Theodore Benson is making moves. Besides being an accomplished visual artist, he is currently working on his streetwear label, 140500. If you are lucky, and in Madison, Wisconsin, you can catch him selling his artwork and clothing at his booth on State Street. I met Teddy at an art opening at Freedom Skate Shop. He was talking to a large crowd of spectators gathering around his work. The first thing that struck me in the work he was presenting was his strong sense of line, smooth, and confidently creating the structure of his drawings. I ran into him a few times since and eventually asked if he was interested in doing an interview about his work. That interview is below. Enjoy.
Please introduce yourself. How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Thanks for having me. I am from the tristate area and produce art in different formats - screen printed shirts, paintings, drawings, interactive sculptures, among other things. I’m in the MFA program at UW, and worked for professional printmaking studios in Colorado and Connecticut before coming to Madison.
Portrait by Sam Christensen
What are some projects you are currently working on?
I’m preparing for my MFA qualifying exhibition. It’s booked for April 9-13 and will culminate in the formal launch of a streetwear label, 140500, which has been in development over the past year. I’m working on getting some of that work into the annual UW Fashion Show, but we’ll see. It may be too late to apply.
You recently got a street vendor's license and sell your clothing and artwork on the street. What is that like?
Street vending is neat. I applied for a license because I thought it would yield to exposure and maybe some revenue. It pushed me to heighten my output of wearables, small paintings, and drawings, and to consider an audience that I hadn’t before. I made all the money that I spent on fees and insurance back in a few months. Once it got cold outside, I put the operation on hold and dedicated more time to classwork and studio work. I think my license expires at the end of this month, so you’ll probably see me out there pushing shirts and art if its nice outside. My location is on the corner of State Street and Frances, right between Potbelly and Urban Outfitters.
Who are some of your other biggest influences?
My friends have a lot to do with how I approach ideas - they have really valuable opinions and suggest going down avenues that I often wouldn’t have considered. I also hold skateboarding and its creatives in really high esteem. The skateboard industry has cultivated some interesting artists and entrepreneurs. I just found out that Joe Roberts - @lsdworldpeace - grew up in Madison. I like his style and the fact that he hangs out with the GX1000 crew in San Francisco. I’ve also been looking at Virgil Abloh - he went to UW for engineering and gave a talk here a few years ago. Its an educational experience looking at his progression since then, especially with Off-White. I’m pretty sure he never stops working.
What is the significance of “140500"?
140500 refers to numbers that make up my address here in Madison. I generate most of my art in my apartment, and that’s where my friends and I kick it. I put a lot of work into aestheticizing my living space, and that finds its way into my art all the time. I want to transform my apartment into a gallery before I move out at the end of the summer.
How would you describe your art? What is your motivation? Are there any specific themes you like to explore?
My art jumps stylistically and conceptually based on the project. I’ve departed from using hand-drawn elements and have begun working with digitally augmented imagery and graphic design. This change has to do with an attempt to rebrand myself as an artist and make this 140500 project a cohesive one. I look up to what Golf Wang is doing in terms of tying all of their work together. The most recent Tyler the Creator interview is curated really well too. My upcoming show will have a heavy emphasis on commercial curation, but producing the work comes first. After my MFA show, I plan to book a few more art shows and set product-drop deadlines keep me on my feet.
What do you think of the Madison art scene? Any artists you recommend checking out?
The Madison art scene is tight - like, really inclusive. Everyone knows everyone, and its really easy to have your voice heard. One of my favorite Madison artists is Austin Moule, who is a thoughtful and prolific painter. He was a year ahead of me in the MFA program and took me under his wing when I got here. Right now he’s working on this stripped down figural series that has some cute and goofy moments. I’ve recently been in a few art shows with Malcolm Bracey who does the porn hoodies - that guy doesn’t give a fuck and is good painter too. Shout out to the local photo gods, Oscar P. and Sam Christensen. Also shout out to my graduate committee (Derrick Buisch, Faisal Abdu’Allah, Meg Mitchell, and John Hitchcock) - I have a lot of respect for their art and their dedication to student artists.
What else should we know about Theodore Benson?
I’ve been watching Ancient Aliens on History Channel. Its a funny show because it is so speculative. But I’ve learned a thing or two from it, like how the dimensions of the Great Pyramid are directly related to Earth’s size and shape, as well as the distance between Earth and the sun, and Earth and the moon. Look it up.