Hardcore giggers of the world will know the pain of having a cupboard full of treasured band T-shirts, testaments to years and years of mosh pits, black eyes and broken noses. But what to do with them once the wardrobe has had all it can take? American artist Ben Venom – heavy metal’s answer to Martha Stewart – has the solution: don’t get the Led out, get the needle and thread out.
Black Cat Originals (BCO): So when did you first strike up an interest in crafts?
Ben Venom (BV): The first quilt I made was back in 2008 for an exhibition in Berlin, Germany. It worked out perfectly because I was able to fold the quilt and carry it on the plane with me. No international shipping costs!
BCO: Why did you go for quilting?
BV: For years I had a large collection of torn-up and threadbare heavy metal T-shirts that I could never throw away. They were just sitting in my closet collecting dust, with too many holes to wear out in public. It’s not cool when your Slayer shirt turns to mesh! In 2006, the De Young Museum exhibited the Quilts of Gee’s Bend and I was totally blown away by the work. I was making large sewn flags and banners with elements of screen-printing while in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute. The next logical step up from the flags and banners was to construct a quilt. So I collided Heavy Metal with quilting!
BCO: Where do you get all your T-shirts from?
BV: A lot of my friends that play in metal bands have been donating their own metal shirt collections and support the work I do. By doing so the quilts become a part of everyone’s personal history and have a story to tell with every shirt, tear and unexplained stain.
BCO: What do you rock out to?
BV: I grew up listening to punk rock and heavy metal and never stopped! I try and make it out to as many shows as my schedule and bank account allow, including some of the bigger bands like Slayer and Iron Maiden. On constant rotation are Black Sabbath, Mastodon, Black Cobra, Walken, Saviours, Kylesa, Baroness, High on Fire. Some of my favorite rock clubs would be the Earl in Atlanta and Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.
BCO: Your quilts are all rather on the big side. How long do they take to make?
BV: On average they take about two to three months, depending on how detailed the design and of course the size. The majority of the time is spent laying everything out and deciding which shirt should go where within the design. Once I start sewing things move along at a much quicker pace.
BCO: What do you do with them all once they’re done?
BV: All of my quilts are made for exhibition at galleries and museums nationally and internationally. They are typically displayed as wall hangings within the gallery and occasionally in a bedroom setting with pillows. I have not donated any quilts yet, although members of the bands Slayer and Gwar contacted me to let me know they had seen my work with their band shirts represented. They were really stoked to see one of their tees displayed within an art piece.
BCO: Have you got one on your bed?
BV: Ha..Not at the moment. We have a very large kitty that loves to sleep on the bed and he sheds like crazy! Ha!
BCO: Done any commissions?
BV: I have taken a few commissions from the owner of Pirate Press Records and a local San Francisco metal band called Giant Squid. The quilt for Giant Squid was a baby quilt for two of the band members that just had a baby girl. The quilt was made entirely from their own heavy metal band T-shirts they had been saving for years. The design was a skull with butterfly wings – they loved it!
BCO: Tell me about your See You on the Other Side quilt.
BV: It’s the largest quilt I have made to date – it measures 155″ wide by 175″ tall and took me roughly five months to complete. I had to upgrade my sewing machine to a Juki F-600 to be able to fit all the material through the machine. It BARELY fit…ha! See You on the Other Side was made specifically for the Bay Area Now 6 exhibition at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The quilt contains over 125 heavy metal band T-shirts with an emphasis on representing local shredders like Black Cobra, Walken, Grayceon, Hightower and the Saviours. The design was influenced from occult imagery and masonry symbols mixed in with a skull medusa head.
[This is the piece I’m most proud of.] It took the most time and was the most ambitious project I have ever done for a gallery exhibition. I invested alot of time and money into the piece and was really satisfied with outcome.
BV: Some of them have reached out to me and said they appreciated the work I’ve been doing. I was recently featured in The Quilt Life Magazine and got a really good response from the article.
BCO: Are you judged any differently being a crafty guy?
BV: Only when I visit the fabric stores and get weird looks from the employee staff…ha! They always ask what I’m making and are very curious as to why I am there buying fabric, pillows, and embroidery supplies.
BCO: What advice would you give a man about to take up a craft?
BV: Make it your own. You don’t have to make anything you don’t like and try to incorporate your own interests into the designs.
BCO: What else do you make apart from quilts?
BV: My other work consists of hand embroidery, throw pillows and machine-embroidered jean jackets similar to motorcycle gang logos. In addition, I teach printmaking courses at the San Francisco Art Institute, Kala Artist Institute and Workshop SF. So I also make a lot of prints and some paintings.
BCO: What are you working on right now?
BV: I’m currently making all new work for two upcoming solo gallery exhibitions at Guerrero Gallery in San Francisco and Get This! Gallery in Atlanta. In June I will be travelling to the Frist Center in Nashville to give an artist lecture and teach two workshops on quilting to adults and local youths. In the early autumn I’ll have some work in a book by Justin Van Hoy called Milk and Honey about California artists. So I’ve been and will be busy!
BCO: And what does the future hold?
BV: I’m about to start working on a large used Levi Jeans denim quilt for my upcoming exhibitions. If you have any used Levi jeans you wanna donate…let me know!
- Don’t tell Ben Venom that quilting isn’t hardcore (hangwithbigpictureframing.com)
- Heavy Metal Baby: Skullfly Quilt By Ben Venom (apartmenttherapy.com)
- Quilting Inspiration on National Quilting Day (craftzine.com)