ARTIST OF THE MONTH -
by Carol Nabrotzky Wells
I couldnt have windows in my house, Id want Ben Schnirels
paintings to serve as my windows to the world. Being a realistic
painter, Bens landscapes are often described as surrealistic,
mainly by those who have never visited the area. People who have
never experienced the landscape of Moab/Canyonlands cannot comprehend
the vibrancy and dramatic color schemes that Ben has been able to
capture with astonishing finesse in his paintings.
Bens intrinsic artistry surfaced as a toddler and was well
supported by his parents who supplied him with plenty of materials.
In fact, it seems Ben was born with the awesome combination of being
both artist and entrepreneur. In elementary school, Ben drew pictures
of planes and ships and then sold them to his schoolmates on the
playground for ten cents each.
But the school system fell short in artistic education and support.
So, Bens parents supplemented his summers with art classes.
During Bens senior year in high school, he felt his art teacher
was a little too structured, and Ben decided to do what he felt,
artistically. Ben was rewarded for his efforts with a D
in art. However, a few years after high school Ben was recompensed
by showing four of his larger paintings next to his high school
art teacher at a juried show in the Kimball Art Center in Park City,
is a tough business, says Ben, there are lots of egos
and politics involved. You have to stay positive. For me the rewards
of doing my art are a reminder to me of why I do it, and far outweighs
the negative aspects of the art world. Even if there were no galleries,
or people that buy art, I would still be painting because its a
form of entertainment for me. I love the process. I even like staring
at the blank canvas. Thats where a lot of the visualization
takes place. It may look like Im not doing anything or getting
anywhere, but the percolation and evolution of a painting takes
place in that visualization stage.
In 1984, Ben had an experience that changed the course of his life
and facilitated his move to Moab. At that time Ben had a full time
job in Salt Lake City. He had always wanted to see Moab, even though
he had only read about the area. So Ben quit his job and decided
to stay at Behind The Rocks area for 30 days. He packed
enough food, necessities, sketching supplies and had arranged to
be dropped off and picked up. Of this experience, Ben said, I
knew it would lead to something. Upon returning to Salt Lake,
he decided to go back to college full time in art and make
it happen. He dedicated himself to the program to the extent
that he was habitually on the honor roll.
it did lead to something. Ben sold his work regularly, and produced
several headline shows at the Kimball Art Center in Park City. His
father, who was president of Salt Lake Community college during
the time that Ben attended, is also an artist and they have done
a number of shows together, as well as participating for nine years
in the Park City Arts Festival. When Ben graduated from college,
his father retired from his position and they both launched full
time art careers. In beginning his own career, he had this to say,
When I began my southwest landscapes in college, I didnt
realize that southwest art was any big deal. But that became my
niche, and I think any artist has to find their own niche with regard
to how that fits into the art world in general.
Through the shows in Park City, some of Ben and his fathers
work were chosen to be part of a Haiku book entitled, Windows
To The Light, Enriching Your Spirit by Lynne D. Finney. Ben
hopes to have a group show with the author of the book sometime
in the near future.
1986, directly after college, Ben moved to Moab. Three years later,
he entered the highly regarded Arts For The Parks competition
which he won, consequently giving his career a big boost. Of this
and winning the Grand County Fair professional division seven times,
Ben responds modestly with, You look for the small victories
along the way to keep you going. When youre at the opening
of a big show and you hear lots of good feedback, it fuels the artistic
fire. All artists like to feel like someone understands their vision,
and that vision is reinforced through this positive feedback.
Ben has been offered a lot of teaching positions over the years,
but has limited himself to individuals or small groups because of
the time factor involved in maintaining his art career. Though 70%
of the work he does is in acrylics, he also works in oils and uses
small watercolor sketches as the preliminary composition for his
paintings. On occasion, he will employ an acrylic underpainting
and finish with oils; a technique he learned from Anton Rasmussen.
Sometimes he will paint from his photos and sometimes paint on site,
which ties in to his philosophy on creating images, I believe
that it doesnt matter how you get there. The important thing
is whatever serves best in getting to that end statement of what
you want your art to convey, says Ben.
the Stuntmans Hall of Fame called for donations from muralists,
Bens entrepreneurship discovered that $500.00 was budgeted
for art for a 5x20 mural. This became Bens first
art project in Moab. The beginnings of Moab Mercantile also secured
Bens work out of that initial meeting of the Stuntmans
Hall of Fame, and his work was there for nine years.
Though Ben informs me that he encounters more and more politics
in the art world, he maintains his positive attitude by rekindling
the fun and creativity of art and staying away from the politics.
Speaking with Ben, it is apparent that he doesnt just talk
about being positive, its truly part of his being.
When asked about how he gets his creative inspiration, he had this
to say, From my first adventure at Behind The Rocks,
I felt like Moab was an endless dreamland fully of mystery and fantasy,
with inspiring shapes and that I could spend a whole lifetime just
painting this subject. I also get a lot of my inspiration from the
visions in my dreams. Many of my dreams are of desert scenery, only
bolder and bigger, massively wild images. But I also spend time
hiking and camping to feed those images. Thats when you see
those magical moments spreading out in all directions.
We spoke briefly about that process of creating art
and how there is that point when something else takes over, Yes,
said Ben, Youre shooting for something and it takes
on a life of its own. Sometimes, I feel as if Im observing
myself from a distance as Im painting, like having an out
of body experience. When youre in that channeling mode, the
end result always exceeds expectations. But there are also times
when I have to leave a piece and come back to it later because I
dont know where it wants to go.
As many artists, Ben has several pieces going at once. For a big
show, he may have one large painting that draws people in, but its
the smaller pieces that most people can afford. So he works on a
lot of small originals and can usually complete five in a day to
build up an inventory. Ben has found that doing many smaller pieces
like this, pushes him to experiment and come up with a lot of different
concepts which then become a springboard of ideas for larger pieces.
In talking with Ben, I realized his connection to art is what connects
most of us to art and art making, when he revealed this insight,
Artwork is always something to rely on internally for me.
When the world is all crazy, you can go within yourself for images,
unlimited imagination and create another world for yourself.
Though most of us are familiar with Bens landscapes, much
of his artwork comes out of the fantasy world like space and other-worldly
subjects. Ben says he will be unveiling this side of his artwork
to us within the next year. When we touched on how the future might
look, Ben said, Staying optimistic, no matter what else is
going on in the world is important to me. I dont like to rest
on my laurels and so I tell myself about making art, that the best
is yet to come.
Bens originals and prints are available at Cave Dreamers
Gift Gallery. Prints are also available at Overlook Gallery. Dan
Norris Ancient Images is using one of Bens paintings
for this years Christmas card, viewable on the website at:
© 2001 Moab Happenings.
All rights reserved. Reproduction of information contained in this
site is expressly prohibited.