The cart behind the horse

Pomplamoose 4, Ben Folds

Pomplamoose 4, Ben Folds

Ben Folds is also a photographer, and the fact that it isn’t his main profession enables him to be refreshingly humble, simple and honest when he talks about how he doesn’t intend his work to mean anything. It’s always nice to hear someone say this. Painting has, for me, no intellectual component whatsoever. I paint what I want to look at repeatedly, without pinning down why. If the image causes me to become aware of more than the literal object or scene, all the better, but this isn’t something I can consciously make happen. The process is subconscious. The “meaning” of the picture, if it has such a thing, as well as the title, come later, when I extract or attach them in a parasitical way. James Hall, my dealer here in Rochester, always mocks my simple, literal titles. Two Pears. Candy Jar #10.  It amuses him, but I never think to suggest that he ought to check the titles of thousands of paintings down through history. They add no more than mine to the visual power of the work. Mona Lisa. Starry Night. Sunflowers. Nothing that wouldn’t have been available from a glance at the painting itself. The Tempest, Bathsheba, Lunch on the Grass. . . Not detecting much in those titles that wasn’t there at a purely perceptual level, except maybe the Biblical reference.

(There are some profound exceptions of course. Guernica comes to mind, a painting with a clear purpose and meaning, which, like the significance of Kafka’s novels, expanded to include many horrors of the 20th century: death from the sky in the form of nuclear war. And now drones. Mostly conceptual art puts the cart before the horse, though in this case this process gets incredibly effective results. Guernica also happens to be one of the most perfectly titled paintings in history, the actual name of the town which was bombed, a place name that happens to include within it the word for the larger metaphorical subject of the painting itself: war.)
But to bring things back from this exception, Ben Folds talks about his photography:
I’ve been making photographs for most of my life and printing in the dark room, and it’s been an obsession. It’s the second showing I’ve had but also the first in a way because I printed them this time. I stood next to them (at the exhibition) and told people what I was thinking when I shot them. I don’t think about that. When I write a song I can already hear the questions about it and I don’t like that I think that way. I just feel where it’s going. I enjoy trying to remember why I shot something. Sometimes it was just because it was  . . . purty. (With that word Folds mimicked the voice of the backwoods assailant who says, purty lips in Deliverance.) When the kids were born I did the typical thing of taking ten thousand shots with a digital camera, and I thought nobody wants to see this shit. So I started taking printing seriously. I shot on tour and I just mailed off to a storage space and we ended up with four or five big stacks of negatives and contact sheets and I thought I really must be crazy. It’s a lot of work. It’s kept me sane. I would spend from five in the morning to one in the afternoon in the dark room and  from then on to midnight in the studio. My mother’s a good artist, a painter. My parents didn’t play music. So music was less likely than photography was. I shoot what feels right. “The light is kinda cool. This will look good on film.” The meaning is just an add-on, side-effect, that I don’t even realize. I’m not aware of it. It’s just for the gallery. That’s all it is. It’s for the show when you’re standing there with the wine. When you’re creating something you really don’t know why you have to do it. You’re not making a Hallmark card. Which is a great thing too. I don’t write songs that way. I don’t write topically. But people ask me questions (about a song) and I’ve explained it, so Im fucked. With photography I’m still innocent.
I especially like: “I must be crazy. It’s kept me sane.” An artist!
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