Julia Sherman: Define your aesthetic for me.
Isa Beniston: You know how when you cook with beets everything they touch turns pink? That’s how I like to think of my aesthetic—not necessarily like everything I touch becomes pink (though that has been true in the past), but rather that everything I touch ends up looking like I touched it. I can’t just address an envelope without also drawing all over it, and I can’t just put on a sweater without also adding 3 brooches and a fur collar.
JS: What are your major influences?
IB: I’ve always been inspired by artists who were super prolific, especially when their work transformed the world around them…Niki de Saint Phalle, Pablo Picasso, Yayoi Kusama, to name a few. I’ve also been really influenced by the way that art collides with the cityscape of Los Angeles. My studio is in the Fashion District of downtown LA and the vibe there is jusssst right for the kind of work I’m making–ice cream in 5-gallon Home Depot buckets, ridiculous shop names (like “Nice Cap!”), and a rainbow of 99-cent makeup and craft supplies. There’s a fast-paced consumerism in that part of town that gets me really excited.
JS: You have done a few projects with your mom. What is that like?
IB: Working with my mom, Christie, is absolutely the best. We have a lot of the same tendencies and it’s been super helpful to have her advice as I build my own practice. She started her own graphic design business in the 80s and is now a successful public artist, so she’s really knowledgeable about so many aspects of business and making art. A lot of people have been referring to me as Christie’s mini-me since I was a little kid, something I’ve always been really proud of. Not only do we look a lot alike, but I’ve also used a lot of similar motifs in my art that she did when she was my age.
JS: What do you do when you are not painting?
IB: When I’m not at work or in my studio, I’m usually out and about in Los Angeles. I’ve been living here for 6 years, but there’s still hundreds of places to go and things to see. I go to museums, hike, try different bars, and take a sketchbook with me everywhere. I also keep a list in the back of my day planner of things I want to see and try to cross them off whenever I have a free day to explore. I recently got to go to Velveteria (the museum of Velvet Paintings), and was not disappointed!
JS: Tell me about your teaching gig. What does that add to your personal practice?
IB: This past year I worked with UCLA’s Visual and Performing Arts Education Program (VAPAE) and artworxLA. Through artworxLA I was able to work at a juvenile hall, and that was a profound experience. I went in with a fully developed lesson plan, but we ended up just drawing every day and talking about their lives. To be able to offer that kind of time and space to young men to just work with their hands was an important reminder of how making art can build bridges between people. A lot of the projects that I do with the students are taken from my own practice—things like monoprinting, drawing, and painting with ink. Working with students reminds me to play with and enjoy my materials and leave any insecurities about subject matter at the door.
JS: When did you start to make ceramics? Do you only make functional ceramics, or have you considered making fine art ceramic sculpture?
IB: I’ve been working in clay since I was a little kid, but I didn’t seriously begin to make ceramics until college when I had my first class with Adrian Saxe. For me, my relationship with ceramics was always functional. When I was moving into my first apartment, I wanted to buy decorative plates at estate sales but was always frustrated that you couldn’t eat off of them because the paints used contained lead. That seemed like such a ridiculous thing to me—a plate that you couldn’t eat off of—so the first line of ceramics I made were “decorative” plates that were food-safe. Why not have beauty alongside function if you can?
JS: Do you eat salad much?
IB: Actually I’m notorious amongst my friends for not eating leaves! I can’t explain it, but I think it might have something to do with being vegan at UCLA for 2 years while I lived in the dorms. I ate at the salad bar…a lot.
JS: Is it important to you that your work remain affordable?
IB: Yes! At least to the extent that I can still afford my groceries. I’ve never been a big spender–90% of my belongings in high school came from Kobey’s Swap Meet and the thrift store I could bike to from my house. When I moved to LA for school I was sort of shocked that I couldn’t get something for a quarter at the swap meet (turns out you can get a BB gun at Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet for $2 though, so that’s cool). At the end of the day, I want everyone who loves my art to be able to have some part of it, whether it’s an original drawing or a button with googly eyes.