Creators, Makers, and Doers: Benjamin Victor
Posted on 3/16/16 by Arts & History
Benjamin Victor, a nationally renowned figure sculptor, has made his home at Boise State University where he serves as a professor of practice. Aside from his role of professor, he maintains a full time studio creating works that go on to live at locations like the Smithsonian Institute. Although his work is focused on the national scale, his focus now lies in building the local arts community up to its fullest potential. He leaves us with this: “If you have that creative impulse in you where it just feels like you just got a vision and you want to complete it, do it. Follow through with that vision. And that is never a mistake. That work, that hard work, will turn out for you in one way or another.”
Can you tell us who you are and what you do?
I’m Benjamin Victor. I’m a sculptor and a professor of practice here at Boise State University.
What is it that you like about sculpture? Why were you drawn to it?
It’s so tactile. I like that fact and I’m kind of a builder, too. I’m an artist but I like building things and I like working with my hands, so this type of art really lends itself well to my mentality and the way I think.
Is there a specific medium that you most enjoy working in?
I do most of my work in clay and then cast it in bronze. I would say that’s probably the most natural for me, but I’ve been doing some carving as well, stone carving, and that’s very challenging. But it’s thrilling, too. I wouldn’t say that it’s more enjoyable than the clay, but maybe what I like in marble is that I gain the thrill of carving something and not knowing if it’s going to turn out or not. You just can’t make one false move on the marble. So, each has its advantage.
Is there anything in particular that you really enjoy about the clay?
I like that clay offers a freedom to revise and work with the piece. You can change the work over and over again, especially with this oil-based clay that I use, which is really nice, particularly for commissions or portraits, it really lends itself well to that sort of thing.
Is your work always cast in bronze?
No, I have done a few, personal pieces, that I’ll cast in other media, like plaster or even resin. I don’t like plaster and resin as much, though, because they tend to break. You can also cast in clay, but those things, especially for larger pieces, tend to have problems with breakage. So bronze is a great media. It lasts forever. You’ve also got stainless steel you can cast in, which I’ve done a few small pieces in. It is a really permanent media. It’s harder than bronze. But the only thing that I like better about bronze is it has that rich history behind it. Also that it’s a little bit warmer of a look to it. The stainless tends to be a little colder, maybe more industrial, but for the right application it’s great—like the big “B” in front of Boise State, it’s the perfect media for that.
Do you cast here?
No, we don’t do the actual pour here, the metal pour. I say “we,” like in my studio, but Francis Fox over in the Sculpture Department does and he’s actually casting one of my pieces right now for the new Alumni and Friends Center at Boise State. It’s great, and actually Francis is one of the big reasons why I came here to Boise State, because of that casting program that he’s really built. What he’s doing right now really was attractive to me because we’ve got all these students that are being trained in the casting portion, and so after I finish the clay, the molds are made here in my studio, and then we take the mold to the foundry, where the wax is poured, and then through the lost-wax process, the piece is cast in bronze. We actually have wax pouring in here. I have metal chasing and patina, and then also, of course, TIG welding. So, I can do all the process except for the pour in house. But, I guess, depending on how you look at it—could be unfortunately or maybe fortunately—I don’t do that process in here anymore, because it kind of just took me too far away from what I really love, which is the sculpting side. The casting process is fascinating, for sure. But it’s a little more mechanical to me than the actual clay sculpting. I like the artistic side, the creative side. And the casting side’s process oriented. You have to do it a certain way and so that you’re going to get that same result every time. That’s very attractive to some artists, where they like the casting portion. I’ve always just been kind of mediocre at the process, the bronze side, but the clay sculpting is where I kind of found my niche.
Can you talk about preferred subject matter?
I like the human figure. I work in wildlife as well, and I’ve done a few large abstract commissions in the city of Reno, which it was actually fun to do something a little different. But I’d say the core of my work is the human figure. Although, to me, every subject matter—no matter which one you’re approaching—the idea of the art, the concept, and the design are what really carries it. So, when I look at abstract art or I look at wildlife art or something outside of my main genre of the human figure, or even when I look at the human figure, what captures me the most is how well is the piece designed, what the concept is, and then what is the craftsmanship involved to create that concept and design and really make it something special. You know, did the artist spend time; do they have expertise in that?
