We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelley Benes and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelley, let’s start by talking about what inspires you?
It’s hard for me to articulate what inspires me in one concise thought. Inspiration is a collection of experiences, thoughts, events, and all the things that make up a lifetime. I would be able to take you through many moments of my life that have informed my work, but that would be painfully long and perhaps as exciting as listening to other peoples’ dreams, so, for simplicity’s sake, I will try to break down my inspiration into three main parts. Firstly, and probably most obviously, I am deeply inspired by the natural world. In addition to being a surrealist sculptor, I am a taxidermist. Taxidermists mimic the natural world with hyperrealism. In nature, I feel these two things [surrealism & hyperrealism], visually, don’t differ so much. Nature is a master creator of the absurd and unusual. I am in awe of the patterns, the colors, and the ingenuity of all living organisms on this planet—they all seem…surreal. The prospect of indefinite discovery in nature overwhelms me, and I often feel as though I needn’t be an artist at all because I get the same thrill out of simply marveling at a rock. The ocean is particularly interesting to me in this regard—an endless discovery of things we can’t even imagine. To me, it is just as bewildering as the cosmos. What a strange and beautiful experience it is to be on this planet. Secondly, I also recognize the absurdity of our existence—even thinking about the vast ocean or the billions of years that came before us send me into a tailspin. I always have to remind myself to never take anything too seriously. We are just floating around on this super neat planet, and I believe our existence has the same importance [or unimportance] as a garden spider’s. So, I seek to give myself and others a good laugh. What else can we do? I think my work also plays with the humor of how strange humans are. We create and leave behind all sorts of unimaginable things. I hope I create the sense of why for the humans of the future, and I hope to make at least one person laugh. Lastly, I am deeply inspired by the materials I already have and the materials I come across. Not only do my materials dictate what my pieces often look like, but this desire to collect and reuse also adheres to my hope of being as sustainable as possible. Humans consume and produce more than any organism should. Minimizing waste is important to me, and hopefully that comes through in my work.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
The inspiration behind my artwork not only speaks a lot about my artwork but it speaks a lot about me as a person, and I think that is what I am most proud of. As I previously described, my work embodies a love for the natural world, humor, and an effort to use the things I already have (people around me can vouch for this–I am the person who has been reusing and washing the same Zip-Lock bags for years, haha). It wasn’t easy at all to get where I am, and I wouldn’t even say I am where I want to be. It has been a constant grind, and I feel I have so much growth and learning ahead of me which is both exciting and daunting. I work, a lot, and I fail, a lot. But failing is just part of discovering a new path, and I remind myself of that daily. I think my biggest challenge has been in risk taking and investing [financially] in myself. I am not a big risk taker in life, and I wasn’t raised to be, so being a creative is a very scary thing for me. I am very lucky to have an amazing, supportive partner who has encouraged and talked me through the benefits of risk and has made me feel safe if those risks don’t yield benefit. It is something I need to practice moving forward in my career. I guess what I would want the world to know is that I am so thankful. I am so thankful I get to share my artwork and that some people seem to enjoy it–that is all I can really ever ask for. I am really excited to grow, change, and share more.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I am assuming we are talking about a pre/post pandemic visit. I actually work as a tour guide as well, so this is my favorite kind of question. A week long trip is definitely not long enough to enjoy the fruits of LA, but I will hit some of my favorite parts/spots about it. Some specific places I would take a friend include The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, The Museum of Jurassic Technology, Bhagavad-gita Diorama Museum, The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Griffith Park Observatory, La Brea Tar Pits, and the Velaslavasay Panorama. That is seven activities, one per day, possibly too ambitious! As for food, that is the highlight of LA. There is such a diversity of food here, and it is always a fun adventure to find it. Some of my favorite spots include Spicy BBQ Thai Food (it is in Little Armenia on the edge of Thai Town) and next door is Falafel Arax—my favorite hummus in LA, and then, as long as you’re already in Little Armenia, you have to go to Carousel. If you enjoy Korean food, LA is a great place to enjoy it. My favorite spot is Myung Dong Kyoja—their bibim-naengmyeon is particularly delicious. Then head to the San Gabriel Valley for the best dan dan noodles. My favorite spot is Mandarin Deli. Of course Los Angeles, has tons white table restaurants, but the joy, to me, is finding the hidden gems. Side note: *let’s all support, visit, and eat at these places when it is possible so that we don’t lose them. This pandemic has been incredibly tough on unique places in the city and this is just a short little list, take time to research and share, LA has so many amazing spots and it would be a shame to see them disappear.* Lastly, and generally, one of my favorite things to enjoy about Los Angeles is the wide variety of architecture, scenery, and natural beauty we have here. Because it developed as a sprawling city, you can drive from place to place and you visually feel like you are in a different city. There are so many interesting buildings, homes, and views—it is so fun to just take a drive and take it all in. Wooo that was a long answer, and I definitely could go on—but I won’t!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Yes! There are so many people I would love to give a shoutout to, but I know I have to choose one, so I will have to bring it back to the very beginning. I would just like to thank my momma. It wasn’t an easy or linear path to get where I am today, but, growing up, my mom always encouraged my brother and I not only to be creative but to always be creating. We were always doing “projects” and those “projects” eventually turned into my work today. Not only did she foster creative behavior but she gave me some pretty mad artistic genes as well—she is an incredible visual artist herself whether she will admit it or not.