The best art is channeled through people who can tap into what Carl Jung called “collective unconscious.”
This is also true of the best advertising and marketing efforts—something artist Benjamin Lowder is well aware of after years of working in the industry.
In his most recent body of work, “Phoneme,” he’s leaving that commercial career behind for good. The canvas of each piece consists primarily of vintage metal signage from old advertisements and reclaimed barn wood, cut into triangles, pentagons, and other sacred geometric shapes, reassembled and used as a surface for his paintings.
The new arrangements are a complete de-construction and transmutation of the original ad. And this body of work is a deconstruction of Lowder’s career in the industry.
“Buy this. You need this!” Such was the underlying mantra of most advertising and marketing dating all the way back to its origin. Though it has evolved immeasurably in craft, complexity, and medium in the decades since, this mantra has changed very little—and it is a message broadcasted to us 24/7, with most of us unknowingly under its spell.
So deeply has its magic been woven into our society, there’s even a growing population of Instagram influencers, pretty much living their entire lives as advertisements, themselves.
“The idea of selling out has actually taken on a positive connotation for these people and that’s quite a departure from the past,” says Lowder.
The constant demand for more product, more things, more, more, more—we’re answering this call now in a way that isn’t sustainable. We only have to look at the state of the environment to confirm this. The magic has become destructive.
With “Phoneme,” Lowder’s goal is to break this spell.
“The advertising tropes of the vintage signs are deconstructed and reassembled into sacred geometric patterns that break the magic spell cast by the advertising’s original letter forms,” says Lowder of his reasoning for the work.
“These artifacts are recast to transmute feelings of nostalgia for an unsustainable past while drawing forward ancient wisdom to support an abundant future.”
Back to the Beginning.
With “Phoneme,” Lowder is tapping into the magic that preceded even advertising.
Phonemes are the spoken sounds of alphabetic writing systems that humans naturally began making to communicate before the written word was ever conceived. The letters that we as English speakers now use (as well as the alphabets of every other language) are largely based on these sounds. And once upon a time, these sounds were the basis for magic spells.
In the same way advertising has evolved, the way we use phonemes have evolved as well, with once sacred sounds now expressed primarily as symbols we see and use everyday.
“The smartphone is the contemporary expression of this symbolic reality, but it began thousands of years ago with phoneme-based communication,” he explains.
“We have moved generation by generation into an increasingly symbolic reality, separating ourselves from nature and the source of actual reality. It is an interesting correlation that the word ‘phoneme’ appears to be a combination of the words ‘phone’ and ‘me,’ which for this exhibition suggests our contemporary use of a virtual identity that we communicate through our smartphones. This digitally contrived identity could be referred to as our ‘phone-me.’ This ‘phone-me’ identity is where our use of phonemes has led us to and it’s my intention to peel back some of the layers of our current symbolic reality with this exhibition.”
Though he lives in the remote farmland of central Illinois, Lowder’s work and ideas are getting attention all over the world. Patti Astor, best known for discovering the likes of Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring has taken him under her wing as the co-curator of his new exhibit in Los Angeles, and pieces from his other exhibits have found their way into the collections of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Brandon Boyd, and Michael Rainin, to name a few.
“As an artist I want to create works that remind people of the miracle we are living in,” says Lowder.
Casting a New Spell.
The work in “Phoneme” is all about transmuting the old, outdated, and unsustainable messages from advertising into something that promotes abundance. Here are several examples in Lowder’s own words:
“My intention for this piece was to bring curves into the composition and create the feeling of meaning or matter emerging from primordial eggs or bubbles. I was again thinking about creation mythology and the idea of spoken and written language being the creative tools of genesis.”
“Something’s Happening Here”
“With this piece I wanted to use the negative space around the letter forms as inspiration for the shapes I drew and painted over the top of. This was also a way to introduce curves into the composition and reference the idea that forms and symbols are defined by the negative space around them or that matter is defined by what it is not as much as being defined by what we perceive that it is.”
“Sun and Moon Download”
“This piece was inspired by the recent lunar eclipse. This piece expresses the idea of information being downloaded to witnesses of the sun and moon conjunction. This geomagnetic download from the alignment of the sun and moon reaches us at a subconscious level and I think it has compelled me to add curves and crescents into my current artwork. This was not a conscious decision at the time I was making the work, but looking back at the completed pieces, I can see the influence of the eclipse on this work.”
Author: Dustin Clendenen
Image: With the permission of Benjamin Lowder
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis