Shamanism in the information age: the visionary art of Ben Ridgeway

American image-maker Ben Ridgeway discusses his visionary artistic practice, its grounding within a state of pure imagination, and his melding of the spiritual and technological.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jan 07, 2022

Artist Ben Ridgway is a true 21st century Shaman. The visionary practitioner has worked within the video game industry as well as film and the independent art world, but has also become quite popular for his incredibly vivid spiritual explorations. Ridgway’s work is filled with bright colours and is built on a fascinating medley of spiritual and technological elements that seem to work in perfect tandem, with the line between them becoming increasingly blurred as one explores his oeuvre. Discussing his thematic grounding, he tells STIR, “A lot of people who look at my work classify it as ‘visionary art’. Visionary art is art that expresses visionary states. These states can come from dreams, altered states, deep spiritual practice, and internal visualisation. The themes I work with are all over the map. It seems like I have been making a lot of techno/organic forms recently. Mostly alien beings, surreal landscapes, and fantasy sculptures. My work ranges from serious to playful and I rarely stick with just one technique to create an image or animation.” And indeed, Ridgway’s work does blend the serious and contemplative with the playful, and perhaps even flippant. Many pieces by the artist seem as though they have been created with the utmost precision, and yet, do not take themselves too seriously.”

Untitled | Ben Ridgway | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Ben Ridgway

Discussing his childhood and the beginnings of his artistic fascination, Ridgway explains that, truly, any great artist begins by learning to scribble with crayons. Over time though, he has explored many different genres and art forms, creating a huge library of influences within his mind. However, when asked to narrow things down, he tells STIR that he is deeply interested in sculpture, image-making and animation above all else. Of the three, it was animation that he pursued formally, earning a masters degree in Experimental Animation from CalArts. Yet, through the decades, across practices, he has held true to a certain raison d’etre - Ridgway views himself as an ‘interspace excavator’. He elaborates on this by explaining that his goal is to “dig deep into the inner spatial worlds and ideas that we engage with in our minds, and manifest them into the physical realm. Where words fall short, visual language, sound, and all of the senses can be used to communicate worlds of abstraction in a universally understandable manner."

Ridgway’s take on the male and female merging | Ben Ridgway | STIRworld
Ridgway’s take on the male and female merging Image: Ben Ridgway

Ridgway is happy that people find his blend of the spiritual and the technological fascinating. However, he reiterates that he is, largely, one who relays pre-existing cosmic information. The artist expands on this, saying, “the spiritual and technological aspects of my art seem to come to me naturally through dreams and visions. Rather than seeing them as different I would suggest that you take a few moments to ask yourself “how are these worlds seemingly so similar?” The best answer I can give to that is that the imagery I am making seems to be part of the collective unconscious. I am merely a visual stenographer of the things I see through my mind’s eye.” This is an interesting sentiment, mirrored by a few others within the visionary art movement. And indeed, there seem to be certain universal elements that exist across the bodies of work that these artists have produced, such as the unification of the male and female. It is more than merely sexual in its depictions, often feeling as though stars are colliding in an altogether peaceful, serene sort of way. Of course, Ridgeway’s take on this motif is entirely on brand, and uses what appear to be cyborgs positioned in front of circuitry. The melding of the spiritual and technological can be seen within Ridgeway’s technique as well. Discussing this, he tells, “I begin a piece by visualising it through my dreams and visions. Then, I commit myself to research and contemplation. At this stage, I am trying to figure out how the artwork could be made. After that I work towards actually manifesting it. Or to put it simply, I work, work and work some more. Lastly, I get to share my creation with the world.” Sometimes, he begins by making crude doodles, and other times, he starts through 3D sculpting and arrangement in a software such as ZBrush. Then, he will typically refine his practice in Photoshop before taking stock of his results.

Ridgeway’s piece looks very much like a Biblically accurate angel | Ben Ridgeway | STIRworld
Ridgeway’s piece looks very much like a Biblically accurate angel Image: Ben Ridgeway

Apart from seeing himself as a member of the visionary art movement, Ridgeway is also involved in teaching work, specifically at San Francisco State University, within the School of Cinema. He is happy to think of himself as both, an artist, and a teacher, and one can imagine the positive effect that a creative of Ridgeway’s calibre would have on young, budding practitioners. Additionally, the artist has also branched out, quite curiously, into apparel design as well. He explains, “I was approached by Threyda Art and Apparel to make clothes a few years back. I never considered making wearables from my art until then. Since that time, it’s been a great partnership. I now have a full line of clothing, prints, and sculptures available through Threyda and I love working with them”.

Untitled | Ben Ridgeway | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Ben Ridgeway

Being something of a creative veteran, Ridgeway has exhibited his work several times. Most recently, however, he presented his pieces along with other well-known visionary artists such as Alex and Allyson Grey, Amanda Sage and Wiley Wallace, at the Mesa Contemporary Arts (MCA) Museum. He views it as a great honour and speaks of the experience very warmly. Currently, he is dipping his toes into the growing NFT Market, and tells STIR, “I recently started selling my work as NFTs. This is an exciting new space for selling digital art and animations, and I can see great prosperity ahead in that area. I continue to explore new software and techniques for my image-making and animation work, and will certainly keep going along that.” It will be valuable to watch out for the wonderful artistry Ridgeway produces, and how he shall further blend the human and the mechanical; the technological and the spiritual.

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