Why the human figure? What’s so appealing about it?
I guess from the time I was a young child, I just was thrilled with the anatomy and the body, the way the body worked. I drew figures, everything from super heroes to body builders, all the way up through school, and I learned the muscles and bones and the anatomy, and I was always interested in the science and the design of the human form and the way the human form works. To me, it’s the perfect marriage of form and function. It’s beautiful, aesthetic, and yet it also serves this wonderful function that we all can relate to as human beings. I like that relevance. And when I look at figure sculpture, I have an immediate, emotive response. Even before I was a figure sculptor, when I would go to museums with my Grandma, like the Getty, and see these great figure works, whether they were ancient Greek or whatever era they were, those master works really struck me and gave me an emotional response. Later when I worked in the media, it just fit for me to really have a desire and a want to learn and go with the human figure for my subject.
Are there any particularly notable projects that you have done?
I just finished a sculpture of Bob Hoover. He’s a World War Two aviator and he’s known as the “Pilot’s Pilot.” He was a POW during World War Two, escaped from a Nazi camp, and later became a great test pilot here in the United States. That piece is very important for U.S. history and it’s going to the National Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C. That’s a big one for me. All of them, though, no matter where they’re placed, I try to put a special emphasis on each one and really take my time, knowing how important they are to the people that are going to view it, and then to me, too. Your work, like it or not as an artist, it’s going to live way beyond you, especially in bronze, in this media, so you want something that’s going to stand that test of time and really speak to people even after you’re long gone. So, if you’re putting your name on it, you better end up being proud of what you do.
Can you talk a little bit about your working schedule?
There’s a lot of travel involved. You can’t be afraid to travel. We all love local work, obviously, as an artist, it’s great and I’m doing some local pieces right now, but you’re going to have at least half of your work, and probably a good deal more, that’s out-of-state or out-of-town work. You also have to work a lot of times, really odd and extra hours. I work during the day but I really work at night. I get great energy at night sculpting and it seems like the creativity flows. There are very minimal distractions at night. Some artists you talk to, it’s the morning hours where they really get those creative juices flowing, but I would say to young artists to really follow that creative impulse, so if you feel it you can ride that wave of work at night, then you’re going to have to do it. That’s how I am. I’ll come in at nine or ten and then I’ll take breaks throughout the day, but I’ll know that I’m going to come in at seven, eight, or nine at night and work another four hours. It’s a lot of hours, but they’re not set, scheduled hours usually, unless I have meetings or something like that. I can kind of plan my own schedule. So, that’s nice.
And you mentioned that you’re also a professor. Can you describe what you’re teaching here or what you’re involved in at the university?
I’m part of the Professor of Practice program here at Boise State. The program brings in professionals in a given field, like, in the business or economics department, the Professor of Practice is the CEO of Whole Foods. In engineering, we have the astronaut. It’s the same idea here with having me here for the artists. Students can see the professional practice and come in and pick my brain about galleries and business problems that they might face in their particular field. They can also ask me about the professional side of presenting yourself, your work, and how to actually do and create your work. Those are all things that our president thought was important to supplement the normal academic environment. Because the professors are able to offer a lot to our students, but I’m kind of here to just supplement that and add my expertise. I don’t teach a formal class, but I’ve spoken to different classes on campus and I’ve had different art classes come in, but I’ve also spoken to different classes in other departments. Everything from pop culture to business courses and economics courses, which I’m comfortable doing and it’s always a good time. The students bring a lot of energy and they’re fun to be around.
Because you’re not from here originally, what are your opinions of the arts community?
