Interview conducted by Kennedy Price (Pitzer '20).
Ben Blount was born and raised in Detroit. He is a designer and letterpress printer that loves type, teaching, and putting ink on paper. Sometimes he turns what he prints into books. His work explores questions of race and identity and the stories we tell ourselves about living in America. Truth tellers and rabble rousers in all areas of popular culture inspire his work. He focuses on giving rise to social justice issues and gives them a voice through his letterpress printing. Check out more of his artwork here! www.benblount.com
You have many articles written about your work as an Evanston-based artist, it is mentioned throughout that you often draw inspiration for your work from around the city in which you reside in, what are the most prominent aspects from the city of Evanston that you see coming through your artwork? What pieces of yours in particular?
I often explore the topic of race and Evanston is a place where we are continually talking about diversity, equity and how race plays a part in the everyday lives of our children. Evanston schools are diverse, but the city itself is pretty segregated. So our kids grow up around a diverse group of students, but that doesn't always translate in how our households and families interact. Also our high school is well funded and high performing, but inequities in outcomes can still be predicted by race. I have a print titled Dear Evanston that takes on that idea pretty straight on. It's a love letter of sorts to Evanston, mentioning both the things I love and the things that we need to work on. Evanston is a great town, but it's complicated.
How has your role as an activist and an advocate inspired your pieces over the years? Where do you tend to take the most interest in for creating your artwork i.e. politics, social justice, reform, etc.?
I have a background in design and advertising and that definitely influences my work. Print is a powerful medium and has historically been used to communicate important messages. I want to use my press to inform, delight, convince, cajole, educate—so content is important to me. There are stories to be told, voices that need to be heard, ideas disseminated. I think all art, as the voice of the artist, is political to some extent. I'm inspired by things I come across in the world (news media, internet memes, overheard conversations) so my work touches on lot of different topics. The idea of race could be seen as a unifying element though, since it's in the fabric of this country and has shaped the way we move forward.
Based on the different pieces of artwork in your collections, how do you make the decision of how you want a piece to be presented or viewed by the audience (in a gallery, online, museum)?
I like to get my prints out into the world. Everything in the print section is for sale and needs to be put into my online store, but I'm always behind on that. :) I try to keep my work affordable so that if someone sees something that speaks to them they can get it. I like to have work in a gallery as well. It's a way to present a body of work that can often say more when viewed together. It's a way to tell a story of sorts. I'd prefer for people to experience my work in person. Letterpress is a tactile medium and seeing the paper and the impression on the paper has a different effect in person. I also make a fair amount of books and those need to be held and read to get the full experience.
What are your main intentions for all your pieces or the take-away aspect you want to leave your audience thinking about when viewing your work?
It depends on the piece. But I am often interested in sparking a conversation. This can be a conversation that the viewer has with themselves, the patron next to them at the gallery or their loved one when they get home. I hope to engage the imagination and talk about ideas in a way that stimulate some kind of response.
I see that on your website you are now selling prints about “keeping your distance” and “enjoy your family”, were these prints all inspired by the state of the world currently? How was the global pandemic inserted itself into your work and printing these days?
Yes, those were the first things I printed since the shelter in place order in Illinois. They were inspired by all of the window signs in my neighborhood. "Everything will be okay," "Thank the helpers," etc. I wanted to contribute to the conversation people were having with those outside of their windows through handmade signs. I'm really excited about the idea of community right now. How do you maintain or even grow a sense of community when everyone is inside or keeping a distance from one other?