Artist statement, Bio, and Artist Approach
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1963, Ben Fink had a childhood marked by hardship and loss. After the untimely death of both his parents, he was shuffled between foster homes and family residences in various locations. These included Baltimore and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Memphis, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
An additional challenge in his early life was living with a paranoid schizophrenic who was abusive. This painful experience significantly impacted Fink's perspective and worldview, often leading him to construct alternative narratives as a coping mechanism. Despite these adversities, he discovered his passion for art, finding solace and expression in this creative outlet.
Fink attended the Memphis College of Art and the University of Memphis, immersing himself in painting, graphic design, photography, and art history. This was followed by an understudy position with a commercial studio photographer for two years, eventually establishing his own commercial business.
Parallel to his commercial endeavors, Fink pursued personal art projects that reflected his life experiences and observations. Early projects included the "Mill Street" series, a black-and-white photographic documentation of black families in Memphis, and a series on male nudes, focusing on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s.
Moving from Memphis to New York in 1997 marked a significant shift in Fink's life and artistic expression. During this time, he created the widely exhibited "Shadow Realms" series, featuring haunting landscapes of the Hudson Valley and the Midsouth.
Currently, Fink splits his time between South Florida and Los Angeles, focusing on two major projects: "Noble Deeds" and "Modern Myth and Mythology." The former awarded a prestigious $25,000 grant, is a portrait series inspired by the Imperial Court System, celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and their contributions. The latter is an interdisciplinary project that combines photography, digital manipulation, and physical painting to explore the intersection of ancient narratives and modern perceptions.
Through his work, Fink seeks to challenge preconceptions, stimulate conversations, and provoke thought about the intricate web of human experience. His artistry aims to amplify marginalized voices, create a dialogue around human relationships' fluidity, and bring underrepresented aspects of our shared history to the forefront. His unique perspective, shaped by personal trials, informs his artistic process, imbuing his works with depth and emotional resonance. Through his art, Fink invites viewers to engage with history and mythology as living stories that continue to shape our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
Artist Statement for Modern Myth and Mythology
"I am Ben Fink, an interdisciplinary artist who intertwines the realms of photography, digital manipulation, and physical painting. My creative process merges the traditional and the digital, resulting in a fusion that breathes life into static images. Central to my practice is the application of encaustic wax painting, a technique that infuses my work with a tangible, evocative texture. This tactile finish imbues each piece with a palpable sense of depth and history, a quality that connects my contemporary work with artistic practices of the past. Through my project, 'Modern Myth and Mythology,' I explore the intersection of ancient narratives and modern perceptions, challenging viewers to perceive the world through a lens steeped in rich storytelling and symbolism. As an artist, I am committed to unearthing the hidden layers of the human experience, revealing the timeless tales that resonate in our collective consciousness."
"As an artist, I believe that art serves multiple functions, acting not only as a conduit of aesthetic expression but also as a bridge connecting us to the richness of human experience that often feels distant in our fast-paced, modern society. My work aims to unearth these layered narratives and bring them to the fore, making them accessible and relevant to our current lives. I see my role as a storyteller, spinning visual tales that capture the diverse experiences of humanity.
In a world where many individuals, particularly marginalized groups such as people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, often feel excluded from mainstream narratives, my art seeks to amplify their voices. I am committed to creating pieces that represent their experiences, their struggles, and their triumphs. Art, in my view, should be a democratic space, where every story matters and everyone sees themselves reflected. Through my work, I aspire to break down barriers, challenge preconceptions, and create a more inclusive dialogue about the human experience. I want my art to be a platform for these marginalized stories, for I believe that in their telling, we deepen our understanding of our shared humanity."
"Among my artistic influences are a blend of literary and visual sources, with a primary emphasis on mythology and folktales. These age-old stories, with their universal themes and archetypal characters, provide a rich framework upon which I construct my narratives. The tales are not just retold, but reimagined through the lens of the individuals who stand before my camera, transforming the abstract into the personal.
The process is deeply collaborative, with each model contributing to the storytelling process. Shot against a green screen, they become actors in their own mythical tales, a technique that allows me to digitally craft their surroundings into landscapes of mythical proportions. This blend of the real and the fantastical creates a surreal environment, a space where the mundane meets the magical.
