The definition of a successful contemporary artist in certain circles is one who can afford to outsource his or her labor. Think of Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, both who employ teams of assistants — sometimes as many as 150 — to carry out their ideas. Artist Benjamin Hollingsworth has mixed feelings about this approach. For the professional soccer-player-turned artist, having a team work on your concepts may allow for more ideas to be realized, but, he says, "you lose sight of the value of the physical work."
For Hollingsworth's latest show Vision of Labor, his first in Charleston since 2012, the artist found himself working harder than ever. Some of the sculptural pieces on display weigh more than 400 pounds, and he regularly worked 18-hours a day just to complete the pieces for his debut exhibition at The Southern. The result of this effort is a collection of 24 pieces and a series of works on paper.
The Southern is only a few months old, but before they opened their doors, the gallery's owners, Justin and Erin Nathanson, knew they wanted to have a show of Hollingsworth's work. Erin first met Hollingsworth in late 2009 while curating Contemporary Charleston 2010 for the City Gallery at Waterfront Park. Since then, the two have stayed in touch. "I'm impressed by the way his work has evolved since that first show. Initially experimenting as a painter, Benjamin has pushed the conventional ways of learning new techniques, and you never know what you will see," Erin says. "Justin and I chose to exhibit Benjamin's work as our first solo exhibition at The Southern because we want to present works that are both current and of high merit."
Vision of Labor is the second show for this gallery, and the space with its cement floors and large walls is the perfect setting for Hollingsworth's collection of large-scale sculptural pieces. Several are cement tree-like structures, which for years had been sitting in Hollingsworth's studio as minimalist totem poles before he decided what to do with them. When he did, his inspiration was a curious one.
"I wondered what flowers might look like in an archeological dig in the year 3000," he says. As a result, each structure stands on a base that is covered in vinyl, a material that Hollingsworth says has "a white-trash quality." Used as the foundation of the structure, the vinyl-covered base is the basis of the transformation of trash into treasure.
The juxtaposition of materials is a primary concern for many of the pieces in the show. The 400-pound wall pieces are made of black and white linoleum tiles with encaustic wax and chains. "To Hold Your Place in Time" is a floor-to-ceiling structure made of six squares of concrete and metal with climbing cleats attached like footprints across the surface. Meanwhile, smaller free-standing ceramic sculptures are placed throughout the gallery, with a few being placed on the floor in such a way that viewers almost stumble over them. There are no defined physical boundaries to this collection. These hardened structures twist and bend in movements that feel like they are living, breathing creatures.
Blacked out newspaper clippings are the canvas of the smaller works on paper. "I read the paper every day and have collected newspapers over the years," he says. "I was thinking about human rituals and how the newspaper is such a microcosm of the world we live in but so much is left out." A story about black holes prompted Hollingsworth to explore the idea of light and truth being swallowed by the darkness. "We take truth for granted," he adds.
Hollingsworth doesn't see himself as a traditional painter and says, "I'm a mark maker." He is constantly pushing himself beyond his physical and intellectual boundaries and says he thrives in that intensity. The last few weeks have been a blur of long hours and hard work that have resulted in a show that accurately reflects who he is as an artist — an artist who enjoys the labor of creating art as much as the conceptualization.