Interview with Sculptor Ben Dye

Interview with Sculptor Ben Dye

On July 16, 2019 the Happy Valley Rotating Sculpture Garden Program unveiled six new sculptures outside of City Hall. Joined by City Council and art enthusiasts, residents toured the installations and met program artists, who were present to share their stories and artistic inspiration.

Want to know more about the artists? We do, too! Read on to learn more about Oregon City resident, Ben Dye and his sculpture, Elation.

So, Ben, tell me about yourself.

 BD: I have always had a curiosity about how things work. This “need to know” has been both gratifying and frustrating in that knowledge is an unattainable moving bar with always more to know.

What is your earliest memory about art or creating art?

 BD: As far back as I can remember, I worked in the 3D spectrum in that I enjoyed building model planes and constructing objects for conducting experiments – such as a multi-sided mirror-lined box to see if it could bounce light continuously. Also, my early fascination with dinosaurs resulted in clay renderings of stegosaurus, triceratops, and others. Once I started driving, I became interested in motors and mechanics, which continues to influence my art.

When did you know that you wanted to become a professional artist?

 BD: The designation of “professional artist” is one that finds you. By continuing to produce, you eventually get paid for your work. Like operating a hang glider, you gear up, start running, keep running

……run some more and then all of a suddenly you’re flying.

What themes or concepts inspire your artistic style?

 BD: I am drawn to smooth transitions, curves that blend, and colors that subtly change. Patterns in nature are a vast resource of inspiration – flowing water and waves, leaves and scales, worn stones and sand dunes. I believe we have an innate attraction to such forms, which have been long contemplated and deciphered by philosophers and mathematicians. My 25-year career as a commercial diver put me in regular contact with the underwater realm where I was able to view such patterns in spectacular abundance.

How has your artistic style changed over time?

BD: My work has evolved to the abstract, allowing me to make peace with my former drive for perfect detail. Abstract works create more impact by providing visual gaps that let the viewer become more involved with the piece.

One of your sculptures, Elation, is currently on display outside of City Hall as part of the 2019-2021 City Hall Sculpture Garden program. Can you tell me more the inspiration behind Elation? 

BD: I’ve often observed how social convention tends to suppress the natural bursts of energy and self- expression that children emit without fear of judgement. So, Elation explores the kind of joy that surpasses mundane, situational happiness. It also contemplates when in life this natural ability fades or vanishes, and the possibility of recreating that state of mind.

How long did it take to design and fabricate Elation? Did you have an artistic process?

BD: Elation is one of the pieces that came together relatively quickly. It took 11 days, which during summer months are usually 10-hour workdays. For some pieces, the construction process just seems to flow in that everything falls into place. This brings joy to the act of fabricating. Elation was one of those pieces.

In Elation, stainless steel squares have been overlapped and welded together, creating a texture similar to puzzle pieces. Was there a particular reason why you used the medium of stainless steel? Is there a significance to your style of overlapping steel squares?

BD: Sculptors of monumental works have the arrogance to strive for longevity, wanting their work to outlive them. Stainless steel is a material that will live on long after any ferrous piece could hope for. Prior to the advent of welding, the strength of structures such as bridges and vessels lay in the riveting that held the pieces of metal together. The small squares in my work are a homage to the craftsmanship of that bygone era. It’s a laborious process, but one that helps me create more fluid forms.

What message do you hope to convey to Happy Valley residents with your work? What reaction do you hope to receive?

BD: Ultimately, the goal is to have people more interested in art. A society uninterested in art is one in decline. On a personal level, I hope for the piece to inspire joy and spark further interest in my work.

What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

BD: Don’t be afraid to push yourself but start with something you can complete. Success is completion. Your skill will increase as you go. Don’t get too hung up on the drawing board. Your best ideas will come while you’re working. Don’t be afraid that your best work was a one-off. There are always more ideas to come.

Do you find benefit in municipal art programs? Why or why not?

BD: Municipal art helps define and celebrate the uniqueness of each community. To me, public art is an expression of a community’s values. Just as our personal style and décor is an expression of our individuality, public art communicates the history, character, and aspirations of our local communities. Creating public art enables me to participate in a meaningful way with community-building, which I believe to be essential for creating and maintaining the kind of society we all want to inhabit.

The City thanks Mr. Dye for his contribution to the Sculpture Garden. Elation has been on exhibit at City Hall since July 2019 and will remain through June 2021. For questions and purchasing inquiries, please contact Jaimie Huff, 503-783-3828, [email protected].

 To see more art by Ben Dye, visit his webpage at http://www.bendyesculpture.com/


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