Ben Howe’s paintings become less clear as you move closer towards them. “I suppose my work sits within a broader definition of hyperrealism: that it’s a perfect rendition of something that never existed,” he says. The painter works from multiple image sources, including photographs, video footage, and even sculptural maquettes, to construct layers of new ‘realities’.
He adds another point of focus in a new body of work that is being exhibited at Hill Smith Gallery, Adelaide; these works study how people navigate the two extremes of crowds and isolation.
Some paintings in this exhibition are the result of a residency Howe undertook in Shangyuan, China, in 2015. As part of the residency, Howe observed other artists move into their barren temporary living quarters and recorded the process of adaptation and transformation over three months. This body of work is also partly informed by contemporary world events like the refugee crisis – Howe says they are a study of “temporary migration”. Despite the fact that these paintings depict other people, Howe refers to these paintings as self-portraits since they are also his memories of his time in China.
Howe created hundreds of clay figures as a starting point for simulated spaces and geographies. Once the canvases are painted, the clay figures are destroyed, leaving their image behind as memories of things that were only avatars in the first place.