^ Ben Broome (left) and Christophe-Thomas Chassol (right) pictured at the opening for Drawing a Blank Paris, 2020. Photo Svétäl-Anand Chassol.
OTP Short-Forms: Ben Broome
An interview with the New York-based founder of Drawing a Blank.
Parisian landlords, growing up in County Durham and the importance of physical engagement.
Spawning from a jaded feeling that London's existing exhibition structures were actively excluding the city's most vital contemporary voices, Broome (then aged 21) founded Drawing a Blank to celebrate the work of his peers and their wider creative community. Hitting a sweet spot somewhere between an opening and a rave, in the past four years Broome's pop-up format has enjoyed increasingly hyped iterations in Peckham, Bermondsey, Soho and Harlem.
Whilst many collectives lacking the resources to finance a permanent space have flirted with a similar format, Drawing a Blank's rejection of commercial motivations and insistence on re-enforcing and extending a sense of community seperates it from any other recurring event of its kind. All of the participants have established friendships; these shows are about realising authentic connections just as much as they are about showcasing the virtuosic talent of a multi-disciplinary group of young and conscientious artists.
The following interview was recorded in the run up to the opening of the fifth iteration of Drawing a Blank at 22 Rue de Lubeck, Paris (open: September 25 - 30, 2020).
OTP Maybe I could start by asking you to talk a little bit about experience of Paris to date? Who were some of the first people you met in the city?
BB Paris has good energy, I came here for the first time only last year with my friend OB.
I spent two weeks here and I knew straight away that I wanted Paris to be the next location for one of my Drawing a Blank group exhibitions.
As always, when I arrive in a new city I try to plug into what's happening there artistically, musically etc. I asked everyone I know who's spent time here for recommendations - who are the good up and coming artists, musicians etc.
One of the first people I met was Pol Taburet, I did a studio visit with him and fell in love with his work. He's the best guy and I feel very lucky to not only call him a friend but also to have him in this exhibition.
^ Drawing a Blank Paris, 2020, installation view. Left to right: Rhea Dillon, Orfeo Tagiuri, Pol Taburet, Rhea Dillon, Jalan & Jibril Durimel. Courtesy of the artists and Drawing a Blank.
OTP How did you find the space you are exhibiting in? What is it about its character that attracted you?
BB A lot of searching! I came to Paris 4 times on location scouting trips, It's really hard to find big affordable spaces.
It seems as though Parisian landlords are used to charging sky high prices over fashion week which makes it difficult when I'm self funding the show.
The place had character, was just about in budget and had a high capacity - those were the main boxes ticked for me!
It used to be a car garage, it's pretty rough around the edges but it has great natural light and the metalwork criss-crossing the roof is beautiful.
OTP How has the experience of putting this show together been different to the previous iterations of Drawing a Blank? What makes this show feel new to you?
BB This is by far the most challenging thing I've ever done in my life. It was the most ambitious show in the Drawing a Blank series and that was before Covid!
It was supposed to happen in April but obviously had to be postponed. I would have waited to do it until after Covid died down but I had a stubborn Parisian landlord refusing to give me a refund.
The space is scheduled to be redeveloped starting in October and I realised that if I didn't make it happen before then I'd probably never see my rent money again!
^ Rhea Dillon, Janus *pause* leaking fortified enclaves, 2020, sapele mahoganry and water. Courtesy of the artist and Drawing a Blank.
OTP You moved to London when you were 18 right? What sort of memories do you have from that period?
BB When I moved to London I only really knew one person there. That person was Frank Lebon who is in this very exhibition.
We met through my friend Jack when we were 17 or 18. Jack and I would come down to London from Newcastle, stay at Frank's Dad's place and go to hip-hop shows.
Frank introduced me to lots of the artists that I work with now, he's a gem!
OTP How do you approach the commercial / sales side of your exhibtions?
BB I try to avoid it wherever possible. I don't like my exhibitions to be about selling work, I want the art exhibited to exist outside of that realm.
Things are for sale if the artist wants to sell their work but I approach it on a case by case by case basis.
I think the idea of a flat 50/50 commission that most galleries charge is one of the reasons why artists feel so alienated by the commercial art world.
There's no dialogue, there's no conversation and it leaves artists feeling commodified.
OTP What do you do between the shows to fund them? Are you still based in South London at the moment?
BB I'm actually based in New York right now...I do whatever I can to scrape together the cash to do these shows!
^ Pol Taburet, The orgasm, 2020 (left), acrylic and oil on linen, Not sweet and not really tender melody of thunder played by a skeleton, 2020 (right),acrylic, pastel, airbush and oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Drawing a Blank.
OTP Did you like where you grew up? What were you like as a kid?
BB I spent the majority of my life in Country Durham in North East England.
I don't visit much to be honest, I've gotten so used to the diversity and culture in cities like Paris and London that I feel like a fish out of water when I'm back there surrounded by fields and Norman churches.
I was a pretty weird kid, I was into punk music and graffiti and unicycling. Needless to say I was really popular with the girls at school.
OTP I know you have produced a book for this show and have for previous shows as well, why is book-making important to you?
BB You can't beat a really solid coffee table book - I hope to make one of those in the next 5 years. I always make a publication for the shows because I really believe in the idea of physicality.
This interview will go up online and people can read it of course but that's a totally different experience from flicking through a book or a zine - you get to see something as a whole project, as a body of work.
I also make them for the archive, I want to be 50 years old and be able to looks at all the publications I've made since I was 20.
My life's work will exist only online and in books and zines. Without them exhibitions would open and close and then be forgotten...
^ Zora Sicher for Drawing a Blank Paris, 2020, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Drawing a Blank.
OTP Do you have any rituals before an opening? What do you like to do after close?
BB Before a show I like to get really really fucking stressed until I feel like I'm about to explode. After this show I'll probably sleep for 24 hours and go for a fancy dinner somewhere.
OTP What do you think would be a good question to end this interview with?
BB Good question...
^ Opening for Drawing a Blank Paris, 2020. Photo Svétäl-Anand Chassol.
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