Psychedelic colors pulse in rhythmic succession like a soulful heartbeat thumbing electric neon palettes and balanced brushstrokes. Invoking imagination through storytelling, a sense of reality and idealism merge as fated counterparts. This is the intriguing work of Willow Benjamin.
With a vivid use of color and focused composition, she captures a sense of euphoria that kindles a sanguine spectrum of emotion and curiosity through her surreal visions. Join us as we delve deeper into the artistic mind of Willow Benjamin and discover the many corridors of her budding creativity.
My apartment is surrounded by hard greens and muted teals, but my work uses vivid florescent colors to represent bold emotions, and provoke the narrative that I’m trying to express in my head. On the inside, I am complex and bold; my art helps depict that from an outside perspective.
We hope you enjoy this exclusive interview with Willow Benjamin!
Hi Willow, it’s great to talk to you! Thank you for taking time to share with us and our dedicated Beautiful Bizarre readers. We’re all very excited to delve into your creative mind and learn more about you and your art journey. Let’s talk a bit about the challenging year we all faced in 2020. Such a strange and delicate time, I dare say we will never forget. How did it affect you and your work? Are you feeling encouraged and motivated about 2021?
Hello, thank you for having me. I know a lot of artists struggled this year because of the pandemic, but for me, honestly, I feel like it hasn’t affected me much regarding that. Although I am working hard to become a full time artist, I am not there yet so I still work a day job to pay my bills and other necessities. It was scary for a bit if my job was going to stay open since I work in food and for a small business, but luckily we were able to. Although work was slow with not many hours, I got the stimulus and actually made a few sales with my art, and my family also helps me when I really need help financially. My struggles were the same struggles I faced everyday regardless of a pandemic; there were times I had very little motivation and no inspiration and felt like I wasn’t doing enough or working hard enough, but I deal with that all the time due to my mental health. When it comes to having to stay home and be apart, I actually live alone most of the time. I live 3 hours away from my family and the little friends I have. I’m very much a homebody so staying home wasn’t an issue for me when I needed to, though luckily at the beginning of the pandemic, my boyfriend lived with me for a bit while he was doing a stay at home co-op job for college; it was nice having someone to come home to.
What part of yourself do you feel is most incorporated into your paintings?
This is a tricky question; sometimes I literally put myself into my paintings, since I don’t have anyone around me to model or be my muse. Other times it’s not literal, and I feel like I put everything that is me into my work. I think my art represents my internal thoughts and emotions the most; I’m not a very outspoken person in the real world. I usually keep to myself and avoid any conflict. At my day job, I’m usually working with ear buds in and staying in my own world, when in reality I’m very opinionated and have a lot of thoughts that I need to sometimes try and drown out. From an aesthetic point of view, my world is very muted compared to my work. My apartment is surrounded by hard greens and muted teals, but my work uses vivid florescent colors to represent bold emotions, and provoke the narrative that I’m trying to express in my head. On the inside, I am complex and bold; my art helps depict that from an outside perspective.
Vibrant, trippy compositions play an obvious role in your creative visions. I read on your website that experiencing a difficult upbringing helped shape your path to becoming an artist and subsequently led to using these colors (and style) to portray happiness and euphoria. You specifically mention your “mind being twisted from verbal and mental abuse.” You also state that “Living in a household filled with negativity and major responsibilities put on her at a young age, her art being one of the few ways to have solace and cope.” Are you comfortable talking a little bit about that?
I went back and forth on if I truly wanted to talk about this part of my life for the world to see. Not because I am uncomfortable talking about it, but because it might affect the other people that are involved, and I have a better relationship with them now, so I’m going to try and be a bit vague on who the specific people are. However, at the end of the day, it is my story; it’s been told before and it is a huge part of why I’m so passionate about art.
