Artist Benjamin Spark talks to Paul Ames about the inspiration for his work
Benjamin Spark’s graffitistrewn pop art images of Daffy Duck or curvaceous forties pin-ups may seem a world way from Raphael’s vast biblical drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, but they are linked by the ancient carpet-weaving tradition of Brussels.
Raphael’s Renaissance cartoons were turned into tapestries by Bruxellois weavers in the 16th century and hang today in the Vatican. Now Spark’s vibrant street pop paintings are being woven into hand-stitched floor coverings for Didden & Co, purveyors of luxurious carpeting in the Belgian capital since the 1960s.
“It’s a master stroke by Nathalie Didden who saw my work and accepted the challenge of transposing them from canvas to wool,” Spark explains over a glass of wine in his studio. “It’s amazing the way the weavers have managed to convey the layers of paint, the colour transitions, the graffiti that I spray over my images.”
Inspired by American pop art greats like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, French-born Spark takes classic pop culture imagery from the world of cartoons as his theme. But he subverts the locked-in comic book universe, juxtaposing Disney stars, Marvel superheroes or the denizens of FrancoBelgian comic strips, then leaves them dirtied and defaced with a spray-paint graffiti attack.
“I take these icons and ridicule them”
“I take these icons and ridicule them, to illustrate a sort of disorder in their world,” he says, looking across at the madcap mixes of Mickey Mouse, Batman and scantily clad manga darlings decorating the works-in-progress on his studio wall. “I’m exploding the frame that holds them in, soiling them a bit. The characters become the background and the tag comes to the fore.”
Spark, 42, admits being a frustrated comic strip author/artist. “I dreamed of it as a boy, but could never come up with a good story,” he says. Instead he went into the web design business. Mid-life crisis came early and by 30 he dropped everything to start painting. After flirting with tribal-influenced art brut, known as ‘outsider art’ in English, Spark developed his own style, amalgamating pop and graffiti art. He cites Icelandic post-modernist Erró and New York street artist JeanMichel Basquiat among his influences, and changed his name in tribute to the designer Philippe Starck.
Having abandoned Paris, Spark now works out of a studio in a converted brewery on the mean streets of Molenbeek. “I fell in love with Brussels… it’s the place be.”
Spark’s metre-square carpets are on sale at Didden & Co’s show room in the Brussels Marolles district. Get one for your living room floor from €5,000 up.