “mistakes” usually add to the drawing in some way that I wouldn’t have anticipated.

HL: If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you'd be?

BS: Probably a musician. I have been playing the drums for 20 years and taking lessons for the past two.

HL: What do you do when you’re stuck?

BS: I like to play the drums or do the dishes to clear my head. But please don’t tell my wife that I enjoy doing dishes!

— Steve Pfarrer 

Ben Sears’ exhibit “Excavations” is on view through April 27 at Hampden Gallery at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The gallery is open 1 to 6 P.M. Tuesday through Friday and 2-5 P.M. on Sunday. Sears’ website is benjaminsears.com.

To make a suggestion for Art Maker, contact Steve Pfarrer at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.