When I first walked into the new Perks Café on Connecticut Street, I was immediately struck by a new work of art that was hanging in the Horsefeathers Building. I knew right away that it was the work of artist Ben Perrone, who I had just sat down with last week at his home/studio, to discuss a new project that he was rolling out.
When it comes to prolific Buffalo artists, I would have to say that Ben Perrone ranks at the top. Over the years, I’ve watched as Ben has produced some of heavy hitting art installations, which are mainly meant to trigger emotional responses with viewers. The reason that I personally dig his works is that they typically deal with tough subject matter that revolves around anti-war sentiments and pro-environment stances. In today’s world, could there be two more worthy causes?
I recently caught up with Ben at his house, to discuss a new environmental art movement that he is leading. What I was not expecting was the various offshoot projects that he is embarking upon presently. I was also not aware of the overall magnitude of the works that he has been involved with – the entire spectrum – which he was happy to show me by leafing through his portfolio.
To start, I have to say that Ben’s house near the corner of Plymouth and Connecticut Street is pretty darn cool. I should also mention that he sold it a month ago, so that he could build a modern, environmentally responsible triangular structure at the corner of Plymouth and School Street, with the help of legendary eco-architect Kevin Connors (eco_logic STUDIO). As you can see in the model (below), there are very few windows, which means that there will be plenty of room for giant artworks and installations. Plus, there is a semi-detached art studio, and a community garden is being worked into the plans. This will be the second solar house that Ben has constructed – the first, in Holland, NY, he built with his own hands.
It’s not often that I see a home like Ben’s current home/studio, and think how lucky the person is to be moving. But in this case, Ben’s moving on up, and I plan on being there to cover it. That’s another thing I like about Ben – he’s constantly on the move, and he’s taking people with him. What I mean is that Ben tends to take people on a journey of the mind. He gets people to think about issues that are important to him, and should be important to us. For example, one of Ben’s installations that he was recently working on for Artpark, titled Environment/Maze, involved a maze that naked people who have to navigate, while being pelted by rain, wind, and debris, thus simulating the conditions of a hurricane. The public installation is meant to have people feel insecure, vulnerable, and exposed. While the installation never got built at Artpark, Ben still feels that there is another location in WNY that would make a good fit. After all, he has been working on it for six years now, so there’s no turning back.
Another one of Ben’s art installations was at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in 2009, where he built a multi-media installation using 10,000 black paper bags that represented body bags. Each of the bags had the name of a war casualty on it. I remember viewing images of the “War Ongoing Project” installation and being amazed at the scope of the project. Ben told me that these types of anti-war works represent his feelings after the free love movement, when the idea of peace and love imploded all around him with the start of the Vietnam War. He also created a similar type of work using 4400 bags that brought attention to the Iraq war. Later on in life, more recently, Ben has transitioned his art sensibilities into the environmental realm because, he says, it’s something that we all have to face. “It’s the biggest problem that we are going to have,” he said. “It’s like a freight train coming down the tracks, and we’re still denying that it’s coming. Just look at the global migrations, the floods, the fires. Everyone is in their own little daydreams, if they are not concerned.”
One of the ways that Ben is dealing with global warming is by setting up a fund for artists to embark upon their own art installations. He has retained three jurors for the project – Scott Propeack (Burchfield Penney Art Center), Ted Pietrzak (Nonprofit & Arts Consultant), and Adele Henderson (Department of Art, University at Buffalo). In the initial round, 14 artists applied, and there were a couple of recipients of funding (Ben is amassing $200K for the ongoing project, and ASI is handling the Global Warming Art Project). Currently there are no definitive timelines in place – we will let you know as the installations are rolled out.
Reading through Ben’s biography this past weekend, was not only enlightening, it gave me a completely new appreciation for his talents, and his works. I learned that he co-founded the now defunct Zuni Gallery in Buffalo with one of his longtime art comrades, Adele Cohen. The gallery was the first gallery to show Pop and Op Art in Buffalo (even beating the AK to the punch). In the 70s, he co-founded the Workshop Theater in the old Pierce Arrow building on Elmwood Avenue, along with Josef Krysiak. Those are just a couple of his remarkable achievements. Thankfully, there are many more to come, as Ben embarks upon yet another chapter of his life in his new solar house that will soon be under construction.