Vancouverite You Should Know: Artist BenG

His first Vancouver exhibition tackles everything from Donald Trump to the declining bee population.

September 22, 2017

By Alicia Neptune

Ben Goerlach first began screen printing six years ago as a way to escape from his day job in visual effects. As a lead animator at Double Negative, he has worked on big-budget Hollywood films like Wonder Woman and the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising, but over the years grew tired of working on other people’s creative projects.

“Working in such a massive team on big films, you get no creative ownership over anything that you do,” Goerlach says. “I wanted to do something to get me away from animation.” While Goerlach utilizes his digital skills to create his illustrations, using Photoshop or other programs to manipulate images, he prefers the physical process of silk screen printing to digital printing. The technique involves passing ink through screens, laying down one colour at a time to build up the image.

His exhibition The Comments Section (September 23 through October 28) is a collection of new and past works, including some Vancouver-inspired pieces. Influenced by street artists like Banksy and Blek le Rat, Goerlach combines current affairs and pop culture into snapshots that tell a story. “Any artist can make a nice picture,” he says. “I think it’s a different creative challenge to put a narrative—a message into your work.”

Ben Goerlach working in his home studio.
Ben Goerlach working on his pieces in his Mount Pleasant studio. (Photo: Olivia Sari-Goerlach.)

This is his first solo exhibition since moving from Singapore to Vancouver and founding MNSTR Gallery with his wife, photographer Olivia Sari-Goerlach. Their loft home doubles as a creative studio, which requires certain sacrifices—the bathtub, for example, has transformed into a screen washing station—but gives Goerlach control over the entire screen printing process and the freedom to create whenever he wants. “This is like a giant playroom for me.” He is always in the studio, and frequently posts sneak peeks of what he’s working on.

Goerlach’s illustrations don’t always reveal their message at first glance. “I like doing stuff that’s immediately cute and nice to look at,” he says, “but then if you just pay attention a fraction longer, there’s something a bit dark in there and a bit truthful.” In one piece, a beaver sits happily atop its dam, and only upon closer inspection do you notice the needles tucked in among the branches. In another, he presents the Grumble Bees, a swarm of disgruntled bumble bees wearing gas masks.

Ben Goerlach holding his print, The Grumble Bees.
Ben Goerlach poses with the Grumble Bees. (Photo: Olivia Sari-Goerlach.)

These cute pollinators have inspired multiple prints, and Goerlach hopes to make people think about the challenges we would face without them. He is quick to point out how important they are to our food production—not that he wants to get too close. “I am allergic to bees.”

Tackling difficult subjects while still creating an appealing image isn’t always easy. “I’ve done some dark stuff. Some dark topics are really hard to make palatable. And I’ve done some really fun topics, but I’ve done them in the wrong way and they looked not appealing at all. So that’s the biggest thing I ask, ‘Would someone want to hang this in their house?’ Because that’s what I’m doing it for.” The U.S. President has been a particular challenge. “Trump is a really difficult one to make fun,” he says. “Not many people would want to hang him on their wall.”

One of his favourite things about Vancouver is knowing he is free to make the art he wants to make. “Being here after leaving Singapore makes me appreciate the civil liberties and the rights we have.”

The Comments Section

Opening Reception: September 23, 2017, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Exhibition: September 23 to October 28 weekends, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment
Where: MNSTR Gallery, 1818 Lorne St., Vancouver

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