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[Interview] with Becky Benson

by AM Larks

[KELP JOURNAL] Normally at Kelp we like to exhibit multiple works from an artist, but when I asked you for more pieces you revealed that you are not a visual artist by trade. Can you tell us what led you to be so moved to make this piece?

[BECKY BENSON] It’s the idea of waves of grief. I wanted to showcase the metaphor visually. People often throw around the term, “grief comes in waves,” but it’s also an incredibly apt description of the overwhelming emotions ne experiences. At times the swells feels so large they may consume you. At other moments, you find the weight of it pulling away and you’re able to emerge, take a breath, and carry on. Usually, and for those in the long haul of grief, what seems to happen most often is that as the waves subside, you find your footing and begin to move forward when one of these waves materializes, seemingly out of nowhere and when least expected. In those moments, you can feel like you’re beginning your journey all over again. And grief itself can be a lonely and isolating feeling. My creation of this piece was also born of the idea of community. We will all either experience grief or care for someone who has at some point in our lives. There’s unity even in that thought. We are not alone. There are many people out there who feel how you feel and know what it means to mourn. As a mother of loss, I turned to my community of fellow grievers and asked them what one thing they would want to say to their loved one who died. I included the words they shared as a part of the wave itself because even these unspoken sentiments are a part of our grief.

[KJ] You have indicated that you also paint other pieces but that is more a personal outlet, which I find interesting because you are a writer. Can you talk about what visual art provides you that writing or other forms of expression do not?

[BB] Even as a writer, sometimes I find that I struggle to out the full scope of my feelings unto words, or rather that there aren’t enough words to do my feelings justice. Creative outlets feel therapeutic for me, and I enjoy seeking out multiple way to express those feelings. For some reason I’m drawn to blackbirds. I find myself painting them from time to time. When my daughter was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs, a terminal illness, at the age of ten months, I found comfort in the Beetles’ song, “Blackbird.” I have the lyric, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly,” along with a blackbird flying away tattooed on my arm in memory of her. We only had three short years with her, and for most of that time, I knew she would fly away too soon. Some believe blackbirds are harbingers of death. What I love so much about visual art is that no matter what the intent, every individual can look at it and come away with their own perspective. In that sense, it’s a personal connection the art creates with the viewer.

[KJ] The integration of words, phrases, and questions in the waves made me feel at times as though I was reading a page of your diary and somehow simultaneously like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation. Was your intent with this piece to let the audience in on your private world?

[BB] In some ways, yes, or at least a glimpse into the private worlds of the bereaved. As I noted, the words incorporated into the wave were shared with me by friends and family and my fellow community members of parents of loss. Each and every thought shared was an intimate piece of a conversation they wished they could have with their loved one. The themes displayed also highlight connection and community in loss. The words of grief become the wave itself.

[KJ] Your piece made me think of the iconic wave print from Katsushika Hokusai, Under the Wave off Kanagawa, which was made using woodblock printing. What are the materials that you used to create your piece?

[BB] I envisioned what a traditional “perfect” wave looks like and sketched it out on canvass. I painted the wave with mixture of both watercolor and acrylic paints in multiple layers, then applied a spray technique of white paint and water to add texture. Finally, I wrote the words across the wave in permanent marker consistent with the lines of the painting so they would become part of the wave itself. When writing each person’s words, I thought of them and the loved one they had lost. I also thought my daughter, my loss, and connected to each and every word personally.

[KJ] Are there any artistic influences that you used as inspiration for your piece?

[BB] While a visual representation of grief, I still wanted this piece to exist as a form of poetry. Waves ebb and flow, and my idea was for the words to wash over the reader in a manner that fully immersed them in the feelings associated with both the sentiment of the words and the wave itself. I wanted to provide a small space for grief to be seen in a tangible way, even for just fleeting moment as the cresting of a wave.

AM Larks (she/her) writes fiction, nonfiction, children's literature, and drama. Her writing has appeared in Scoundrel Time, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, Five on the Fifth, Charge Magazine, and the Zyzzyva and Ploughshares blogs. She has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, California. She is the current photo/visual arts editor at Kelp Journal, a multimedia literary revue, and the former fiction editor at Please See Me literary magazine as well as the former multimedia editor of The Coachella Review.

AM Larks earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, a Juris Doctorate, and most recently a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University California Riverside Palm Desert's low residency program. She is a longtime patron of the arts and enjoys stories that capture the complexities of life on the page or screen.


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