I couldn’t have imagined an artist more suitable than Benjamin Cook for our first Command Zine post. Like my relationship with Sul-Jee and like an online framework for exhibiting art, Ben’s work is neither entirely digital nor entirely physical, but floats in-between.
My friendship with Sul-Jee began online. We met on an online forum where prospective MFA students wrote about the application process, aptly named MFA 2014 All Art ADMISSIONS freak-out forum!!!!!!!! I remained quiet during the entirety of the application season, but lurked obsessively, reading almost every post. Eventually Sul-Jee published a post indicating that she was planning on attending Indiana University in the fall, reaching out specifically to her future fellow students. I immediately messaged her. Not unlike the real world, private messages are more my style.
My first message to Sul-Jee was in July of 2014, a little under a month before the beginning of school. We exchanged emails and she drew me a color coordinated map, indicating where she was living (circled in lavender), where the studios were located (pink), and the fraternity neighborhoods to avoid (red). We became fast internet friends, and I felt comforted by her nurturing nature and her use of exclamation marks and emojis. When I finally met Sul-Jee in person for coffee in Bloomington, she was simultaneously foreign and familiar.
Benjamin Cook’s paintings speak to this awkward transition from the digital to the physical world. Ben is an artist from Northern Kentucky and a current MFA candidate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His paintings, referencing digital realms, illustrate the fluidity (or perhaps jerkiness) with which we move between digital and material spheres. I came across Ben’s work for the first time in the midwestern edition of New American Paintings and was immediately drawn to it because of the way he addresses the tension of existing in this in-between state. This was the same tension I felt when finally meeting Sul-Jee IRL and having to act surprised when she told me she was a Baltimore Ravens fan, pretending like I hadn’t already looked through all her Facebook profile pictures.
Ben’s paintings are brutally honest portrayals of a contemporary landscape, referencing both a loaded history of painting and modern forms of communication. Though referencing snap-chat drawings, his works are permanent, or at the very least will exist longer than the Snap-Chat time limit. His process of painting alludes to rendered layers in photoshop, but he cannot press cmd-z in his studio – his paintings are physical and show a history of revision. Like the beginning of my relationship with Sul-Jee, Ben’s paintings straddle physical and digital dimensions, illustrating an evolving landscape and the implications of this transformation.
You can check out more of Ben’s work at his website: www.benjamincookart.com