Once the image is complete, the final stage of my process involves writing a short story that intertwines elements of the subject's life into a grand narrative. These stories often echo the realities of the subjects, reflecting their dreams, aspirations, and struggles. They serve as a testament to the power of personal stories, their capacity to resonate with broader themes, and the transformative potential of art. The intertwining of visual and textual narratives allows me to create a deeply immersive experience, inviting viewers to step into a world that blurs the boundaries between the real and the mythical."
"My visual influences span across centuries, drawing from the rich well of art history. I am particularly inspired by the eras from the Renaissance to the late 19th century, a period that witnessed a remarkable evolution of artistic styles and techniques. These periods inform the aesthetic and compositional choices in my work, as I endeavor to bring their timeless elegance into the digital age.
Artists like Jan van Eyck, with his meticulous attention to detail and pioneering use of oil paint, and Hieronymus Bosch, with his fantastical and symbolic narratives, have significantly influenced my artistic process. The exquisite detail of Albrecht Dürer's work, the sublime humanism of Michelangelo's sculptures and paintings, the bold use of color and contrast by Titian, and the dramatic chiaroscuro of Caravaggio - all these masters have left an indelible mark on my artistic sensibilities.
In studying and appreciating their work, I have learned to imbue my own art with a sense of narrative depth, technical precision, and an understanding of light and shadow. The influence of these artists is evident in the stylistic choices I make, from the composition of my images to the application of encaustic wax, a nod to the rich history of art that these masters have shaped. By integrating these historical influences with modern digital techniques, my art serves as a bridge between past and present, marrying the old with the new in a way that is distinctively my own."
"In my work, I also explore the often subtle and overlooked sexual undertones that permeate historical narratives and relationships. While these themes might not always be explicit in the traditional narratives and historical art, a closer examination often reveals a rich tapestry of human interactions, desires, and identities.
In my art, I strive to make these undertones more explicit, to bring these hidden-connections and emotions to the forefront. By doing so, I challenge viewers to look beyond the surface of history and conventional storytelling, to question and reevaluate the relationships and dynamics presented in classical tales. This approach helps to humanize the characters in my work, revealing their complexities, desires, and vulnerabilities.
Incorporating these subtle sexual themes also allows me to connect with contemporary audiences on a deeper level, by addressing topics that resonate with today's sensibilities and concerns. Through my exploration of these undertones, I aim to create a dialogue around the fluidity of human relationships, the multifaceted nature of desire, and the often underrepresented aspects of our shared history.
By juxtaposing the overtly mythical with the hidden sensuality, my work seeks to challenge preconceptions, stimulate conversations, and provoke thought about the intricate web of human experience. Through this approach, I invite viewers to reengage with history and mythology, seeing them not just as distant, abstract narratives, but as living stories that continue to shape our understanding of ourselves and the world around us."
"Noble Deeds" - A Mythological Expedition into the Imperial Courts of the Americas.
The artist Ben Fink stands tall as the recipient of a prestigious $25,000 grant, marking a significant milestone in the creation of "Noble Deeds: The Portrait Series." This groundbreaking project, inspired by the rich history and impactful work of the Imperial Court System, aims to bring forth a collection of captivating portraits that celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and their remarkable contributions.
With this generous grant, Ben Fink's vision for "Noble Deeds" is set to flourish. The project will delve deep into the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals, capturing their resilience and the profound impact they have made within their communities. Fink, known for his masterful artistry and profound ability to convey emotions through portraiture, will lend his unique talent to immortalize the subjects and their stories.
The International Court System (ICS), also known as the International Imperial Court System, has a rich and impactful history within the LGBTQ+ community. Its roots can be traced back to San Francisco in 1965 when José Sarria, a trailblazer and the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States, founded the organization. However, the journey towards its establishment began earlier with the formation of the Tavern Guild in 1962, a response to the frequent police harassment faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
Under the leadership of Sarria and in collaboration with a group of gay bar owners, the Tavern Guild initiated the Beaux Arts Costume Ball in 1963, marking San Francisco's first grand public drag ball. This groundbreaking event became a tradition, with Sarria assuming the title of Queen of the Ball and later proclaiming himself as Empress. This pivotal moment laid the foundation for the development of the court system that we know today.
