From the art classes of LCCVI to the galleries of Paris

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Ben Skinner can’t put into words what it means to say he has an art show in Paris.

The work of the Petrolia native will be shown in a small but prestigious gallery in Paris which has hosted the works of artists such as Banksy. It’s a region filled with some of the great galleries of Europe including the Louvre.

Skinner, who was the first artist to display work at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia, got a call in September from the gallery. They had an opening for a November show and was he interested?

Skinner knew the time frame would be tight to pull together a whole show but he jumped at the chance. “Yea! Of course I do. I wasn’t going to say no,” he tells The Independent.

Skinner isn’t exactly sure how the curator came up with his name. He’d been to an art fair in Toronto as was this Paris curator. Another possibility is he may have heard about Skinner through his Instagram account, which dramatically increased after the Toronto fair.

After getting the call, Skinner quickly decided he wanted to do all new work for the three-week exhibition. “When I get an opportunity for a show, I don’t like to cobble together work from various years… it kicks me in the butt that I need to make a new series of work.”

He set to work, creating pieces using everything from holographic oil to his trademark text and phrases. (Skinner’s work Show Me With Your Arms How Much hangs in JNAAG as part of the gallery’s permanent collection).

Skinner didn’t want to rely solely on his text work, considering he was working in France. “I am showing in a French-speaking city… they might not get some of the nuances that I put into a lot of my text-based sayings… I am always twisting them and giving them these new lives that might not be fully understood.”

While the work is new, it has already been seen. Skinner displayed 15 pieces at a show in the building where he works, as a fundraiser to travel to Paris for his new endeavour. “I made more than enough money to fly there and stay there for a week.”

While his coworkers bought up some of his pieces, the gallery curator chose just half of the works he created to display. That meant he had to go back to the drawing board – something he’s always loved.

Skinner recalls how as an art student at LCCVI he never considered his classes as work. While other students were told to turn in one sketch per week, teachers like Ariel Lyons paged through the sketch books Skinner “burned through” each week.

“It wasn’t homework for me.”

Skinner says his time in the art classes of LCCVI shaped him. Lyons and Jane Austin challenged and opened the world of modern art to him. And he says they made him develop his talent. “They held me to a different standard than other students in the class. I had to work a lot harder to get nine out of 10 than my neighbours. Ms. Austin would say ‘Ben, I know you can do better than this.’”

It may seem like a long way from the LCCVI classroom to Paris and Skinner can hardly wait. The show begins Nov. 25 and Skinner will spend time before and after in the city, first setting up the show and then taking in some of the great galleries in the area.

And he says it is hard to put into words what it means to show his work in Paris. “It seems a little unreal,” he says. “It feels like a big deal for me. It’s my first solo show outside of North America and even though it is a small gallery, they represent some very famous artists. To be side by side with famous contemporary artists it’s exciting… it’s hard to put it into words.”

 

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