FEATURE: Bobby Benjamin – A Look Back on 2020 | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Bobby Benjamin by TUHUTZS

Over the past twelve months, our magazine and website have been brimming with super-talented, creative souls. We’ve asked a few of them to tell us about their 2020 and offer a few tips about great stuff they’ve seen, watched and read.

Here, artist and head honcho of Middlesbrough gallery Pineapple Black, Bobby Benjamin tells us about his 2020…

Sum up 2020 in three words

Good. Bad. Ugly.

What skills did you learn in lockdown?

As an artist I’ve always worked with paint in my practice but in a very non-traditional, sculptural way. I’d never really tried using paint to paint with until lockdown. I found a few tins of fence paint in the alleyway and a couple of half empty tins of emulsion in a skip and just started making marks in very primal way. I didn’t even use a brush. It’s become a bit of an obsession for me now and I feel like its lead to some of my most interesting work to date.

Your favourite band/artist of the year?

There’s so much interesting stuff going on up here that I could easily choose a top 10 from the North East alone. If one band really captured my mood this year – and probably the mood of the nation – it’d be Benefits. Their music is intense, confrontational and vitriolic, their output is prolific and topical and their live show is fucking brilliant. I love Michael CG too. His elaborately titled The Most Critically Acclaimed Horror Phantasy Of Our Time EP is only a couple of weeks old but it is an utter joy and his talent is a wonder to behold.

In terms of the visual arts, I think Gordon Dalton has had a great year. His paintings are vibrant, esoteric landscapes that have a real dreamlike quality and offered some welcome escapism throughout a pretty dark year.

Your favourite song of the year?

Benefits – Divide And Be Conquered, Shakk – Toxic Rick or pretty much anything off Eyeconic’s DNR LP. I actually won one of Shakk’s Toxic Rick T-shirts in an online competition which, in this annus horribilis, was something of a highlight!

Favourite TV show of the year?

You’ll probably get this a lot but I’ll say The Queen’s Gambit. I very rarely watch any episodic TV but this one had me hooked. I’ve always loved chess – playing it, reading about it and now, apparently, watching Netflix shows about it! I’d recommend Searching For Bobby Fischer too for anyone of a similar disposition. I think that’s also on Netflix.

Your favourite film?

I Googled a list of the 250 best movies of the year and I’d seen two of them. I watch a lot of films but haven’t kept up to speed with this year’s new releases. Of the two films I did catch, Hamilton was my favourite.

Best book you read?

Following on from the last question – my girlfriend is obsessed with Hamilton and we’ve watched it about five times. I became a bit obsessed with it too and ended up seeking out some other material on the subject – leading me to pick up Gore Vidal’s Burr. It’s a great read and served as an excellent companion piece to Hamilton.

Venue you are looking forward to performing at next year?

I probably won’t be doing much performing but I can’t wait to get back into Disgraceland. It’s such a cool venue and its owner Jane Jorgensen is always full of ideas and open to collaboration, which is what it’s all about. The decor is fantastic too, with art literally everywhere you look. It truly is a phantasmagoria of kitsch and colour.

What was your favourite gig/live stream event?

It seems like forever ago – I had to double check it was even this year – but myself and John James Perangie curated an edition of our ‘arty party’ Picasso Baby at Disgraceland with Benefits, GGAllan Partridge, Squarms and Leon Maddy playing live – that’s as good a night of live music as you’ll find anywhere – so I’ll blow my own trumpet on that one.

In terms of live streaming – I’m a bit of a technophobe so I haven’t been to as many digital events as I’d have liked. One that stands out to me was an edition of Lisa Lovebucket’s cabaret of chaos The Red Room. I’ve been working on a collection of poems during lockdown (well, for about 15 years before that too) called Northern Seppuku, and Lovebucket invited me to The Red Room to perform a few excerpts. I ended up sticking around for hours. It was packed with experimental, diverse performances and proper lovely people. It was the closest a virtual experience has come to replicating the atmosphere of a real world event for me.

Any upcoming artists we should keep an eye out for in 2021?

In terms of visual art – we have an artist called Will Hughes exhibiting in the Pineapple Black 24/7 Window Gallery in January that I’m really excited to be working with. There’s also an emerging artist called Harry Fraser who has worked on a few of our Picasso Baby projects and is producing some really exciting stuff. Both artists are producing work that is visually interesting, current and engaging; I’m intrigued to see how their practices develop over the coming year.

In terms of music, I’m really excited about a band (from Hartlepool I think?) called Queensbury. We’ve featured them on our Picasso Baby Insta and they have an energy and sound that really stands out. I’d pitch them somewhere between Brockhampton and Walthamstow-era East 17, with some Beck thrown in there too. I’m not sure I’m doing them justice here – just go listen, they’re brill!

Predictions for 2021?

A government orchestrated fake alien invasion, the implementation of a one world government and the systematic…Oops, wrong meeting! Seriously though, I have no idea what to expect next year, I just know it won’t be easy for the creative industry or independent venues. Fortunately, one thing creatives do well is adapt, and I’m confident that next year there will be an abundance of great artwork and music that has been produced during these lockdowns and I can’t wait to see/hear it!

And finally, have you got anything in the pipeline for next year?

In this segment last year I told you all about my upcoming solo show at Crown Street Gallery in Darlington… Well, that got postponed due to Covid. It will now go ahead in 2021 and will be even bigger, better and more carefully considered – having had an extra year to produce work and allow my ideas to marinade – so keep an eye out for that!

I’ve tried to use my excess spare time wisely, with myself and (co-director) Stephen Irving having devised a programme for Pineapple Black which is really expansive and inclusive and we’re very excited to roll that out. We’ve also developed a new, alternative project space within Pineapple Black and are planning a reoccurring live music event with a bit of a twist. We’re just really keen to get back open.

John James Perangie and I are also working hard on new Picasso Baby content. We’ve lined up some amazing collaborations, we are planning another edition of our Digital Issue and, when we can legally cram loads of people inside Disgraceland and blast them with music and art, our live event will be back and better than ever.

To keep up to date with all the above, follow us on Instagram @bobbybenjamin @pineappleblackarts @picasso_baby_boro

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