steele yourself!

Ah, breakfast with Van Gogh. What could be better?

A crunchy bowl of Ben Steele’s Earrios will get you off to a great start. What’s that? You want more? Can’t say I blame you.

Once you’ve seen one Ben Steele painting, you crave another and another . . .

Ben in his studio with some of his product inspirations.

Originally from Washington state, Ben relocated to Utah when he was in his teens. He earned a BFA in painting and drawing from the University of Utah, then moved to Helper, Utah, where he studied under the instruction of David Dorman and Paul Davis at the Helper Art Workshops. He recently converted a vacant bottling and beverage distribution warehouse into an enormous studio that will accommodate large scale work.

Ben’s paintings are a unique mash-up of art history and pop culture, a wide-ranging oeuvre that includes landscape, still life, portraiture, and other things in-between. He calls himself a “pop realist,” an artist with an ever evolving style who’s successfully imbued classic techniques with a contemporary sensibility.

With equal measures of playfulness and nostalgia, Steele taps into America’s collective imagination by incorporating iconic brands such as Crayola, Coca-Cola, and Campbell’s Soup. Referencing the American West, Hollywood legends, and major figures in American history (to include several Presidents), his art resonates across generations with its social, political, and cultural overtones.

I first encountered Ben’s work when I stumbled upon one of his crayon paintings. I’m often drawn to photorealistic art and loved the throwback to my childhood, when it was a big deal to score a new box of crayons — from the first thick crayons I held in my pudgy kindergarten hands, up to 24 packs, then 48s, and finally graduating to a full 64 pack. Such joy!

But why crayons? Ben’s been painting them since 2005.

Crayons represent pure creative potential. I was told to paint what you like, and I have always loved crayons, so I sort of went off in that direction.

This is a great example of elevating an ordinary, everyday object into a thing of beauty. I have renewed appreciation for crayons now, don’t you?

Ben works primarily with oils. What is interesting is that he sometimes uses oils to mimic other media, such as crayons, chalk, and even the magnetic pigment particles in Etch A Sketch toys. For example, he uses a Q-tip with dry oils “to create the waxy texture of crayons on the canvas.”

Ben’s artistic influences include Vermeer (esp. from a technical standpoint), Picasso, Warhol, Dali and Banksy.

He’s definitely an artist to watch. What will he do next? The old masters will certainly never be the same, and with his penchant for reimagination and chameleon-like style-shifting, anything is possible.

Thanks to artists like Ben Steele, we’re able to see the world in new ways, re-thinking the roles archetypal references have played in our lives. It’s fun to consider what subjects you most readily identify with in any given piece, what feelings or memories they evoke.

Through their films, larger-than-life celebrities like Clint Eastwood and Marilyn Monroe have achieved mythic status. Steele’s homages reflect on the common wellspring from which we all draw. Who most symbolizes a rugged, Western hero, the model of masculinity? Who’s a timeless sex symbol, an epitome of beauty? How do these idealized, iconic figures fare in our current climate of rejecting stereotypes?

“The Tattoo Artist” by Norman Rockwell (1944)

Far from just creating technically brilliant, “fool the eye” pieces that surprise and delight, Ben strives to blend concept with vision. A good example is “The Tabooist,” a pun on Norman Rockwell’s “The Tattoo Artist,” which depicts a tattooist inking yet another girlfriend’s name on a sailor’s forearm. An interesting statement of how girlfriends may come and go, but ink is forever.

“The Tabooist” by Ben Steele

In Steele’s version, the subject is Brigham Young, head of the Church of Latter-day Saints. The tattooist is inking a list of Young’s wives, a “commentary on hypocrisy and the evolution of morals.” Polygamy may be taboo now, but Steele suggests it is difficult to eradicate immoral, unacceptable mindsets. I love that Ben owns a “Mormon Rockwell” t-shirt. 🙂

Ben’s work can be found in many private and corporate collections, and is exhibited in galleries across the country.

For more about Ben Steele, visit his Official Website, where you can find new and available works, as well as archives dating back to 2014. And don’t miss his “Crayon Evolution!”

Enjoy these short videos:


*Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

18 thoughts on “steele yourself!

  1. I love all the crayon art. What a cool blog to start the morning. When I was little, I loved a new box of 8 crayons and a Lennon Sisters coloring book! Thanks!

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  2. Perhaps I could just list every one as a favorite, Jama. What a clever, talented artist. Thanks for sharing so much. I will check the website, too! Have a wonderful day!

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    1. I usually have a new box of crayons in my desk drawer at all times. I don’t plan to use them, just take them out periodically to smell them and remember . . . 🙂

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  3. Love Ben’s work and wit. I might add some of his crayon masterpieces, credited, of course, to my school presentation. Older students (K-5) sometimes turn their noses up at crayons as babyish. Ben’s crayons might inspire them to embrace the medium of “years past.”

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  4. What a fabulous blog post! I love art parodies so this is exactly what I like to see. My main love is parodies of the Mona Lisa. I’ll have to check to see if he did any.

    be safe… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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