Ben Willis’s geometric paintings are like eye-candy for the soul. They are comprised of the most divine of optical pleasures inasmuch as they outstrip the means of the Finish Fetish school, they reach beyond the polemic perspectives of Op-Art and they dive head first into the visual hedonism of living in the here and now. While they have more in common with what one critic termed the “Fabulist aesthetic” of the British Sensationlists, they achieve this in a refrain that is wholly abstract. Multi-layered by several scores of depth, Willis’s surfaces are as bedazzled as they are bejeweled, reaching a clarity of craft that is more in dialogue with the effects of diamonds than the tooth of a canvas. Touch is nearly absent from these works which rely on transforming the “cool” nature of machine manufacture into that of a “warm” and inviting register. We can feel how each layer of care and consideration in Willis’s works are in service of a kind of hand-baked recipe that relies on the transmutation of materials as much as it does a visual riot of confectionary delights.
There is afterall, a magnetic quality to each of Willis’s pieces that makes the viewer want to touch, hold and even lick these pristine surfaces, as if interacting with an exuberant splash of color could transform the beholder’s desires by making them manifestly real. Recently the art theorist Mario Pernolia wrote about the sex appeal of inorganic materials, and it’s safe to say that Willis’s contribution to synthetic aesthetics certainly qualifies his work to be the perfected embodiment of inorganicity made sexy. His painting flirt with viewers by way of the sumptuous use of color; they floss their status by way of reflectivity and gloss; they even entice patrons with embedded visual delicacies that can only be revealed in their full measure upon closer approach.
In other words, Willis’s work asks you to come on over and make a pitch or a proposition, because they aren’t interested in being a wallflower in the gallery one moment past the point of purchase. These, after all, are paintings that want to go home with you. Taken together, all of the above mark Willis’s oeuvre as one of the most seductive and daring art practices of our times because he celebrates, quite unabashedly, those qualities of suspicion in art that everyone dare not speak their proper name: visual joy, happiness and the play of allure unrepentant. For this, we can only thank Willis for diving into the depths of an opticality unbound that few would dare to venture, and rarely with such stunning results.
Bio: Ben Willis is an American artist who creates vibrant juxtapositions utilizing architecture, collage, geometric abstraction and pattern. The 'Candy Man' moniker lends itself to activating senses and is realized through Ben's color palette and materials generally ranging from acrylic, aerosol, glitter, metal, paper, plexiglass, resin, vinyl and wood. Willis’ work is often tactile and visceral, designed to function as a metaphor for treats that satisfy and or stimulate desire.