It is the art, not the artist, that speaks

Artists are no more no less than instruments through which artworks are created. Artists are experiencing their own death for their art to be born and prosper, lest their conscious presence detracts from the art itself. They should allow for pure expression devoid of the artist’s ego. Therefore, both the artist and the viewer are to be experimenting with the artwork.

© Benjamin Frey. painting in his workshop.

The death of artist is synonymous with the death of author, as they play the same roles in the creation process. Mixed media artist Benjamin Frey is among many artists who believe in this theory. He is American, born in Maine and both of his parents are artists.

One artwork, different readings and interpretations 

Embracing the death of the author theory, Benjamin Frey detaches himself from the artwork once he finishes. He disagrees with the fact that artists claim to have authority over their work. He thinks that artists want to be dictators but once they have done artwork they have no control over the meaning. 

“We are allowed to have our own stories with the artwork even if the people who created it have a completely different story”  

Mixed media artist Benjamin Frey

Roland Barthes goes even further arguing that when a text is created, it’s a multi-faceted manifestation of different cultures, ideas, languages, beliefs, theologies and philosophies. When artists use their brush on canvas, they believe that the ideas are their own and when the artwork is completed, they claim to be the author of their creation. However the problem is that the self-proclaimed artist has borrowed everything from previously existing works that he or she has become aware of.

Viewers are the ones who decide on the meaning of the artwork 

In fact, none of the author’s ideas are their own and probably belong to no one in particular. It is not the author we should be looking towards to understand art. Roland Barthes believes that we should look inside ourselves for the ultimate author. We author the world of art through our own interpretations and belief systems. We ourselves decide what a piece of work means, therefore creating new ideas and meanings which can be interpreted in infinite amount of ways. In her article, the art specialist and curator Sierra Elise Hanson explained that art presented in such a framework of removing the creator from the art presents a proliferation of possibilities and open questions.

© Benjamin Frey.

At the end of the day, whether you are creating art or consuming art, it is a personal experience and experiment you are going through; Both the artist and the viewer decides what to make out of it. On the one hand, viewers are free to interpret and relate to the artwork in many different ways in regard to their mood and emotions in that particular moment. On the other hand, artists are the ones who initiate the artwork and experiment with it during the process. Benjamin Frey makes it clear, “It starts with an idea, where I would like to play with a certain set of colors or to experiment with a certain composition or maybe something very concrete. For example, I like a particular building with fire escapes on it and go on depicting that”. 

A painting is a process, an experience I go through, and when I’m done, I’m done.

It’s no longer part of my psyche

Benjamin Frey 

The London Eye, an artwork with a layered composition

Benjamin Frey’s creative process is a crucial part in his art not the end product. Through his use of papers in the background such as book pages from old encyclopedia, sheet music or maps, he builds up layers of papers so that certain titles or certain aspects of it are more visible than others, and then, he paints on that. He thinks that because the papers themselves have some interest, he paints over them to give a kind of background color pallet to the whole piece. Benjamin uses on purpose glazes and washes of paint that are transparent. His process of creating the artwork insinuates that the use of some elements can add to the interpretation of the piece. For instance, in the artwork The London Eye, we can spot some book pages in the background. They are implicitly making a reference to other contexts and events that took place in the past. 

© Benjamin Frey. The London Eye

The painting fits into my recent exploration of the various themes of travel, movement, and the general energy and excitement of carnivals and fairs. In this particular piece, I wanted to capture a bit of the mood of “foggy London” with its old world feel, in contrast to the modern, almost futuristic Ferris Wheel that has been built right in the center of the city[…]I think travel is one of those subjects that inspires people to dream and it is that openness to something beyond the mundane that I like to inspire in viewers.

Benjamin Frey

The whole process is about experimenting on both sides, the artist’s and the viewer’s. To illustrate more, if a dog was to run around a beach and create a pattern that somehow represented something distinguishable to us, how could the dog be the author of nothing more than a few lines in sand? However, anyone who visits the beach will create his own connotation based on his own experiences in life. Without the interpretation of the viewer, it is just a meaningless symbol waiting to be deciphered.

Benjamin Frey is a painter who layers papers and pages from antique encyclopedia and school books that relate to the theme of the piece and creates an interesting visual texture to interact with the foreground.

Author: Imad Baazizi


The Artist’s Biography and the Death of the Author.  

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