In full colour

The artist behind the many posters of Princess Street, Ben Nelson is bringing his bedroom wall to Modern Fuel

Ben Nelson, a staple of the Kingston arts, is showing his first solo exhibit.
Ben Nelson, a staple of the Kingston arts, is showing his first solo exhibit.

Even though Benjamin Nelson rides a very bright, very orange bicycle around the streets of Kingston you probably don’t know him or even his name.

But if you have walked the streets of Kingston you’ve probably seen his art work. His vivid posters paint the occasionally dull surfaces of Kingston and give this city the colourful splash it needs.

After several years of designing posters for concerts, festivals and other art events in the Kingston community, Nelson has attained his very own exhibit, on this month at the Modern Fuel Art Gallery, aptly titled Full Colour Hype.

“Well, I sell my stuff,” Nelson explained. “I called the show Full Colour Hype because my stuff is colourful and it’s my job to hype a show. My posters themselves are advertisements.” Although Nelson makes no attempt to hide the fact that his work is commercial, he does have his own views on how commercial art is taught in school.

“I went to college and hated it from the beginning. It was really technology-motivated and I wanted to come from a more art background. So I didn’t stay,” he said.

Nelson’s disdain for the typical advertising layout shows in his work, proving that a happy balance between art and commerce can be struck. There is also quality to his work that makes it unique and distinctly his own. He works by hand, on a computer and with screen-printing methods to make each poster distinctive.

“It’s like a gift to the audience, you know? I try to make each poster unique,” Nelson said, looking at the wall of his work in front of him at Modern Fuel.

Each poster is truly unique. Nelson’s strength is also his ability to succinctly capture, in poster form, a fleeting feeling of a show or festival. Walking through Full Colour Hype reminded me of shows I had experienced and momentarily forgotten. I was struck by Nelson’s ability to predict the atmosphere of an event that usually lasts only one night.

“The only reason I make posters is because it’s a moment in time,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in documenting history.”

Nelson’s own personal history and memories infiltrate his work. The first thing you see upon entering Full Colour Hype is a wall of Benjamin’s things. A Back To The Future record, some basketball cards, a picture of Michael Jordan and a souvenir from Niagara Falls are among the many objects that Nelson has neatly arranged on the white wall.

They may be simple, nostalgic objects to most onlookers but it’s hard not to smile when looking at Nelson’s wall of inspiration. Even if you where not the kid who collected basketball cards, you can’t help but recognize its familiarity.

“All of this stuff is usually on my bedroom wall and this is usually on my bed,” he said pointing to a large and, of course, colourful afghan pinned to the white wall behind him. He said it was his grandparents’ piece.

“I’m extremely nostalgic,” Nelson confessed. “Very nostalgic. Stuff from my childhood makes it into my art a lot. That’s our generation of guys though. We love the Blue Jays and Michael Jordan.” Nelson’s work is at home in an art gallery setting, but he knows the limitations having work displayed in a different setting can have.

“My work gets seen on the street,” he said. “It’s better than an art gallery. At an art gallery a smaller number of people will see it. My reception here has been amazing though. People come in and are like, ‘You’re the guy who did that?’ One guy bought a hundred bucks worth of stuff—that’s my favourite guy,” Nelson said with a laugh. Nelson is a full time artist and has been employed by the Kingston art community over the past few years.

“That’s the beauty of Kingston. The art and music scene work together. We have a good, good sense of community in Kingston.”

For a starving artist, making a humble $100 and having been employed at the Modern Fuel art gallery for a month is something Nelson is extremely grateful for.

“I’m poor, poor, poor, but I’m happy,” Nelson said with a chuckle.

I believe him too; he can’t stop smiling.

Full Colour Hype will be showing at the Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre until December 6. His posters are available for purchase at “Made for You.”

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