So, to start, my biological father is who got me started in being so attracted to art. It was the only thing that kept us connected when really I was talking to him through letters. He was in and out of jail my whole life from drugs and other substance abuse. I have no relationship with him now and he is no part of any success I have; I don’t know the man at all now. Throughout my life that’s always been who I am, it’s how anyone ever liked me. I was the artistic girl; it’s the only way I ever got praised for anything. It’s how I made friends and the only thing some people were ever really nice to me about. I was constantly being cursed at and every morning before I could even do anything wrong, I woke up to being screamed about that I can’t do anything right. It got even worse when I was 12 and my little sister was born; although I loved her more than anything, she was also a huge responsibility for me. I took care of her. Not that her parents were completely neglectful, because that wasn’t the case, it was just a lot for a 12 year old girl. I couldn’t see my friends because I had to feed or put her down for a nap, if I got upset about it, then I was the problem. During summer vacations, I was responsible for everything; my laundry, the dishes, trying to keep the house clean, and spending almost every moment taking care of my baby sister. If I spent any moment to myself, I was screamed at. I remember one time I did the dishes and we had really hard water, I didn’t dry the dishes enough or something and there were spots on some of the dishes. One of my family members then proceeded to scream at me, asking if I’m stupid and know how to do anything right, that I can’t even wash the dishes, and proceeded to throw and brake the dishes on the floor and throw all the dishes I had just cleaned back into the sink and had me clean up the mess and redo the dishes.
My art was the only thing that ever made me feel like I was doing something right.
Everyone constantly took their anger out on me. I never did anything right, nothing was ever good enough, and if I tried to talk to someone about it, or get help I was told “this is a reflection of your family, you are making me look bad when you know this didn’t happen, and if it did I would have said or done something about it, they didn’t mean it. Don’t talk to anyone about it, you’re causing unnecessary drama, and it’s your fault for antagonizing them anyway.” Comments like that is why I had such a hard time talking about this huge part of my life. It’s hard to condense everything without writing a whole book. My art was the only thing that ever made me feel like I was doing something right. It wasn’t until I moved in with my grandma, at age 19, that I was able to fully focus on my art. I showed at my first gallery, I made my website and was even in college for a bit. I was getting my life together, and finding myself.
During the time, I was in such a negative space all of my work was so muted, it had no contrast and very simple designs. It wasn’t until I truly started to find myself and focus on being in a positive space that my more vivid and florescent colors came into my work. I think my boyfriend really put it into perspective for me. One time, when I was really down about feeling like I have no future with my art he said, “You have progressed so much in such a short amount of time, and you can only grow more. You used to use a lot of blues and dark colors in your work and to me; I always thought that meant you were sad, that you were always depressed. Now you are using such bright colors, you’re using yellows and pinks and reds. To me that makes it seem like you’re happier now, and that makes me happy. There’s so much you can do, but you have to work on yourself in order to get there.” And that really put things into perspective for me, even when I might be down, at least my art can make me happy; it can depict the happiness I wish I could feel all the time and maybe send a message, maybe make others feel how I feel, and give them some sort of happiness. Though I use a lot of blacks now and have a lot of contrast and some darker themes, the meaning is still there. Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life.”
I have this quote tattooed on my ribs as a reminder. I also have a paint pallet with flowers and brush on my arm covering self harm scars from a time when all I wanted to do was die. I am still learning to cope, I still struggle with suicidal thoughts and constantly put pressure on myself that I will never be anything, and I do nothing right, that I never do enough. But I am an adult now, I live on my own and I’ve accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. I am now surrounded by people that support and love me, there is so much to my future and I have to keep pushing myself. I hope after knowing just a bit about my story that my art represents to everyone. You can overcome anything.
I paint what I love, and if it can make others even happier to the point that they spend their own hard earned money on my work, that’s all I can ask for. It helps me keep wanting to do what I do.
Thank you so much for sharing that, Willow. I can sense your vulnerability in revealing those private and pivotal moments of your life. Mental health is such an integral aspect in our lives and interpersonal relationships. It’s a difficult topic with a lot of unnecessary stigma attached to it. How has your creative affluence strengthened your emotional, social, and psychological well-being?
