Consider transparency, translucency. Consider something delicate, subtle, vaporous, ethereal. Consider gauze, lace, tulle. No, we are not thinking of ballerinas’ tutus, wedding dresses, ball-gowns. We are introducing you to the wonder that is the very essence out of which Benjamin Shine’s most recent artworks are made.
In fact, British artist Benjamin Shine has revolutionised the world of art with his visionary spirit and creative talent by resorting to the use of unexpected materials to produce his works. From his now world famous portrait of Barak Obama made of an old, ripped to rags American flag, to Prince Albert of Monaco’s, crafted from recycled products, he has now evolved to “paint entirely with fabric”, to use the artist’s own words. Shine takes a single piece of tulle – yes, that very ethereal material out of which dream-like wedding dresses, tutus and ball-gowns are made – and proceeds to pleating, ironing and handling it into what gradually becomes a three-dimensional portrait irradiating light, casting shadow and gaining volume to the fruition of our senses. His works actually invite touch in the sense John Berger mentioned when he said that “to touch something is to situate oneself in relation to it” and that “the faculty of touch is like a static, limited form of sight” (Berger, 1972, Ways of Seeing, 8-9).
Shine’s pioneering work of this kind is a depiction of Rembrandt, a particular choice of the artist owing to his admiration for the old master of light and shade in painting. He used a piece of black tulle, which took him about 200 hours to create a stunning portrait offering lights, shadows and tones, full of texture and body, which you completely perceive only when you come up close to it and discover the “secret ingredient” capable of producing that magic. After this first experience, Shine has created portraits of famous people using the same technique. Such is the case of Elizabeth Taylor and several other well-known personalities of the royalty or the show-business world.
In our view, however, probably the most remarkable and touching work Shine has created is a huge pair of elderly hands, which very adequately goes under the title of “The Hands of Time”, and which can trigger in viewers a deep feeling about the drama and oblivion to which old people may be doomed by society. On the other hand, it can further suggest the idea that time weaves webs in which we are all inexorably caught and entangled, regardless of our will. This is even more enhanced by the fact that the material used is textile, therefore alluding to an activity that traditionally is time-consuming.
This four-meter wide and three-meter tall artwork actually breaks from Shine’s first approaches to the use of tulle, insofar as it is not framed and it is much less structured. The soft blue material is draped on the wall and is left loose to billow in the air, cascading down to the floor, thus conveying a strong sensation of helplessness. This movement assigns the art piece with a life of its own, makes it more ambiguous and challenging. To use Shine’s own words again, “It’s about a fleeting moment. You could imagine the tulle just floating on the wind, flickering past and a face emerged and you were able to catch it for a split second.”
Benjamin Shine is, indeed, a weaver of webs of wonder which, in someone’s opinion, are “a complete wonder to touch and behold”.