Smells Like Teen Spirit

Ben Turnbull

April. 17th – May. 17th 2015



Ben Tunbull is a British contemporary pop artist whose work is informed by Americana. Creating art from comic books into collages, satirical works based on children’s toys and objects, and hand carved pieces.
Turnbull’s work is self described as ‘Angry Pop’. – Raising questions of harsh truths whilst targeting difficult subjects. Associating characters and narratives from popular media the work reflects a more honest interpretation of American social/political themes.
Following on from ‘American History X – Volume 1 – The Death Of America’ Turnbull’s hugely successful 2014 show, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is an undiluted take on the lone teen shooter phenomenon which has haunted the U.S for at least half a century.
Guns & weapons are beautifully and intricately hand carved into vintage school desks. The carvings and etchings are engrained in violence on bubble gum stained desktops taking us on an uneasy journey into the competitive nature of an American High School disease.
The immaculate design and hand crafted works employed in the show reveal hidden truths of U.S gun policies literally sunk into the graffiti strewn material. Tackling repetitive themes from the ‘Texas clock tower sniper’, up until the ‘Sandy Hook tragedy’, the exhibition highlights the horrendous reality and regularity of these shocking crimes.
Born in 1974 in London, Turnbull is self-taught. As a child Ben found escape through comic books which heavily influenced his future art his art. His first visit to the U.S was in 2008. His rationale behind his U.S obsession: ”We were poor. I never thought I’d get to go there. I guess I thought I’d make my own version of America instead.”
Turnbull’s training bypassed the traditional art school route. He chose instead to learn his skills from working alongside practicing artisans and craftsmen in a workshop environment. Starting in the studios of interior designers and later, the studios of Shepperton and Elstree working on numerous film productions.
In 2006, Turnbull produced various firearms encased in facsimiles of red fire alarm boxes bearing, ‘In Emergency Break Glass’, for the, ‘Every Home Should Have One’ series. The work was picked up by ‘Banksy’, who had founded ‘Santa’s Ghetto’, a gallery and amusement arcade that was open for 23 days in London’s West End. This in turn led to a series of shows for Turnbull during the early renegade ‘Outsider Art’ era.
For his 2009 piece, ‘Kids Have Everything These Days’, he created a vending machine stocked with handguns highlighting the availability of weapons to adolescents of high-school age. The piece sparked controversy on BBC Radio 4’s, ‘The Today Programme’ and involved a heated debate with ‘Mothers against Murder’. Later the story was picked up by Volta NY who asked Turnbull to show a solo representation of his work with them in 2010.
After the success of the ‘Supermen’ comic collage series which explored the heroism of 9/11 firefighters, Turnbull was asked to show a retrospective of his work at The Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Art in 2012 which was entitled – ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’.
A craftsman as well as artist, Turnbull makes each piece without assistance in his own workshop. His fans and collectors include Jared Leto, Harry Styles, Jude Law and Claudia Schiffer plus many more.