As of 2022, the ICS has flourished into a network of more than 70 individual charitable nonprofit organizations across North America, with the Imperial Council of San Francisco recognized as the esteemed "Mother Court." Each court or chapter within the system actively engages in fundraising activities throughout the year, channeling their efforts towards supporting LGBTQ+ causes and other marginalized communities. Their most significant and highly anticipated events are the annual Coronation Balls, where two monarchs are ceremoniously crowned. These monarchs dedicate a year to organizing charity events, often featuring talented drag performers.
The courts within the Imperial Court System adopt various titles to reflect their geographical territories and unique characteristics. While most courts identify as empires, some are designated as baronies or ducal courts, particularly when their jurisdiction overlaps with an existing court, such as the Ducal Court of San Francisco.
Beyond its grand spectacles and regal pageantry, the Imperial Court System has played a transformative role in advancing LGBTQ+ rights and supporting a multitude of initiatives. Over the years, the organization has championed significant causes, including the commemoration of Harvey Milk through the issuance of a postage stamp and the naming of the U.S.N.S. Harvey Milk Navy Ship. They have also established college funds specifically for LGBTQ+ communities, contributed to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, supported programs like Toys for Tots, fought for the legalization of gay marriage, and advocated for transgender rights.
Through their tireless efforts and unwavering dedication, the Imperial Court System has become an enduring symbol of empowerment and unity within the LGBTQ+ community. Their impact reaches far beyond the confines of their courts, positively influencing the lives of countless individuals and fostering a more inclusive and accepting society.
"Noble Deeds," a portrait series, is an artistic and philanthropic endeavor that started five years ago to illuminate the Imperial Court System. The project presents the vibrant personalities of the Emperor, Empress, and court members elected at each of the 70 annual coronations across Canada and Mexico while emphasizing the organization's influence on various social causes.
"Noble Deeds" intertwines photography, digital and physical painting, and a short documentary to craft a visual narrative that shifts from reality to fantasy and mythology. In doing so, the project doesn't merely document the work of the Imperial Court System but also encapsulates the values of acceptance, love, and familial bonds that the organization epitomizes.
Through the construction of a mythological narrative, "Noble Deeds" aims to alter perceptions and lay the groundwork for a future where everyone can find a sense of belonging, irrespective of their disparities. This artistic vision represents the transformative power of storytelling and the Imperial Court System's ongoing mission to foster a more inclusive and accepting world.
In a distinctive twist, "Noble Deeds" integrates elements of fictional writing to augment the visual narrative and deepen the mythology surrounding the Imperial Court System. The artist, a proficient storyteller, crafts backstories for a number of the portraits, infusing the images with more depth and context. These stories, while maintaining the core of each individual's real-life experiences and contributions, further engage the audience in the fantasy world constructed by the project.
The blend of reality and fiction in "Noble Deeds" cultivates an engaging experience that invites viewers into a world of wonder and imagination. This innovative approach underscores the transformative power of art and storytelling, enabling the project to resonate with a broader audience. By piquing the viewers' curiosity and igniting their imaginative interpretations, "Noble Deeds" fosters a deeper connection to the subjects and their journey. It simultaneously raises awareness and appreciation for the Imperial Court System and its noble deeds.
As reality and fantasy intertwine in the hands of the artist, the resulting imagery and narratives often hold elements of truth, which may be vastly amplified to boost the overall impact. This creative flexibility enhances the mythological narrative further, encouraging viewers to join a collective exploration of identity, acceptance, and the transformative potential of art.
"Noble Deeds" continues to grow, and the amalgamation of photography, painting, documentary, and fictional writing creates a multi-faceted project that pushes the boundaries of conventional storytelling. This fusion of art forms, guided by the artist's unique vision, invites viewers to embark on a journey where fact and fiction merge, ultimately inspiring and empowering individuals from various backgrounds to embrace their exceptional stories and join the ongoing pursuit of a more inclusive and accepting world.