“I love art that has elements of humor or subversiveness and so my use
of materials like pollen or Kool-Aid is meant as a signal that things can be
stranger than they first appear, or funnier.”
—Ben Potter, artist

interview NANCY GORDON
photography courtesy BEN POTTER

Artist Ben Potter.
Pollen Mountain, 2020, 25 x 34 inches, pollen and acrylic on paper
(silkscreened PVA flocked with pollen)
Kool-Aid Hill, 2020, 25 x 34 inches, Kool-Aid on paper
(silkscreened PVA with Kool-Aid)
Current, 54 x 92 inches, pollen and acrylic on canvas
Daylight, 31 x 57 inches, acrylic on canvas
Curved Hill, 2015, 25 x 38 x 6 inches, oil on cut and bent wood
2018 Mural on the Back of Hamilton Marine building, Rockland, Maine.
Push, 2019, dimensions vary, approximately 18 x 18 x 10 inches
pollen and silver on porcelain
Tangle, 2020, dimensions vary, approximately 12 x 9 inches
pollen and silver on porcelain
White Pepper Ice Cream, 2020, each piece approximately 14 x 7 x 3 inches
silver leaf on embossed ceramic forms
White Pepper Ice Cream/Superman Mix, 2020
each piece approximately 14 x 7 x 3 inches
silver leaf, spray paint and acrylic on embossed ceramic forms

Tell us a little about yourself and when you began your painting career.

I grew up in Tennessee and wanted to be an artist or an archeologist.
In college, I double majored in art and biology because I could not decide which interested me more. I come from a family of teachers, so
I ended up getting my MFA in 1998 from the California College of the Arts. I teach art at Unity College and live with my wife and three kids in Belfast, Maine.

Any words of wisdom from your early career that have stayed
with you?

Always say “thank you” and don’t be a jerk to people.

Which comes first for you, the idea or the scene?

It’s hard to say. I know that I am attracted to patterns in the landscape—tire tracks in snow, cornfields, foam in the bay or on a river current. I often rework or re-use themes or images. I try them in different variations and media to see which I like best.

What type of reference do you use: Sketches? Photos? Memory? Imagination?

I often work from photographs taken out in the landscape. I then make drawings based on the photographs that become the basis for the work.

What effects do silk screen and the use of pollen give your work? Let’s use Pollen Mountain, as one example.

Pollen Mountain is a silk screen. I made the print by making the screen based on a photograph I took of a tarp covered with snow at the Belfast shipyard. Normally, in the silk screening process, ink is squeegeed through the screen onto paper to make the print. Instead of ink, I used glue, and while the glue was still wet, I sprinkled pollen on the print, that adhered to the glue. Sort of like glitter and glue in kindergarten. I use pollen because I like the connotations it has—plant life, reproduction, abundance, etc.

Where do you get the pollen?

I got this pollen from a cattail swamp behind the Goodwill in Belfast. I collect the tops in June, then sift and dry the pollen.

Your paintings seem to achieve their graphic quality by what you take away. Can you explain your process?

I am drawn to art that oscillates between representation and abstraction, and so I take away some references such as horizon lines
or add and enhance geometric elements. Although I love straight abstraction, I am also wary of the sanctimonious aspects of art. There is an earnestness about making and consuming art that attracts and repels me. Maybe it’s my old history of reaction against the “cool kids.”
I love art that has elements of humor or subversiveness and so my use of materials like pollen or Kool-Aid is meant as a signal that things can be stranger than they first appear, or funnier.

Has there been an evolution in your work within the past
five-10 years?

I have begun to work more sculpturally and embrace multiple variations on a subject.

Any plans to paint more murals?

I am currently working on a temporary mural at the Chase’s Daily Perimeter Gallery in Belfast. It is great to work on a large scale.

Can you tell us about the mounting/presentation of Tangle? It’s quite different from all the others.

Tangle is an installation of wall-hung curved ceramic boxes that were painted, stenciled and gilded with silver leaf. The silver leaf is tarnished and will continue to develop patina over time.

How did the White Pepper Ice Cream pieces come to be?

I have been working with ceramic for a few years now, and these
pieces are a sort of bridge between drawing and sculpture. They are white stoneware with an imprinted design that is then gilded with tarnished silver.

What time of day is most productive for painting?

Whenever I can carve some time out from teaching and family and reading and getting outside to boat and run and fish and hunt. There are a lot of plates spinning.

Do you listen to music while in the studio?

I do. A huge range: Recently it has been Karen O, The Drive-By Truckers, Norman Blake and Bjork. My kids also got me going on Vampire Weekend.

What does being an artist mean to you?

It means engaging with things that can’t be measured or pinned down and being open to nuance.

What do you love about painting or what drives you to paint?

I paint because it is fun and open-ended. It is also a discipline of attention—a way of paying attention to the world.

. . .

Represented by Cynthia Winings Gallery: cynthiawiningsgallery.com

Favorite Maine restaurant?
Long Grain in Camden.


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