Ben McCarthy is an artist from Chicago, currently making work in Kansas City. Primarily interested in sculpture, nature, music, ancient art, and architecture, his work creates a new visionary dimension of creatures and structures built with precision and intuition. Ben graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture, Ceramics, and Sound. Wilderness has always provided an infinite source for creative inspiration, whether it be geological formations, outer space, wildlife, plant structures, or weather patterns, there is always a new idea to be found through experiencing how nature works.
All ancient cultures from around the world influence Ben’s sculptures, which are often reminiscent of fossilized artifacts that have seemingly just emerged from a portal to the future. Clay and ceramics have become a vital material for communicating these prehistoric ideas because of its aesthetic strength, lasting durability, and similarity to stone. The artist is currently exploring methods of sculpting large-scale organic structures from terra cotta clay into contemplative beings composed of natural shapes and architectural elements. Ben also plays the piano and incorporates the poetic discourse of sculpture-making into composing music. With a passion for understanding natural rhythm and cycles of life, there is a constant search for harmony in nature, and exploring ideas of landscape architecture, sculptural gardening, and land preservation.
Aldo & Leonardo: art + science — BLM Canyons of the Ancients
Time spent in the Canyons of the Ancients offers glimpses into a sacred landscape once inhabited by our ancient ancestors. The stoic mountains and massive geological formations of sandstone are charged with a mighty presence of the Ancient Ones, the Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloans—a fascinating native culture that thrived within the pure wilderness of Southwestern North America thousands of years ago. Wandering through fields of boulders, a hidden map emerges upon a closer look at the rock faces within alcoves of stone. Complex patterns of grids, figures, and animals have been meticulously carved into sprawling walls written through symbols and visual stories. A rippling geometric spiral signifies a nearby water source, and sprawling petroglyphs depicting spirits, footprints, and abstract forms may be a trail marker, record of a historic event, or a ceremonial space.
Trekking through the green valleys within the mountains, another feat of the Anasazi culture still stands today. Their architectural achievements of building homes into the sides of the cliffs with shaped structural stones is remarkable and puzzling. Labyrinths of prismatic towers and circular kivas assembled only with square blocks of sandstone and mud mortar give the visitor a sense of the Anasazi’s imagination, innovation, and deep connectedness with the landscape. There are many large structures built with precise design and integrity, yet the function or purpose of these ruins still remains a majestic mystery. The cliff-dwellings are phenomenal in how they camouflage with nature while home to memories of the world’s earliest sparks of human civilization.
Another riddle left behind is within the Ancestral Puebloan’s ceramic objects. Hundreds of sites amidst the Canyons of the Ancients contain pieces of clay pottery that embody the creative skill of their culture, sculpted into a language of vessels, dippers, and mugs painted with visually striking geometric line patterns. Their ability to harness the ceramic kiln technology in a complete wilderness setting combined with a distinct style of tessellated shapes and mathematical measurements is what truly makes the art of the Anasazi unique. There is an idea of peace, sustainability, and a utopian culture within the discovery of the Anasazi’s prolific creative community. The black on white painted textures almost appear as blueprint think-pads for the foundation of a sandstone city, communicating time and creation with a drawn surface on fluid gestures into the clay, made up of coils embedded with their fingerprints.
As a contemporary artist, I find this idea of connection we have to understanding ancient societies through referencing their artwork and architecture very intriguing. Their moments and spirits are encapsulated into expressive structural forms that are an accurate method for relating to how our ancestors lived. By deciphering a sculpture or rock art from a distant era, there is a universal, human language that can portray strong ideas across long periods of time. The archaeological process leads us to learn more about ourselves and how we can learn to progress our culture by learning from the past. Utilizing the ceramic process with these thoughts in mind, I created several sculptures that appear futuristic, while remaining simple, primitive, and calculated forms, similar to symbols found in ancient rock art. I am interested in how this concept implies a technique of time travel through art history in order to propose an existential or philosophical experience through a piece of sculpture. This series portrays an evolution of thought, through smiling heads and wandering spirits, formed with a reverence to universal connection. Their archaic expressions are friendly and terrestrial, yet with also an otherworldly and galactic knowledge.
With the rapid advancement of our technology today, new methods of archaeological conservation are being developed to further preservation of these artifacts. Photogrammetry is a way of documenting structures and objects in a three-dimensional, digital format so the pieces can be studied by generations beyond our own, and after the fragile history has been weathered away with time. This technology allows for high definition views of the piece in new perspectives in a digital interface, which may bring a breakthrough in understanding the purpose and function of ancient artifacts. During my Artist Residency at the Canyons of the Ancients, I was granted the opportunity to work with an archaeologist of the Bureau of Land Management Anasazi Heritage Center. The goal of the project was to a document of one of my sculptures, Volcano Vessel, using photogrammetry, transforming it into a floating computer model that can be spun in all directions—a new way of experiencing a sculptural work of art dimensionally. Hundreds of excavated ceramic shards, pots, and buildings made by the Anasazi culture are being categorized with this technique today to prolong their existence. I believe this gives importance and value to handmade artworks, while incorporating the ingenuity of modern science and technology.