ART: Benedict Radcliffe
Featured in Freestyle Volume 08 2009. Story by Cristian Diaz. Photography by Benedict Radcliffe.
Let’s be honest here, there’s a lot of artists out there that are unique, talented and thought provoking… but mention their name to the general public and you’ll see people scratch their heads and muse in the direction of Jesus for clarification.
This is one such example that’s lost in translation. His name? Benedict Radcliffe. His objective? To open our white pages of imagination to his subversive world of fabrication. A world where VW Golfs splice into rolling Dutchies, where mopeds morph into five-seater transportation and where any piece of steel and metal become real-life transformations of artwork. Still unfamiliar? Google 'pedal Lamborghini'…
At first glance it's easy to mistake this regular-looking dude as an operator in a dreary London call centre… Looks can be deceiving they say. Assembled far, far away from a world of PC dictation, Benedict Radcliffe is what you can call “idiosyncratic” or just a “freak” in unadorned English. The combination of growing up in an era of fluoro, Depeche Mode and high-top everything, plus the gift of artistry genetics, has constructed Benedict into a creator with real difference.
“Both my parents are teachers but as well as that they were both artists. There was always their artwork sort of scattered around the house and stuff.” Benedict or Ben, as he’s more commonly known, explains. The visual exposure to art was and still remains a common practice in the Radcliffe house, but Ben’s other metier of motorised and automotive knowledge was all due to his “mad special schoolteacher” father.
“One of the main things my dad ended up doing was bringing in his old cars and old motorbikes and teaching really naughty kids from the inner city of London how to repair them. I’d see these kids working on them and it influenced me heaps.”
The self-described “bender” from the Glasgow suburb of Kent seemed to be destined for the perpendicular path of architecture. That was until the craft of welding sparked his attention. Taking a casual job at a small place called Scotts Associates, Ben automatically fused with the complete hands-on aspect of metal and steel fabrication. Making everything from spiral staircases to metal horse figures, it wasn’t long until other clientele began noticing the craftsmanship and requesting his services. “I got a glimpse of how the art world worked when other artists would come and approach me to fabricate certain things for them. I was kind of amazed that they didn't know how to make it themselves. So I would make whatever and meet all kinds of people that commissioned it, including gallery artists and actual gallery owners. They would say to me, ‘You should do your own stuff’, so I just started gaining confidence with my own stuff and yeah, soon after I had my first show. It was at a really cool little place in Glasgow, the Brunswick Hotel.”
The first pieces were mainly experimentation with pedal-powered bikes, a personal love since childhood. This included manipulating the entire bike with extending and shortening the frames as well as remoulding, refilling and respraying into different textures. The manipulation with frames provided Ben with the idea for bending and warping steel beams to resemble an entire model from the ground up. The first few were only two-dimensional but growing bored and annoyed with its limitations he then began fabricating onto a three-dimensional scale with ridiculous precision. “I started getting blueprint plans off the net where all elevations and profiles like side, back and top could be noted. I’d blow them all up to get a one-to-one scale and then just cover my studio walls with all kinds of different photographs and visual references of the model”. The first of these creations was the Jap classic Subaru Impreza P1, hence the name ‘Modern Japanese Classic’. Entirely constructed from 10mm steel round bar, the perfectly scaled replica was sprayed an arctic white with every weld being completely filled, giving the realistic impression of fluidity and continuousness. So realistic in fact that once positioned on the street every pedestrian that ranged from wounded grannies to perplexed police officers actioned a double take, with even local council slapping Benedict for a fine of the ‘vehicle’s’ illegal parking. “I’m just taking something that's familiar and trying to look at in a different way. It could be anything that people know about, like a certain car, BMX or ghetto blaster and just making others look again at it and think ‘oh, shit’, actually…” Inspired by the public’s reaction, Benedict embarked on a six-month project to create perhaps the most iconic supercar of all time, the Lamborghini Countach. Collaborating with fellow artist, Ben Wilson, the two created the first Lambo as a hybrid of peddle powered efficiency and intricate design. The test drive occurred during the ART CAR parade in Manchester where the two geezers hovered down the busy streets in the stealth black model. “People wanted to approach the car and touch it, some even wanted to shake the thing,” he amusingly recalls. Further refining the Lambo into a fluoro orange rendering, ‘Koenig Countach’, the piece immediately gained attention and notoriety from the creative public, one of which included a certain Kan-yeezy West who placed Ben’s work on his personal blog.
As an eternal child within, the 32-year-old shrewdly bestows a general ‘taking the piss’ to the public with his pieces. Whether it be a manipulated Sony light box that reads NOSY, or modifying BMX bikes with razor-sharp saw blades as wheels, or merging two VW Golfs parallel and creating the sickest rolling Dutch oven you’ve ever seen, it all comes from a wickedly weird place that’s all Ben’s psyche.
“When we were 16 me and my mates used to do a thing called hot boxing, where we’d basically just get stoned and listen to music in our little cars. But the problem was that the people in the front always had the control of the stereo so the people in the back had no say. So the golf was in reference to that. I spliced the two cars to face each other with a massive sound system. Problem solved.”
With his work relaying themes of social disobedience in public, there have been some references made of the similarities to legendary gorilla artist Banksy… which is no doubt the greatest compliment any artist could ever receive… just ask Ben. “There's no way that I would have put my Subaru outside a hotel if I hadn't seen Banksy's stuff, that's a given. When Banksy came along I thought, fuck, that's really clever, he was definitely an inspiration. All the stuff that we’ve imported from America was kind of cool but I never felt that it really worked here sometimes, I just thought oh shit we've just ripped off America but with Banksy he had his own unique style and it was so clever. He was causing artistic mischief and mayhem but really having fun and I liked that. But the only problem with Banksy’s influence is that other people out there have decided that they're also street artists so now there’s a massive amount of shit that’s all around London.”
Fighting the battle of poser street grime, Ben instils the one weapon that has never differed from any of his pieces - quality. “There’s one thing that’s really important to me, which is to not make shit artwork. People can tell when there's craftsmanship involved and they can tell when there's a real element of effort thats gone into it.”
The abstract menace has worked hard at growing his portfolio, even though he admits there’s just times he couldn’t be fucked with the confinements of a cold-ass London factory, “The problem with my work is that it's so fucking time-consuming. I sometimes fall out of motivation and just can’t be bothered to work, like right now, the day is just beautiful and I should really be in my studio, but I’m not. It’s laborious and solitary but I’m like fuck, it beats working in a restaurant as a waiter or something like that. No disrespect to waiters, of course.” Diversifying into different textures has been the next stage of Ben’s master plan for financial stability through his craft. The plan has so far seen him commissioned by various global brands that include, Red Bull, Puma and Paul Smith, as well as Toyota using his model Corolla for one of their Jap TV commercials, “I love creating art but without trying to sound all romantic I'm still trying to make some money at the end of the day.”
Ice-cold and lonely as fuck, the phoneless operator plays metal solitaire with some random bikes, a few sprayed bonnets and one gangsta MH-6 helicopter. It’s hard work, it’s tedious, perhaps even borderline OCD-ish but knowing that with every melting spark, every ear-drum shattering bang and every freckle splatter of paint there will be a result of amazing art. Art that was conceived from a friendless factory in lonely London town. Maybe I’ll go visit more often…
To find out more about Benedict Radcliffe visit www.benedictradcliffe.co.uk
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