Ben Williamson’s profound paintings are currently on display at Ymuno Exhibitions
Ben Williamson imagined his latest solo exhibition, Young and Hopeful, as a solar system. Each painting symbolizes a story that orbits ideas of hope and rebirth. The artist’s latest works are currently on display at Ymuno Exhibitions, a gallery which he co-founded.
Rebirth is the name of a sculpture set in the exact centre of the two-room gallery, in perfect view from the entrance. The piece was the first created for this exhibition, about a year earlier than the paintings, and it unites the conceptual elements behind them. Young and Hopeful is a summary of the artist’s experiences, and acts as the higher hopes Williamson has of moving forward on a personal and global scale.
Each painting that orbits Rebirth is a profound meditation on social, political and personal issues. Some material is sourced from the web, including stills from Youtube videos of warfare (Dogfight), and of the Apollo Lunar Module pod crashing into the Atlantic Ocean (Splashdown), while other pieces are more personal. None are exact copies of the original source, as Williamson tends to focus on alternative perspectives of the impactful images he selects.
CADPAT is a painting of a piece of fabric with the Canadian digital camouflage pattern on it. Williamson explained that most digital camouflage patterns are essentially abstract landscapes. Digital camouflage breaks down obvious visual cues, making it difficult for our eyes to make sense of the image, and making it easier to blend into some environments.
Williamson explained that Canadians were actually the first to begin printing and using digital camouflage for military uniforms in the 1990s. “All the countries that use a digital camouflage pattern either use [Canadian] technology or based their own technology on our initial research,” he said. “All this technology and all these resources are spent […] in the hopes that you can shoot someone else in the woods before they shoot you. There is a hope there, but the overall effort is kind of dark and hopeless.”
CADPAT came out of a conversation Williamson had with a Panamanian-American friend living in Panama. He had been in the military and encouraged his son to serve in the Middle East. “His son went and came back, quite frankly, really messed up,” Williamson recounted. “It’s not on record, but the military were forcing steroids on him every day, and when he came back, he had to wean himself off while trying to integrate into society.” After going through all this, Williamson said his friend was left feeling betrayed by the military and by his country which he once supported so passionately.
Williamson often tweaks details in his work to suit his creative process, which is quite fascinating in and of itself. The artist makes his own paint, mixing pigment bases with oil mediums to create exact colour matches from his source image, which he then tubes in bulk to use at his leisure. Williamson uses paint made from the powder of a rare stone, lapis lazuli, to make the blue seen in the pieces titled Young and Hopeful, Landing and Splashdown. Lapis lazuli’s valuable pigment has been reserved historically for important figures, specifically the Virgin Mary’s dress.
The piece titled Young and Hopeful is a portrait based on a photograph of Daniel Roberge, a retired gallerist and Williamson’s early mentor. Roberge was 14 or 15 years old when the photograph was taken, with his whole life ahead of him. The portrait of Roberge perfectly portrays youth and hopefulness, a theme that Williamson has maintained throughout this entire collection.
Young and Hopeful will be on display at Ymuno Exhibitions until Feb. 3. The gallery is located on the fifth floor of the Belgo Building (372 Ste-Catherine St. W.) in studio number 530. It is open Thursday to Saturday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Photos by Mackenzie Lad