Joshua Bennie’s greyscale, smartphone sized portraits explore our shared digital culture.
Typically, contemporary net-art is associated with notions of maximalism. Images of consumer durables, haute couture, logo edits and glitched-out geometric renderings pervade post-internet micro trends. Scottish digital artist Josh Bennie distils themes and ideas habitual to Cyber Ghetto, Vaporwave and Seapunk into his stark, monochrome aesthetic.
His work plays on ideas and experiences that are intuitive to an interconnected generation of digital natives – co-opting the truncated phraseology, minimalist icons and smart phone framing familiar to contemporary UI design. We asked him about his background, his influences, his methodology and the net-art context in which his work exists.
What is your academic/technical background?
I’m a self-taught graphic designer. I first got into it while working as an intern at an ad -agency in Dubai. I was referred my first freelance project by one of my mentors at the agency. And that’s essentially how it started.
I was nervous and excited working on my first freelance project. At the agency I worked on brands like Coca-Cola, Samsung and Yahoo, but that was at the agency, under the directive of my team, and under their structure. My first solo job was an opportunity for me to try doing something differently . As a result I made a lot of mistakes.
I had no real academic training at this stage, and only 12 months practical experience. So I didn’t really understand client relations — or the importance of the brief. And looking back, it’s clear my failure to truly understand what the client wanted, and the failure to establish a clear brief crippled the project from the start. But it was a starting point, at least.
What clients have you worked with since?
I like working with clients in fashion. I’ve done corporate design for fashion brands like Barbour (UK), Boomerang (Sweden), and Anne Fontaine (France). Working with a good label is fun — I feel they understand the creative-process, they’re comfortable with experimentation and empty-space.
Working with those outside of the creative industry takes a different tact. And it has a different atmosphere. Because “client-management” re-enters the picture and the design process can become muddied. Increasingly I’ve started working independently on my own projects. And this is the work I love the most, because I can assume complete creative control.
What influences your methodology ?
Most of my work is built on the theories of 20th century Swiss design and International Typographic Style. I draft things quick and sloppily. I’ll play with drafts and iterations of something until I hit on something I like. And then it’s about subtraction, structure, hierarchy.
I love trying to do as much as possible, with as little as possible. This is why you’ll rarely see colour in my personal work. If you allow yourself the whole spectrum then it’s easy to make something visually interesting or engaging. I want to make something that’s interesting without colour. The idea has to be interesting on it’s own.
I have similar feelings about typography. Internet technology has given designers access to an impossible variety of choice. But there are very few typefaces I understand well enough to use in my work. And I’d rather do one thing well, than everything averagely.
How do you think your work fits in to the wider net- art movement?
What i like about net-art is the universal nature of it’s reach. I remember I made a piece in the 2015 Spring summer collection that was passing commentary on Instagram culture. And later when I was having a look at the reblogs on Tumblr I saw someone saying in Spanish ‘it scares me how much I relate to this’. That’s a big part of why I use net-art aesthetics.
I don’t know many of my fans, but I am familiar with how their phones look, how their browsers work, and the platforms they use. So I take bits and pieces of our digital culture and re-work them. I don’t see much of my style in the broader net-art movement, and I’m okay with that. The outside looking in is exactly what net-art is about to me.