What happens when fiction meets reality and super heroes confront real life heroes? If life is the absolute drama, then how exactly is a heroic act defined? In a world where everything seems to fall apart, where can we look for inspiration? Ben Turnbull, a London based artist, fascinated by the world of comics and the culture of power, has a particular way of raising questions that are not easy to answer. His latest exhibition, Supermen-An Exhibition of Heroes (16th September to 22nd October 2011, Eleven Gallery, London) is a very interesting study on the definition of real heroic acts in a world that is often so surreal that it almost seems fictional. Ben was inspired by the ten year anniversary of 9/11 and wanted to pay his particular homage to the real life heroes, all the firemen and policemen that served their duty during these life changing events. In order to do that he used cut outs of his enormous collection of pre 1990 comics that he has been collecting since he was 11 years old, including fictional superheroes like Captain America, Daredevil, The Fantastic Four as well as Batman, Spiderman and the Hulk. With the prime material in a patriotic pallet of red, white and blue and following a meticulous working process, Ben created some fascinating collages that actually form the faces of the firemen and policemen of 9/11.
Ben Turnbull points out that ''Superman didn’t fly down to save the falling buildings, there was no Caped Crusader ready to do battle with the arch-enemy and Spidey didn’t spin his web. Without the need of a phone-booth or a revolving door, these true patriots donned their iconic costumes and sacrificed life and limb for what they believed in.'' Ben’s creations are based on the visual vocabulary of an entire generation of superhero lovers, only that this time the heroes are completely real. Serving as a bridge between collective fantasy and harsh reality, Ben’s work is a reminder that behind any hero is hidden our deepest yearning for a better world, a little bit more idealistic and, why not, a little bit more ideal than the one we are currently living in. Yatzer couldn’t resist meeting Ben Turnbull and having a very interesting talk with him. Enjoy!
Ben Turnbull // Hero IV, 2011
Comic collage on wood // 129 x 97 cm
Courtesy of Eleven, London and the artist
Well, Ben, let’s start from the beginning. When was the first time you discovered your fascination for super heroes? What do they symbolize for you?
When I was about 6 or 7 I was walking home from school and there was an incredible fight taking place between Spiderman and a Super villain (can't remember which one) on our local cinema rooftop. An everlasting childhood memory! Interestingly at that time my home life was split and I was living with a different family. Their youngest boy, who I shared a room with, had an awesome comic collection and he'd draw the most amazing versions of comic heroes. I honestly think that was where I learnt my first lessons on how to draw. I suppose they symbolize an authority figure, a father figure even.
How did you come up with the idea to use pre 1990 comics of your proper collection in order to make your collages? Would you say that the basic ingredients of your works are your own memories?
The historical element of the toys/comics I use adds an extra dimension to the work. The idea is, that we've probably played with or read these objects in our youth. Visually I'm only interested in the vintage stuff. That’s purely my aesthetic. Absolutely, I don’t see much difference between the base element of any of my works. They all tend to have that same property of death tied up in them.
Why do you think super heroes have such a universal appeal? Is the world that we are living in so disappointing that the only thing that can rescue us is an outer, bigger than us, force?
I don’t think it’s as simple or gloomy as that. My take on things is that everyone sees a bit of themselves in the Superhero, especially the flaws. Fundamentally Batman is totally unsocial and Spiderman is a nerd/geek. Another example is my favourite part of the Superman movies when he starts getting into alcohol. Seriously dark stuff!
I believe that there is a certain romanticism in your work, a certain belief that the good will prevail in the end. At the same time, I can’t help thinking that one man’s hero is another man’s villain. Where is the fine line between the good and the bad in you work?
It’ not so much that Good will prevail but that the Truth will come out! Inside all the works I do there is an undeniable truth which I feel has to be taught. I would hope that like me, when I was taken to museums/galleries as a kid, today’s generation of children will be able look at works and learn from them. The biggest thrill I had recently was when a Brooklyn school came to see one of the Fireman pieces in a show in New York. It was a real buzz getting their reactions, their realization that hard work can produce results. They totally went for it! For me, that’s the reason I get up in the morning.
For your latest exhibition you were inspired by the events of 9/11 to pay homage to all the firemen and the policemen that risked their lives to serve their duty that day. In which way, according to your opinion, has the world changed since 9/11? If the real superheroes are hidden amongst us, does that mean that we all have a hidden strength that we may be unaware of?
We live in fear and fear is control. I think it’s interesting how the world (society) is now controlled by fear. There seems to be a general sense of mistrust. They said that the Blitz brought people together and I say 9/11 has separated people from one another. The Terrorist vs. The Good guys. Everything’s black and white, there is no in between left.
Tell us something about the process that goes into your work. I suppose that you must pay meticulous attention to detail in order to achieve such amazing results!
I do try and organize as much as possible beforehand. I seem to make lists endlessly!! Coming from a workshop background everything is very formulaic, it’s like I can see the end product immediately and then it’s all about the execution.
What are your future plans? What is left for you to explore?
A trip to Krypton!
Eleven Visitor Information:
Ben Turnbull // Supermen - An Exhibition of Heroes
Exhibition Dates: 16 September - 22 October 2011
Opening hours: Tues, Wed, Friday 11am-6pm; Thursday 11am-7pm; Saturday 11-4pm
Address: 11 Eccleston Street, London, SW1W 9LX