How One Artist Discovered His Life Goal
Artist Wes Benson shares his story about how getting kicked out of the University of Kansas's illustration program led him to his passions.
Some people search for art that is symbolic; others prefer realism. Some search for complexity; others like simplicity. In his art, Kansas City-based painter Wes Benson seeks only one thing: beauty.
Benson has been painting for over a decade, and although he paints a variety of scenes — swimming pools, snow-covered fields, fast food restaurants, city landmarks, women in old-fashioned clothing and more — he bases everything on real-life images that he finds beautiful. “I paint what I would want on my own wall,” Benson says. “It’s just what I like to look at.”
Working from photos he takes of scenes from around the city or old images he finds in catalogs, Benson creates oil paintings that have a mix of Monet-like impressionism and Warhol-like pop art. His style of painting is impressionistic — a loose application of paint that looks like a bevy of strokes up close but creates a realistic image from a distance. The content and colors of his work, however, are evocative of pop art, with bright colors and “shamelessly optimistic content” creating an almost euphoric feel, Benson says.
Because Benson’s pieces are re-creations of things he sees every day, his work is simple in meaning. All of his pieces speak for themselves. A woman standing by a swimming pool is a woman standing by a swimming pool. A gas station lit up at night is a gas station lit up at night. “My work doesn’t contain any deep meaning,” Benson says. “It is what it is, and that’s all I want it to be.”
Benson’s art is simple, but his journey to painting had its challenges. For much of his life, Benson was a drawer. Raised in Leawood, Kansas, by art-loving parents, he grew up around craft supplies and discovered early on that he had a knack for drawing anything his brain could think up. As he got older, he dreamed of drawing for magazines for a living, so he pursued a degree in illustration and animation at University of Kansas.
Though Benson excelled in his art classes at KU, he often skipped his general education courses. His GPA fell, and he was dropped from the illustration program. He tried unsuccessfully to get back in but ultimately graduated with a degree in art history.
It was getting kicked out of the illustration program, though, that led Benson to painting. After KU, he says, “I was kind of bitter, so I said, ‘OK, I’m going to go to the best illustration program on the planet to get a masters.’” He set his sights on the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where the Illustration as Visual Essay graduate program accepts only 20 students each year. He got in on his second try and soon found himself in his first still-life oil-painting class. Many of his peers struggled in the class, but it came naturally to him. “I really took to it,” he says, and his instructors agreed.
He began painting more in and out of class, recreating scenes he’d seen on the streets of New York. His impressionistic-meets-pop-art-style developed and improved with each painting. When one of his art idols remarked during a class critique that if he could paint like Benson, that’s all he would do every day, Benson was convinced. Painting was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
And that’s what he’s been doing in Kansas City ever since. He works from his studio in the Bauer building, located in the Crossroads, where he produces two to four paintings each month. He likes to pump Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald while he works, and he’ll typically put three or four three-hour painting sessions into one piece. When he’s not working on a piece, he’s out looking for inspiration, traveling around the city and photographing anything and everything he finds beautiful. There’s no limit to what he’s willing to paint. Anything can be his next subject so long as it’s visually appealing.
Benson loves the works he creates, but it’s important to him that his customers love it just as much. He often lets people take a piece home and live with it for a week or two before deciding to purchase it. “I like when people find the painting that’s truly right for them,” he says.
He plans to stay in Kansas City, and he hopes to teach art at the college level after earning his master’s in art history from UMKC. His life goal, like his art, is simple: “Painting, teaching and living,” he says. “That’s it.”
See more of Wes Benson’s work on his website at wesbenson.com