I would say I really don’t have any affluence with my art yet; I still need a lot of help when it comes to being financially stable. I am still really young, I am only 21 and have a lot to go before I become stable with my art career. When it comes to making sales and my mental well being, every sale just gives me that extra boost I need. Anyone that buys my work, it’s not just money in my pocket, you’re helping me strive to keep working, it’s food in my fridge and gas in my car. Just recently, I woke up with a crazy itchy rash on my body from head to toe, I had to miss work and was lucky to get a last minute doctor’s appointment. But while sitting in the waiting room someone placed an order on my website and that was the only thing that helped me get through the day. I paint what I love, and if it can make others even happier to the point that they spend their own hard earned money on my work, that’s all I can ask for. It helps me keep wanting to do what I do. Maybe one day I can do it full time, and make enough money so I can give back somehow.
What have you learned most about yourself and artistic vision through the sensitivities of childhood development during that time in your life?
I learned that I’m actually a very spiritual person. While living with my grandma I was able to embrace the old soul I truly am. I listened to 60s music, got into hippy ideals and remembered that during my childhood I was very imaginative. I had imaginary friends, I made potions with anything I could find outside, pretended I was a witch and truly believed that I had magical powers. I might have worn frilly flowery dresses and liked my hair all done, but I was always outside, I got dirty, and felt the most free when I was one with the earth. It was my way to escape before I realized art was going to be my main source for solace as an adult.
I remember I was obsessed with bugs; one of the few happy memories I have during my childhood is having several bug keepers and a butterfly net. I would run around my grandma’s big yard and catch so many butterflies and put them in the keepers, and was upset when they died because I thought I could take care of them. I lived in a trailer when I was really young and it constantly had different critters; we would have baby mice holding on to life from our cats, and I would insist on keeping them and taking care of them. I would put them in a box and try to nurse them back to health. That childlike magic is embraced today in my work. I like to practice Wicca ideals, I like to believe that I am a witch and I’m cleansing my soul with every painting. I had to grow up fast and I always want to keep that childlike wonder and fantasy like imagination in my life, my art is how I can.
Which of your paintings most describes you and why?
The easiest response would probably be my self portrait, but that is too easy. Actually my “We The Heathens” piece probably describes me the best. My grandma is a very stubborn, opinionated, outspoken, very political woman. She helped raise me and has taken care of me more than anyone. My “We The Heathens” piece really shows that part of my life. My grandma is a very Democratic Liberal woman, I live by most of those ideals but I also have my own ideas. I want peace, I hate that people think one way and that’s the right way, that we are divided, when we could come together and figure problems together. I’ve been at a constant battle of people trying to push their specific ideals on me, when I think both ways. No matter what, at the end of the day, all of our political leaders are corrupt in some way, so why spread hate when someone doesn’t think the exact same way you do? Have an open mind, or keep to yourself and only use your true voice when it’s really needed, like defending someone that is being patronized or treated differently, or for defending yourself. This piece represents me, because it represents that I want to spread kindness, my true thoughts and feelings and this country is no longer about “we” the people. Protect each other, no matter who they are or how they think. We were put on this earth and created to love, so love it and love your neighbor.
About the Artist // Willow Benjamin’s art comes from a great imagination. Her imagination however, is a blessing and a curse, her overactive mind being twisted from verbal and mental abuse. Living in a household filled with negativity and major responsibilities put on her at a young age, her art being one of the few ways to have solace and cope. Despite usual assumptions her art is not inspired by any substance abuse. Having had a constant battle with mental health, she prefers to use bright and florescent colors and have psychedelic like scenes in her work to bring a sense of happiness and euphoria without the use of recreational drugs.
Willow Benjamin currently resides in Carmel, Indiana where she is still working towards her goal to become a full-time artist. Slowly developing a broad audience through social media and keeping up with her local art opportunities.