The arts community is a little bit more reclusive than I thought at first, but it is a bigger city than where I came from. I was used to traveling a lot to different places and getting a lot of attention when I go to these new places and I’m only there for a couple weeks, maybe as an artist in residence. I’ve done residencies in New York or Des Moines, Iowa, or L.A. or Las Vegas or Carson City or any of these places, wherever you set up, you’re kind of special for those weeks, so you get a lot of artists coming in. I thought when I moved here, that perhaps we would have a little bit more interaction, but it’s hard because the artists here are just like me. I try to empathize with them. They’re in their studio, too, trying to make a living, trying to sell their art, create enough art, talk to their clients. They’re doing all of these multi-tasking things and they’re very special people, but the few that I have met are fantastic. I’ve already made some great friends, but I’m anxious to go out and meet more people as I stay here longer. I’ve only been here for not even two years yet. So, I guess it’s going really well. Good arts community and just good people. At every step or stage, I seem to meet somebody new and talk about their art and show them my art work. Soon we’re going to do a life drawing class in here. I just, unfortunately, I had a really bad injury and never got that off the ground yet, but soon we’ll do a life drawing class, which I think will attract a lot of local artists
You’ve been here two years now, do you recognize any major resources that are lacking for the arts community?
No, I think Boise is such an open book for the arts. For our size of city it’s such a vibrant arts community. We don’t have the old history like that of New York or back East has in figure sculpture, which was really exciting for me because I get to come here and kind of be on the cusp of the wave to build that up. But it looks like to me, the arts scene in general—the creative scene—you’ve got the abstract works and things around town and the design work, even with the bridge project. Our Arts Council and community is very involved with everything that goes on, and I’ve got some big ideas ahead to catch the figure sculpture a little bit up so we’re up to par. It’s the perfect place to be because there’s an interest, an excitement, the public’s very open to art. I feel like it’s a very Bohemian type of city, but it hasn’t grown to the place where it’s saturated. It’s got so much growth potential for the arts and all the way out to Meridian and Nampa. I mean, there’s just this growth, this building going on. I haven’t marketed myself since I’ve been here, and I’ve been as busy as I can handle. That just tells you that the market for art, the resources for artists, they’re all out there. It’s up to the artist to go and get them because they’re definitely available.
Things, though, we do need to do, if there’s anything, we need just a drawing group, a social group where we can get together, maybe have some snacks out, you know, and wine or whatever artists want and also have a model and draw. Something like that, as simple as that, can really build an informal arts community, where everybody at least knows everybody, everybody feels comfortable around everybody. I hate when artists are catty or fighting over things. It’s just silly. We’re in a field where we’re taking this much of the pie. If you look at federal funding or anything else, there’s such a tiny sliver. There is so much more growth available to us in the arts, and that’s what I always like to focus on. Everybody in the arts is basically your friend. Even if they got a commission that you wanted and you didn’t get, that piece in front of that building is going to build on what you’re doing because everybody’s going to see it. Losing, winning, it’s all kind of one. You don’t really have that or shouldn’t have too much of a competitive nature when it comes to the arts. If you compete, it should all be about the quality of what you do and how you do it and how passionate you are about it. Those kinds of things build that sense of art community where everybody’s kind of working in the same direction to build the pie bigger so everyone can eat instead of fighting over crumbs.
Do you have any words of inspiration for those who’d want to follow the same path as you?
Yes, the number one thing is follow your creative impulse. I hear a lot of things and I teach a lot of things for different classes about what you need to do as a professional. There are things to keep in mind, the typical stuff, whether it’s showing up on time or calling back prospective clients. Things like that. That’s fine. Those are the nuts and bolts of any successful venture, but as an artist, it’s following that creative impulse that really does it. You can have the best postcards and business cards, but if you don’t take your time on your pieces to follow that creativity and follow through and make it something that you put your heart into then it doesn’t matter how good your Web site is. Ninety percent now and at least fifty percent when I started of my business was word of mouth because you do your best on your work. If you have that creative impulse in you where it just feels like you just got a vision and you want to complete it, do it. Follow through with that vision. And that is never a mistake. That work, that hard work, will turn out for you in one way or another.
Creators, Makers, & Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.