Walden Benjamin has been drawing ever since he can remember. His work speaks volumes about the impressions that cartoons and comics made on him as a child and still make on him today as an adult artist. From his sketches to his finished pieces, the fantastical world of his characters and the surrounding narrative are as if one is watching a film, a play, or reading a comic strip, with an entire storyline unfolding in one solitary frame.
Born in St. Croix in 1993 to a Dominican mother and a Vincentian father, Walden was influenced by American comics at an early age: Spiderman, Batman, the New Warriors. Superheroes were a source of intrigue. Their bodies and body language doing good for the good of mankind shaped Walden and sparked his mind as he first put pencil to paper.
Walden’s family relocated to Greenland in East End, Tortola when he was just a few years old. His youth was filled with the lessons taught to all children of his age, Math, English, Science, but in the backdrop of the classroom, Walden was always sketching. Starting with the tools afforded all youth: a lined composition notebook and a pencil, occasionally crayons, he sketched day and night while slowly, and like a superpower from within, his past time grew into his passion. Walden passed over afterschool programmes like computers and reading for arts and crafts. The creative side of him always found an outlet, another idea that needed to come out on the page as he continued drawing.
It was in high school that he discovered there was a subject called Visual Arts, and the friends he made in these classes exposed him to new art tools: using pen and ink, coloured pencils, felt-tipped markers. And with these new forms of media, he could create new textures, feelings, and expressions by merely mixing them, using them incongruously, changing a stroke or background shading, using positive and negative spaces.
Walden likes to think of himself as part of a new generation of artists influenced not only by comics but also by the more modern version of them, which we see in video games such as Super Mario, his personal favourite. These games typically use levels of exploration in imaginary worlds, and by the hero moving through these various levels and platforms, he or she is working toward avoiding and/or defeating an enemy.
Whereas many other artists draw what they see in front of them, Walden’s landscapes become angular, the mountains are graphically shaped, the topography becomes layered, and patterned depths below the surfaces are exposed. In the earth, seabed, and skies, he creates stylized grids, geometric shapes, and textures. Objects appear like individual still life impressions. Every content creature and every human has a clear sense of peaceful place in every composition. What seems unimaginable is suddenly comfortably imaginable. As he puts it:
“Art imitates life…you decide to add something else, not too little, not too much. To me, it feels plain to draw what’s right in front of you. Say it’s a teapot. What else could it be? What if it’s a giant waterfall? It makes it more cheerful, more lively.”
Lately, Walden has been commissioned to do what he thought unthinkable: large scale murals. He was initially unsure he had the skillset to translate from a small sketchbook to something so grand. It was a ‘big deal’ to him: the planning, the transition, the positioning on full walls at the actual sites, inside places of business. He asked himself: how would he not ‘obscure’ or distract from what was transacting at these locations with his large scale art while still making the statement that the staff and owners wanted and encouraged him to make? But it didn’t hinder him, and the results are evident. He figured out that if he could sketch it, he could translate it onto a bigger canvas. He starts with a sketch, that very familiar feeling. He then pencils it on the wall with precision and scale. He chooses his paint from tins of carefully thought-out colours. It has been quite a learning curve, and his reluctance has turned into acceptance and confidence. His murals can be seen at Lady Sarah’s Farm on Main Street and Harbour Market in Soper’s Hole.
Of his work and his imagination, Walden says he just needs to “get it out there, let it resonate.”
And resonate it does. Enjoy Walden’s work. Know that as the viewer, you must take your time, be contemplative, interpret, explore your own imagination, and be taken to another world.