Rawson Projects is pleased to present Ben Berlow: Posters and Related Works opening January 13th. The exhibition is the first in a series in which artists are commissioned to make a poster for purchase. Artists are encouraged to explore the history of the poster as well as consider the role of the artist when working in an uneditioned, unsigned format. In lieu of a traditional press release, we have included an excerpt from a discussion about the project with the artist below.
Rawson Projects: We have talked about this together, about the difference between a “unique” work, an edition, and a poster. What, to you, qualifies this body of work as poster?
Ben Berlow: Posters are prints on paper made in large quantities, intended for a large audience. If for sale, they are priced affordably. All posters are prints, and this is a print, but I am not numbering or signing them, so it is not an edition. Each is unique, but it is the same idea - an application of four thumbprints on paper - over and over again with a bit of variation. Uniqueness, per se, is not a problem. I think of them as Le Corbusier Pony Chaises or pepperoni pizzas. There is this template, and a pattern within. The pattern just shifts arbitrarily from chaise to chaise, pizza to pizza, poster to poster.
The main thing ended up being an avoidance of what a poster usually is, a constant graphic printed innumerable times. I was experimenting with sponges and stencils, trying to make something that could easily be reproduced yet a bit different from poster to poster, but I ended up coming back to this idea of the thumbprint, this way of printing that used no screen, stone, sponge, potato, beet, etc. The thumbprint was it; this was something I could really put myself into, pun intended.
RP: When discussing the history of posters they are almost always related to advertising. They rarely become “art” themselves. They are, instead, designed to entice the viewer to purchase a commodity or, perhaps, incite to action (propaganda). Do you feel that your posters in some way address this history, or do they attempt to move past it?
BB: I did not conceive of these things as any sort of advertising or propaganda, nor have I made them with those histories in mind. This poster is the product. That’s all. Engaging in a harmless bourgeois pastime, I am making things, will let them enter some strata of the market, and hope that they will be bought.
Even though I have put myself directly into their manufacturing, I would ideally like my name and identity unbound from the posters. That seems strange because it is my thumbprint, but it is the only way to avoid this being any type of advertising or propaganda. In this respect it is good I didn’t sign them; perhaps they will wind up out there as little bastards in the world. Someone will look at the brown paper with four spots on it and say, “What is this thing?” and may hang it on their wall as either a curiosity, entertainment, or strange design, and that’s good enough for me.
But the key thing here is I have to be realistic about this design. Why would anyone want four thumbprints on a piece of paper? Hopefully they like the quality of the paint on the paper, or they get some visual thrill out of looking at them. I mainly want them to lighten the viewer’s mood. Sure, that would be easier with a flower or a picture of a cow, but I have tried to do this with just my thumbs.
RP: You chose to use your thumbprint as the means of “printing” these posters. We spoke a bit about how this relates to cave painting and primordial artistic gesture. Can you perhaps explain more about why you chose this method for producing the posters?
BB: It was a little joke when I said I would be “printing” these myself. But your question goes deeper. Was I actively thinking about cave painting at the time I conceived the design? No, It was an afterthought, but there is more to be said on this subject.
In middle school I was very affected by lectures on prehistoric art by my teacher Mr. Rodriguez. One image he projected was a silhouette, made by blowing pigment over the hand onto a cave wall through a hollow bone. He also showed images of designs made by scratching and tracing the fingers over a soft layer of mud. The primordial artistic gesture may be the handprint or this kind of scratching in the mud, I don’t really know.
But later on, I saw the same marks and impulse to show the hand while teaching ceramics to K-12 students and finger-painting with the after-school kids. Watching them play with clay for the first time and finger-paint was amazing. It was so intuitive, this pushing a medium around with the fingers, making marks. On a basic level, they encounter themselves through making and regarding these effects and impressions of their hands.
We could get lost in looking for the meaning of the prehistoric gesture; it is more important to find a connection to the marks they left on this basic level, and to keep this intuition about mark-making and identity with us as we age.