In January 2023 I started a conversations project during my residency at Applecart Arts. I sit down and have a conversation of approximately one hour with someone I am interested to have a conversation with. Whilst there might be particular things I am interested in, I don’t have questions planned in advance and what happens is organic. Whilst we talk, I paint. What I share here is the painted/drawn outcome of the conversation. Afterwards, I write up my reflections which come from the conversation. Then, they go into my gallery of conversations, which you have found yourself in here…
Ben Murphie aka Prince of Battenberg is an artist based in Tottenham, North London. For the past few years, he has been wearing exclusively pink and yellow. Hair, handbags, leather jackets, shoes, headware and other accessories. We first met at White Cross Street party, where I was running a market stall. It was the first market I’d ever done and I was a bundle of nervous excitement from my first experience of having my art on a table which most people silently observed and then walked away. So, it was extra nice to have a chat with him. He stood out because of wearing colourful baggy clothes.
He told me how he was artist in residence at St Margarets House in Bethnal Green. I asked what that entailed and he said he didn’t really know, and then told me about how he’d painted a stool in their cafe a different colour and it was fascinating how then no one wanted to sit on it. I think maybe a similarity between us is that we are very interested, amused and sometimes perplexed by how humans behave.
Being known/recognised is something else I talked to with Ben, on this day in Applecart and in previous conversations. He is a recognised character because he stands out. He’s a man that carries a small handbag and wears a leather jacket he painted himself in bright pink and yellow. He wears clothes in the maximum size possible, to fuck with the idea of what men and masculine dressing should mean. At the time of writing, his hair is styled on a 15th-century monk. In his four years wearing exclusively pink and yellow, Ben has received abuse as well as many, many smiles and curiosity from children and adults. He is also a barista who has worked in various coffee shops around Tottenham, making him even more of a recognisable figure to people in the area.
On this day, and every other time we’ve met, we talked about a LOT. One of the things I love about chats with Ben is that I feel really free and easy and like my mind can rove around. Once when I was talking to him I described myself as having a bouncing brain and he really helps that bounce happen. I don’t worry so much about whether I’m making sense (and coherence is a common thing which I feel anxious about and might keep me quiet). I feel like I can just drop small offerings of associations or ideas or links and he’ll generally pick them up and have a look at them and add something to it. He also appreciates mistakes and imperfections, which is a convenient preference of mine, too.
Something I enjoyed talking about with Ben was committing to things, which also came up in previous conversations in this series. I wonder how much of art/performance/making is about really committing to an idea or practice. Not commitment in the terms of duty or loyalty, but in really going for something you want to do. You know when people say (and I’ve definitely done this) “oh I could do that” when looking at a painting. But..have you done it? It’s since making more stuff that I appreciate this more. Painting a canvas a single colour and saying that is the finished piece, is a bold act. Writing one big word on a wall is a commitment to that word, on that wall.
I’m often lacking in confidence and hesitating/feeling doubt about myself. Talking to Ben about commitment helped me, even just the next day, in committing more to what I’m doing with this project. Something during that conversation that I wish I’d done better was introducing him to Peter Moreton, who is the Artistic Director at Applecart. Peter seemed kind of busy so I didn’t give a proper intro. And I LOVE being gifted a good introduction. Ben was about to leave and Peter looked busy so I just told them either other’s name with little context about each other. I realised Ben would have done a MUCH better introduction and I kind of felt I’d let him down (he assures me I didn’t).