April 2017

Pop Culture Junk

Ben Brown Ben Brown Ben Brown Ben Brown Ben Brown Ben Brown Ben Brown Ben Brown Text: Tristan Ceddia Images: Ben Brown

For over twenty years Ben Brown has been an active figure in the Australian creative industry. Even if you don’t recognise his name, you’ve probably seen his work on tour posters for the likes of Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr and the Big Day Out, comics for Mad and Stab magazines and hoards of T-shirt prints for various clothing labels about town. Tristan Ceddia talks to Ben about his dreams, influences and thoughts on the introduction of the computer.

Tristan Ceddia: How did you begin your career as an artist?

Ben Brown: I really loved drawing as a kid and my parents encouraged me. I always imagined it was what I would do for a job. I started out by working in the art departments of local screen printers where I had access to bromide cameras and art materials, and also doing flyers and handbills for friends bands and shows. Generating a regular income through working in the art department helped me to build up a steady freelance existence.

TC: You have been illustrating commercially for over 20 years with your work spanning posters, comic strips, clothing, music packaging and all that lies between. What have you been working on lately?

BB: All that sort of stuff… posters and merchandise for Pearl Jam, You am I, Good Vibrations festival, Come Together festival, tee prints for Billabong and Mambo; regular stuff in Stab (surfing) mag and Mad Magazine – all manner of mercenary activities. I also had a show of prints and paintings at the National Grid Gallery on Sydney’s Northern Beaches which was fun to put together and went well.

TC: You must have seen a lot of change since you began illustrating. How have things altered since the introduction of the computer?

BB: Purists probably think the advent of computers is a bad thing, but I think they are great. Computers provide you with a lot more opportunity and options to be creative with. And I would much rather deliver all my work via email, rather than driving into the city, or wherever. It provides a lot more people with that DIY motivation. Computers are fun. However having said that, I think the best art is created away from computers, the old fashioned way. I use mine as a glorified colouring-in machine.

TC: What are the most memorable jobs you have worked on?

BB: I never really think about things when I’m doing them. Later on down the track they might have some significance for me. But I suppose doing posters and merchandise for bigger acts like Nirvana, Fat Boy Slim or Pearl Jam is memorable. T-shirt prints for clothing label Supply and hardcore rock freaks Massappeal.

TC: What would make a dream job for you?

BB: Getting a six-figure retainer from some multinational corporation for just drawing whatever crazy shit comes into my head or working with bands/ people that I like, and having fun doing it.

TC: Among posters for the Big Day Out, Dinosaur Jr and Silverchair you designed the 1992 poster for Nirvana’s Nevermind tour. Do you think the art of the tour poster still remains as relevant today as it has been in the past?

BB: I think so. They seem to go in and out of favour – with the amount of media and relative ease producing them these days – it is not hard to make cool looking pieces of art to promote bands, events, festivals. They provide the intended audience with some kind of connection. Festivals particularly build a lot of their identity and insight into what kind of music/performance/experience to expect from poster art, which is generally also used across all media and merchandise. From small bands starting out, to the biggest band or festival, posters still hold some kind of relevance.

TC: Has music had a big influence on your style and work?

BB: I’ve been a music fan since I was a kid and always like listening to stuff while I work. I was always hanging around bands in Sydney in the late ’80s and ’90s, so my style probably developed doing work for friends and promoters, and it developed into paid work for record companies, bigger promoters, Triple J and magazines. So yes, music has had an influence on my work in equal parts with surfing, skateboarding, bad TV and general pop culture junk.

TC: What are you listening to at the moment?

BB: In the last week or so on the iTunes at work it has been Swervedriver, Saint Vitus, Melvins, Dinosaur Jr’s new album, Daredevil, Kitty Daisy and Lewis, Danny Elfman (Williie Wonka soundtrack), Black Mountain, the Scientists… I see Alex Chilton has just passed away – so I am sure Big Star will get a run this week.
(Note: thanks to Marty who I share my studio with and sponge a lot of my music from)

TC: You embody a punk aesthetic with your drawings, echoing the power of artists like Coop, Ed Roth and Pushead. Where do you draw inspiration from outside art?

BB: As a kid I loved trashy films, TV, comics, bubble gum cards etc. and it was always harder to find in those pre mass media/internet overkill times. I like reading but that doesn’t influence my work that much. I get inspired by radical visuals that appeal to my warped senses. We are bombarded in our daily lives with all kinds of images; I suppose that media overload influences me. I love old sci-fi and horror from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s etc. Playing with my kids is funny and inspiring, they live in crazy worlds of their own.

TC: What’s in the pipeline for Ben Brown?

BB: I just finished putting together a schmick looking CD package for my old band, Hellmenn. (available now through Missing Link) and we played a one-off show in Sydney too, which was fun. So now I am keen to turn my attention to a new show of drawings, prints and paintings for later this year. Apart from that I will be squirreling away in the studio to pay the bills and surfing or swimming whenever I can.

Ben Brown

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