Artist Statement by Ben Perrone

Friday, December 13, 2013

I think we were born lucky. For one thing, we were born at a great time in the history of this country – a time of growth and opportunity. Mostly, we’re lucky to have had a fairly good education, pretty good parents and a government that, in spite of its mistakes and problems, is one of the best.

I was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Buffalo in 1941, and have spent most of my time as an artist and wood worker. I didn't have a great education but managed to get through the University at Buffalo with help from friends and luck. Things were going well and the government was sending GIs to school and the average person could buy a house and car. Despite that, my art has always been on the dark side (among my favorite painters are Francisco Goya, Francis Beacon, and James Ensor).

We were pretty patriotic, too. I was in the U.S. Army for two years around the Korean War before enrolling in the Albright Art School and finally finding an identity as an artist. There, I had the pleasure of having Lawrence Calcagno as a teacher and mentor and the fraternity of artists Wes Olmsted and Don Lazeski and, later, Harry Albrecht. I also won a scholarship to the Yale Norfolk Art School, where I had the good fortune to have Bernard Chaet as a professor.

After school, I traveled through Europe and visited museums. When I returned, I worked for the Courier Express and as an artist, winning several awards including one for a sculpture that’s in the collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo. Artist Adele Cohen then hired me, beginning a relationship that lasted until her death in 2002. My first show was in New York City with Robert Squeri, Adele, Roland Wise and Frank Altamura. Adele and I started the Zuni Gallery on Potomac Avenue in Buffalo, which was the first gallery locally to show Pop Art and Op Art. I also became a peripheral war protestor, managed an independent theater, and taught at Buffalo State College. Then, in the early 1970s, I stopped painting to make a living doing remodeling, carpentry and cabinet making. I returned to school to study graphic arts in the 1980s and joined Sti-Co Industries, where I stayed until I retired.

After Adele's death I met my partner, Gerry Evans, and we made several trips to Mexico that transformed my work with influences of folk art, color and architecture. My interests then turned to sculpture and I began working with bags – a metaphor for lives wasted in war. An exhibition of my work, titled “War Ongoing Project,” was shown at the Burchfield Penney in 2013; the Center also acquired a large sculpture, "Illusion/Delusion," that commemorates members of the U.S. Armed Forces lost in the war with Iraq. I’m now working on a series of collages that reflect on paintings and sculptures of other artists including Jackson Pollack, Frank Gehry, Charles Burchfield, Chuck Close, and Vincent Van Gogh.

And recently, when President Obama gave a speech about how some who were successful weren't successful on their own – that others factors helped with the achievements – I felt I should take a bow. It was my taxes (and yours) that went to building schools, developing the Internet, space travel, highway systems, and more on our way to success. I never made a lot of money, but used my skills to make enough to enjoy life and appreciate it. (I never married or had children, either, but I did manage to pay my taxes every year.)

Ben Perrone, December 2013