Ben Barretto

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Ben Barretto


“I’ve been an artist as long as I can remember, really,” Ben says from his Perth home. “I’ve been making art my whole life.”


The artist says he’s getting excited for making his journey across the red desert to Melbourne and be a part of Sugar Mountain, literally. Ben will be making art on the spot during the festival, drawing inspiration from the music of psychedelic, experimental rock act, Sun Araw. Until the music stops, Ben will be a living part of his ever-changing creation, and he invites festival hounds to gaze over at the creative structure he will build before their eyes.


“I’m really excited about it. I love to be a part of things that aren’t a part of a traditional gallery space,” he says. “A lot of my artwork is inspired by music.”


Ben says his art thrives off feeding from the sounds and objects that swim around him. He will build his festival piece starting with a single mechanical object in the centre of the space. Armed with a range of multi-coloured paint guns and materials, when the music starts, onlookers might want to consider wearing a raincoat – or at least take a few giant steps backwards – if they’re fond of their carefully-selected festival ensembles. I mean, this is art people. As a spontaneous, free-wheeling artist, Ben makes no promises paint will fly, or that your dry-cleaning bill will be covered for your clothes that might become casualties to a slight paint smattering.


While his work is fluid and he mixes it up with a vast stretch of different mediums – incorporating low fi technology, DIY building equipment and action movement and a layer of paint – Ben’s work could not be described as pure chaos. The young artist smoothens his muddled layers of work with a coat of art history in paint, drawing and sculpture to add guidelines to the incredibly challenging and fascinating world he creates. Ben proved his art theory credibility alongside his talent after graduating with Honours in his Visual Art course at Curtin University in Perth in his early 20s.


“I do assisted paintings where I set up a structure or setting in which I can react in – I guess it’s sort of like becoming a director or composer of the painting,” he says. “It will be quite a controlled painting I think. But I still don’t know how it’s going to turn out – I don’t like to put these constraints on myself, I guess it’ll evolve.”


Vanity and artists go together as well as peanut butter and jam, but Ben goes against the grain and opts for a modest appearance in Sugar Mountain. He hopes to keep his art performance low key.


“Just enjoy the music. I don’t want the work to take away from the music at all. Hopefully it will all evolve,” he says, singing the praise of the Sun Araw musical counterpart. Ben also hesitates as he uses the term ‘artist’ to describe himself. “I find the word, calling yourself an ‘artist’, kind of uncomfortable,” he says. “But I guess you can [be called] one when you start making art full time, which I’m trying to do but [it] can be [financially] difficult endeavour. I’m definitely not making a living. It’s a struggle.”


While making art and sculptures from when he was a kid in Perth, Ben’s career endeavours have made many turns over the year. At 19, he moved to Sydney to work for a fashion label and was sponsored for commercial skateboarding. He says the skater lifestyle was a lot of scrappy fun, paying for him to travel around the world, appearing in skate events. But art was calling him back home. Ben’s childhood was littered with memories of constructing objects.


“The way I grew up has been an influence on how I made art. There was a lot of building BMX and skate ramps. You know, I was always outdoors as a kid, trying to figure out how to solve problems and building contraptions.”


Nothing’s changed in his artwork today. A large, vulgar wooden frame will be set up in Ben’s workspace at the festival, where paint will be flung through, slipping and sliding over the different materials until it hits the canvas. You would think hauling a large tin of paint at inanimate things would be a grand old time, but Ben says, in some ways, he would rather be on the music stage.


“I’m quite envious a lot of the time of musicians,” he says. “The ability to perform live and reach an audience directly, which is quite difficult through a painting. Performing live, you can give something back, which is why I’m excited to do something like that.”