Artist and designer Benjamin Shine hasn’t had much sleep in the past week. He’s spent up to 14 hours per day creating large-scale tulle portraits (pictured above) and three-dimensional sculptures for his first ever Australian exhibition, on display now at the Canberra Centre.
“I’ve worked with a lot of fashion brands overseas, and what they’re doing with retail spaces is introducing art and sculpture and interesting pieces to make it about the experience and giving people a reason to come into stores rather than shopping online,” he says.
Benjamin has collaborated with French haute couture house Givenchy, worked with brands including Google, MTV and Citigroup and had his works exhibited at The New York Museum of Arts and the London Design Museum.
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Dividing his time between Canberra and London (his wife is a long-time Canberran), Benjamin is best known for his tulle portraits and has created over 50 portraits of celebrities including Andy Warhol, Princess Diana and Barack Obama. But success certainly didn’t happen overnight.
“When I left fashion college I knew how to make clothing but I didn’t have any business knowledge. We weren’t taught that. I sort of abandoned fashion and started creating artworks out of fabric, but at the same time I also went down the commercial route and designed a scarf that could turn into a jacket, and that led me into the business world,” he says.
“I had to learn very quickly how to market, sell, manufacture, import, set up a business and patents and manage the legal side of things. About 18 months later I won the Enterprising Young Briton Award and it motivated me to learn more about business and create opportunities. It’s been a case of knocking on doors ever since, and it’s only in the last four or five years that those doors have started to open much more easily.”
He says that while he is proud to have been asked to work with designer brands such as Givenchy, he doesn’t define his career by who he has collaborated with, explaining that “as soon as you start thinking like that, you’re in trouble.”
Instead, he measures success in smaller and more personal ways, such as by figuring out a new technique – which he says doesn’t mean much to anyone else but gives him immense satisfaction.
Benjamin has lived in Canberra for the best part of a decade, which may seem a strange choice for an artist whose clients are almost exclusively based overseas. He says he likes working in a city that allows him to work quickly and effectively.
“One of the things that I’m so grateful for living in Canberra is that when I’m working with my suppliers I can get three to five major things done in a day that would have taken three or four weeks in London or Sydney. There’s a village feel in Canberra and when you build that rapport with people it’s so easy.”
He would like to see Canberra do more to support local artists by allowing them to exhibit works in large public spaces, such as at the Arboretum or the airport.
“You’ve got these very large public spaces, and for artists to be linking in with these places would be really great.”
Benjamin’s art installation is located in on the top floor of the Canberra Centre outside the David Jones entrance near Laura Ashley (the walkway opposite the Apple Store).