photo of artist Gabrielle Spooner at the art gallery Shoreditch Modern

Shoreditch Modern has had the pleasure of presenting SHARDS, a series of paintings by up-and-coming abstract artist Benny Watson. His powerfully emotive work is characterised by rich textures – which he creates by layering thick acrylic paint, spray paint and oil stick marks – as well as unsettling creatures.

We took this opportunity to interview Watson and gain further insight into his practice:

What’s a typical day in the studio like for you?

It varies depending on what I’m working on. It’s usually just a big mess, with paint on the floor and six or seven paintings in progress. I like chaos because you can experiment with whatever you want to and that’s why there’s no set routine for me. I paint several pieces at once because when you work with oil paint, it can take months to dry. I get so impatient that I would run the risk of ruining the whole thing while waiting. So, I have to have a few on the go at once.

Your painting style is inspired by abstract expressionism. What drew you to this style? 

I think it’s the rebellious nature of abstract expressionism that speaks to me. The marks are the most important thing. I never liked to paint by number, I found that very restrictive and that’s what was being taught at school. As soon as you can loosen up the mark-making, there’s so much more freedom of expression.

Initially, you trained in film studies, how do you think that influences your visual style today?

I think everything influences everything, and the focus on characters is one thing that I take from film. Film is about a big team coming together to create a moment. Similarly, good art is about finding a spark in a moment that you want to share with everyone. I never really set out to paint, it just happened. I’m always searching for that moment in my paintings where I think: “this piece resonates with me”.

Shoreditch Modern - Conversation with the TV by Benny Watson

Can you tell us a bit about the theme of the exhibition?

When my dad passed away, a couple of years ago, I wanted to channel it into my art. I wanted to honour him, but I didn’t know how. That’s where abstract expressionism came in as a cathartic way of creating and I really leant into it. But I couldn’t just stick to abstract expressionism, it wasn’t working if it was just abstract. I knew that there had to be figures involved. So, I layered these figures on top of abstract backgrounds that were stretched, squashed, disfigured, and distorted. Adding a link to how I was feeling.


What’s the significance of your colour choices?

I tend to think that the brighter the colours are, the more cartoonish they look. Which means the more childlike and the more unsettling they become. Creating figures that are calm, quiet, and cartoon-like and placing them in scenes filled with emotion creates this feeling of nostalgia but unsettlement, for me.

What does SHARDS mean to you?

When I was trying to come up with a title for the series, I kept describing them as shards or fragments of myself, like several self-portraits. I liked the image of a shattered mirror reflecting back different aspects of myself in sharp shapes.


This series relates to a very personal and painful experience. How does it feel now seeing people interacting with them?

I think the most rewarding thing for me is seeing people interact with my art and watching them see different things in the works. With abstract works, you can never control what everyone else is going to find in them. Weirdly, I found that the more personal work I produce, the more it resonates universally as well.

Sprout, a painting by Gabrielle Spooner exhibited at art gallery Shoreditch Modern

The SHARDS series by Benny Watson is available for sale on Shoreditch Modern. Find out more below: