Len Bentham is the imaginative artist behind the
Victoria,BC, Canada - based
website - www.happyholidays.ca
Sales Blog - http://happyholidays-neatstuffforsale.blogspot.com/
How would you describe your work?
I am not interested in spooky, gory, or creepy Hallowe'en themed pieces so I suppose the words detailed, realistic (sort of), and humourous (that is the Canadian/British spelling) best describe my work.
I looked up humourous in the dictionary and it said causing amusement or laughter. After the definition were similar words - tongue-in-cheek, witty, slapstick, zany, comical, funny, hilarious, uproarious, joking. All of those words apply. The humour is filtered through gentle nostalgia and childhood innocence.
How long have you been creating Halloween themed art?
Margaret Schiffer's book “Holidays – Toys and Decorations” published in 1985 was the book that started me off on holiday themed art work. I found the quality of the German holiday candy containers amazing. I remember looking at the images in the book and saying “I want to do that.” What was the question? I have been doing holiday themed art, Hallowe'en and other holidays, for at least 18 years.
What do you consider your greatest creative challenge?
Staying focused! I constantly have all kinds of ideas zipping around in my mind. Some ideas are for holiday items while other ideas for interior design projects or anything else for that matter. If I stop and do one of the unrelated ideas I am off and running on a new project. I always have several to a dozen projects going at once!
The other area is not having everything perfect. I used to beat myself up (mentally!) for not having complete perfection and balance. What a sicko! After realizing I am human and not God and that the human element was what makes an art work come alive I relaxed and let the work express itself. I still like to have control but not at the cost of the item I am working on. It is like a dance, I go in this direction for a while and then the piece says over here kiddo. If I am paying attention then I don't notice the give and take as much. If I am not paying attention then it is just very difficult and exasperating.
What do you like most about being a member of EHAG?
Having been a member of other craft groups the one thing that stands out so much is the camaraderie, we are all in this together. I remember showing a finished Hallowe'en candle holder to everyone at the board meeting of a group I belonged to and not having very much of a response from anyone. I like the fact that we do have high standards and that we are serious artists. Everyone is very helpful as well with information.
What was your favorite childhood costume, and why?
I don't know if I have a favourite costume because we would throw on some old clothes of my dads. Victoria was a very small provincial town in those days. I always wanted to have one of those boxed costumes (I own a few vintage ones now!) I remember going to Kresges with my brother and mum and seeing the costumes hanging on the racks and then a pile of Japanese handmade papeir mache top hats and bowler hats. I wanted both hats but my mum bought us a top hat each. I still have them.
When I was in my teens I read a magazine called ”FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND”. One year I used a metal eyeball from a set of bobble-eye glasses, a touch of fake blood and held it all in place with a nylon stocking. Very spooky, someone even thought that it was a rubber mask.
Our children faired much better in the costume department. Over the years my wife and I turned cardboard boxes into a giant milk carton and a giant box of cookies, there were pirates, of course, a Thistle Fairy for our middle child Michael – check out the Flower Fairy books the Thistle Fairy is very manly, and many more costumes than I can remember.
Do you have any favorite Halloween Traditions?
Fireworks! I live in Victoria B.C. Canada on Vancouver Island. There was a very strong British influence in southern B.C. and I believe that with the British celebration of Guy Fawkes day on the 5th of November, Hallowe'en took on the fireworks tradition as well. Every year we would buy fireworks and firecrackers and let them off after going trick or treating. We would also let off firecrackers before Hallowe'en and then buy more because we had depleted our supply! The last few years there have been almost no fireworks for sale. I think that the powers that be have finally managed to get them banned. You will see fireworks used in some of the pieces that I make.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I do not as a rule pour through books on Hallowe'en for ideas! I constantly scour the thrift shops for vintage and antique items. One item can give me an idea for an entire piece or pieces. I do not put the idea down on paper as a finished drawing, I find that by having a fully realized drawing of the idea that it constricts the design process. The only drawing done may be a thumbnail sketch. The books that I do look at constantly are on interior design and display. Costume and set design, haute couture, magicians, joke store novelties are other areas of influence. I love good design in any media so that is where I go for ideas. Check out my blog and look at the“Little tour of my brain” posts.
I had not realized until recently but there is an underlying theme of family and the joy friendship in my work. The story that accompanies each piece is as important as the work itself. I like to have the work appear as realistic as possible. It is also fairly detailed. I admire people that can do a flick of the brush here and a scrunch of papier mache there to then have a beautifully realized design. I love the German composition veggie people from the 1920's. I have found that Hallowe'en, especially the veggie people, has the greatest amount of humour in it.
What are your artistic plans for the future?
First and foremost I want to take the quality of my work to a higher level.
"Open the Vault" - tell us a secret that not many people know about you.
Before I started doing holiday themed art work I was producing sculptural textiles using basketry and off loom weaving techniques. I would use anything that was not considered a weaving or basketry fiber to produce the forms; ticker-tape, surveyors tape, shed snake skins, wasp nest,and plastic flowers come to mind. I received a Canada Council Explorations grant and produced a body of work that was displayed in the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. In 1980 I had two pieces of work in the International Miniature Textiles show in London England. All pieces submitted had to be 8” or less in any given direction. The show then went to Lausanne, Switzerland and displayed at the same time as the Lausanne Biennale, a major international textile show where all of the pieces must be 4 metres or more in any given direction. The miniature textiles show toured Europe and North America for two years. I had a picture of one of my pieces included in the review of the show in American Craft magazine. Eventually I became frustrated with producing “fine art” because I felt that I was making stuff for other people and not myself. I have a sense of humour and that is not an emotion that is usually portrayed in fine art. How many pieces of art do you see that make you laugh? The art world in general is very serious and I am not!
How do you balance your personal/professional life?
I think I do it fairly well. Sometimes I find I will spend too much time with family and not enough time in the studio.
What shows if any will you be participating in this year?
There are no shows on the West Coast in B.C. that are devoted to holidays or Hallowe'en. I have been in major craft fairs at Christmas but my sales would only cover my costs, which were high, and then I would make a small amount on top. I sell mainly on the Internet through my sales blog “Happy Holidays – Neat Stuff for Sale” and my website www.happyholidays.ca.
Follow Len Bentham on his blog