BENJAMIN VAN OOST
The name Benjamin Van Oost might not necessarily ring a bell at first glance, but chances are actually quite high that you’ve seen - or maybe even own - one of his works. Based in Gent, Belgium the multidisciplinary artist is - well, actually was - the co-founder and art director of the prestigious Case Studyo and Toykyo, which were responsible for the majority of the most shining examples of successful artist collaborations in the recent past. These days though, he took a break from publishing and producing the goods for other artists in order to finally focus on his own work, which is actually almost impossible to pigeonhole: from interior design to manufacturing exclusive furniture, from fashion projects to building giant castles from handmade plastic jewellery - it’s a rather safe bet that Van Oost is immersed in some very busy times. Lodown hooked up with the Belgian jack of all trades in late September.
Benjamin, how would you describe what you do in your own words...
I consider myself a designer/artist. I try to be as diverse as possible. I actually studied graphic design, but my work - and the range my work is offering - changed over the years… and it's still evolving. My work varies from rather standard commercial work for big companies, stage design, and decor for festivals and photoshoots and all sorts of events. I’m sculpting, painting, I do photography, graphic design, illustration, paperworks, furniture design, clothing and fashion accessories design. I'm trying my best to somehow find the time for my own personal work. I’m always looking for fun things to do, and I like taking on new challenges and sinking my teeth into things I have never done before to expand my knowledge and skill. I've been doing this for the past thirteen years in a professional way and I'm enjoying every bit of it.
So would you say that you’ve basically changed from being a graphic designer to being a proud autodidact in terms of the fine arts?
Graphic design certainly is the basis of what I'm doing today. I'm an autodidact sure... proud, well, I wouldn’t necessarily promote myself that way, but, yes, I'm quite proud of the skills I've built up over the years. What's more important for me is the DIY aspect of the whole thing. I'm an extremely positive person and I'm always ready for new challenges or a problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible. Also, I'm quite good with working with very different materials and fixing stuff.
This is such an interesting part of my job: working with paper, wood, paint, metal, computers, glass, porcelain, and so on... every time I learn new things while working with these different kinds of textures. I started doing furniture design recently, and while working on first drafts, I realized that all the things I know and have learned really come in handy.
A really beautiful comparison I think, is “Uomo Universale“, you know, guys like Michelangelo... these guys did insane sculptures as well as paintings, architecture, and all those crazy inventions. That's the spirit in which I wanna create, but with the tools and things of today. A neverending adventure and quest of creativity.
Please tell me a bit about how Toykyo transformed into Case Studyo... if you could call it a transformation in the first place.
First I have to explain that I left the Toykyo team this year to focus on my own personal work. I've learned so much in the past nine years by working for all the artists with whom we've collaborated within the Toykyo/ Case Studyo universe... but now it's time to focus on my own work. The time feels just right!
Toykyo consisted of two parts: Toykyo productions - these were our artist collaborations and projects we generated or started ourselves (sculptures, screenprints, shirts, etc.). The second part was Toykyo Studio - this was more like a design studio, working for customers, more focused on illustration and graphic design and art direction. We noticed that people didn't really understand what these two divisions meant exactly. So my partner in Toykyo decided to start a new label exclusively for the production aspect - Case Studyo was born. This is the label used to do all the sculptures and different productions with artists. It was a little strange at first, but Case Studyo has made a name for itself quickly, so I guess this was the right thing to do.
Just recently you finally stepped into the spotlight with your very own installations and artwork... what took you so goddamn long?
I don't know... I just wasn’t ready to show my work, I guess. I had to break free from Toykyo/Case Studyo to develop my own works. I still work regularly for Case Studyo, printing the packages and making models, if needed. Toykyo/Case Studyo is something that always will be an important phase of my creative career. It's also a beautiful reference, and a stepping stone to show my own works today.
I've always been busy working for myself, but I never showed it to the outside world as I do now. Also, working for some of my greatest idols like Parra, Todd James, Steve Powers, Delta, or Steven Harrington gave me a huge satisfaction at the time. I translated their drawings into 3D sculptures, sometimes starting from just a single sketch. I had to really get into their style and visual world and try to understand how it should look. This is the best learning school you can imagine... I studied their forms and volumes by making the models. It's like a huge puzzle where you have to solve problems of all kinds - stability, details, coloring, manufacturing, packaging, and so on.
Parra, for example, he just makes one drawing and that's about it. I then have the freedom to make my own interpretation of the other sides and views. When I finish the first draft of a model, we send a bunch of pictures for him to comment on. He then draws on our pics to show where and how the model has to be adjusted. This process basically will continue until we are both happy with the result, and then the model goes into production. The sculpting part can be finished in a couple of weeks, but it can also last up to a couple of months or even more than a year, depending on the technical difficulties, details and production steps.
For the last two years I've felt ready to share my own art with the world. And it's really liberating... especially when people start taking you and your work seriously. I notice a new and different audience that shows interest in my works, I’m growing up, I guess, and things are getting more serious. It would be my absolute dream to live from my own artworks, and not have to do commercial jobs anymore. And that is exactly what is happening now little by little. I will always keep doing commercial jobs - some projects you simply cannot refuse - but to be able to work on your own stuff all the time is a feeling of freedom that I will certainly pursue.
From what I’ve seen so far, a lot of your sculptures present a kind of dream-like and very playful take on construction... what do you find the most fascinating and pleasing aspect about creating these kind of alternate buildings?
When building my sculptures, I feel like a kid playing with legos. Only I create my own pieces and I can decide what every part looks like. It's also some kind of therapy-like thing. I finally have time to think... and I really enjoy that! It makes me think about architecture, colors, materials... plus I try to put as much as possible from myself in it. And unconsciously I see references to Le Corbusier, Memphis, urbanism, graffiti, design and pop art. I don't have plans or drawings, I start building and I don't know where it's going to end. The buildings and castles evolved out of my jewel pieces - I have a little DIY brand called Lovecraft that I started right after I left Toykyo, and it consists of one of a kind, handmade plastic jewellery pieces. This is something that also grew out of my knowledge of materials and techniques that I learned by sculpting at Toykyo.
And this evolved further into bigger pieces, and is still evolving into other works today: masks, a typeface, real big sculptures. Every time I discover other possibilities and new things, that makes my work evolve. I really don't know what I will be doing next year... I go with the flow and use the interesting pieces of all these experiments as a next step. My head is really filled with ideas and I don't have enough time to try and do them all... really frustrating, also. I am actually really curious myself about what will come next.
Does focusing on your own work imply that Case Studyo will reduce its output?
Not at all. Mathieu, my former partner and the driving force behind Case Studyo, is still going strong! As I said, I am still there to make models if needed, and to assist on the technical issues, and to give advice or help. There's more work that gets outsourced now, less DIY in-house production. But the rate of productions and the drive of Case Studyo are still the same.