Q&A with Lloyd Benjamin on Riding Trains and Making Trax

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Lloyd Benjamin, Trax, 2011, screenprint on paper, 13 x 15 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Solomon Projects.

Lloyd Benjamin began riding freight trains when he was nineteen. He settled in Atlanta at the tail end of a six-year period spanning over 15,000 miles, he says, “traveling hard” throughout the United States and Canada. Today he’s the owner and director of Get This! Gallery, and he’s also a participating artist in BURNAWAY’s Second Annual Fundraiser this Saturday, September 17, 2011, 8PM-12Midnight. We recently asked Benjamin to share a few words about how he made Trax, the image for his limited-edition prints that will be available for purchase at the event.

Georgia Museum of Art

Benjamin wrote the following statement for the edition:

These images tell a story. Many are from exact moments in my travels, caught in a photo or in an entry in my train journals. Some are new images from photographs.

There are two major processes that go into my images. One is the use of spray paint to apply the stencils, which make up the fields of color. The second is silkscreen, which creates the final, definitive layer for the image. My use of spray enamel is an overt reference to the enormous presence of graffiti on trains. I’m also interested in how the enamel brings out their industrial nature. With the stencils, I’m acknowledging a growing urban medium, and I’m using silkscreening to play with the idea of mass production. I usually do not include imagery of people in my work. I like to focus on what I see while traveling or walking along the tracks: forgotten industrial landscapes.

And read below for an excerpt of an email interview with the artist.

Perennial Properties

Megan Nare: So what is the story behind the photograph in the BURNAWAY edition?

Lloyd Benjamin: I took this photo from a bridge that was about thirty feet above the tracks. I don’t remember exactly when I took this photo. I believe it was taken in Atlanta, just on a normal day. I was probably riding my bike around town and had my camera with me. Not all of the photos I use for screenprints are from my travels. I’m also fascinated with the landscape around trains, often the forgotten parts of town that have some of the coolest architecture and scenery.

I like the scale of the image, or, I should say, I like how the image messes with your ability to put it into scale. I was high up above the tracks, which is why I was able to get the whole shot. I also was able to retain a lot of detail in the final screenprint: all of the plates and spikes and ballast (the little rocks in between).

MN: Was there a particular experience that made you realize that your relationship with trains would come to define your artistic identity? Was it something that happened on the road or at a later point in time, perhaps in a studio or somewhere else?

LB: I made my first train-related work back in 2004. I was drawing a lot of abstract patterns and shapes on old maps from my travels, but I wanted to create something that was visually closer to my heart and to my story. I’m not the best at drawing things like people, animals, or landscapes, but I was good at making photocopies, cutting stencils, and screenprinting—all skills I had acquired from years of being in punk bands and traveling.

It was easy and fun to shift the direction of my work. I ended up doing a solo show at Young Blood Gallery in 2005 that featured only train-related images. The show was titled New Directions. It was a great experience, and it put my work on people’s radar for the first time.

I also had a lot of conversations with Brian Holcombe from Saltworks Gallery and Atlanta-based artist Scott Ingram. They both really encouraged me to pursue the train work. They thought it was a good direction and something that I could really talk about.

MN: You’re so busy with Get This! Gallery and making your own work. How does hopping trains fit into your life now? Do you have advice for people who are just getting into it?

LB: I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that I can’t really get out on the road as much as I’d like to. That’s okay with me. I try to take at least two or three trips a year on freights. My tendency is to pack up and head out whenever I want. I had to battle my desires for a long time.

It’s not easy to be in the elements for days, weeks, or months so far from home. You have to learn to separate that lifestyle from reality. That was difficult for me. You can’t really have a home or much stability if you wanna travel hard. It’s certainly a way of life.

I don’t really have any advice for people interested in hopping freights. I guess I could only suggest not doing it. But, if you are going to try, make sure you travel with someone who knows what’s up. It can be dangerous. A few of my good friends have gone with me on trips, and they seem to have a blast. They always want to do it again.