Benny, welcome to Reprehensible Digest. Tell the audience a little about yourself – your background, where you're from, what you specialize in as an artist.
I was born on April 6, 1965 in a small city called Sint-Niklaas (Belgium) near the Dutch border, so I'm Flemish. I went to school and grew up in the same city. As a young kid I was interested in many things, but sadly these matters weren't discussed at school, so you could find me in my spare time in the several libraries the city had. Most of my interest went into nature, World War II, airplanes and football. Later on music became a part of it.
How long have you been an artist and when did you know this was what you wanted to do for a living?
I would never call myself an artist. I started drawing as a child. It was a way to get me closer to the subject, and it was instinctive – it felt like I had to do it. I started drawing everything I loved or liked. As a child I went several years to the art academy after school – always drawing, no painting. Later, when I already was in my thirties, I received an art degree. That is when I started painting, but just to be clear, I can't live from what I earn as a painter. I had to register myself as an artist to stay in order with the taxes.
What is your favorite medium as an artist – watercolor, acrylic, oil – and what motivates your creative decision-making process?
For sure it's watercolor. I prefer this because watercolor lives a life on its own. You can give it directions but never control it – a bit like me I guess. Mostly I work very fast so there isn't much time to think it over. It's only when it doesn't feel okay to me that I will think over what's wrong and adjust or remake it.
Your paintings are very loose and colorful, yet the subject matter can be grim and mysterious, quite contradictory to the vibrant atmospheres you create… intentional?
I see beauty in the grim and mysterious, so I make it colorful and vibrant. It doesn't have to be dark and grey. You could call it intentional, but again, it's just the way I see it.
How do you promote your work on social media? Which platforms are the most useful?
I use the online gallery ARTMAJEUR because they're based in France. It's the only gallery I could find which doesn't want commission, and I've sold several pieces on it. I often get invited to show my work in traditional galleries, but it's always about the money. They want to be payed monthly and on commission. The artist has become just a little piece of the bigger art industry, while many other galleries just show "design" instead of art – that's my opinion. If someone wants my work, they will find me that's for sure. If they don't, then so be it…
As an artist, do you express your feelings through your art, or are you simply working with a formula that feels comfortable to you?
There's no formula. Don't need one – it's always me.
What would you change about the art industry if you had the choice?
I would put the artist back on top of the art, not the media who force the people to accept what they call art. Take Banksy for example, there's much more and better street art than him – if he's even real, because I have my doubts in that too.
Name some other critical artists, dead or alive, who have inspired you?
As a child I was influenced by Bosch and Breugel. You see something in their paintings that speak to you as a child – the darkness, the things you fear, was it real, was it like that? These questions pop up when you're a child. Of course all the impressionists as well, Monet on top because he made landscapes I still live in every day.
I'm also impressed by the work of Van Gogh, but that only came once I had visited the places where he lived and painted. When you go there, only than you can see what he was trying to do. It's very special... I can't explain, everyone should see for themselves. As for watercolor artists that influence me, I can't say which one. There are so many, each with their own style and subjects. I will name Liliane Goossens, a Belgian woman who does beautiful things with watercolor. If you don't know her work than look her up, it's worth it.
Who are some of your favorite musicians and how does music play a role in your art?
A big role, music put's the mood in the painting. There are too many to name, but specific songs have an influence on the painting. They create a feeling, a feeling that I try to express in my paintings. Of course you can't see that because it's personal.
Editor's Note: Part of this interview was driven to explore Benny's passion for music. Many of his works are inspired by the songs and music of his generation. I was personally drawn to his impressions of Phil Lynott and Alice Cooper, among other hard rock legends. As music is very personal, I dared not press Benny too much for information. Soft journalism has its limits...
What are some interesting things about Belgium that may inspire your art, or perhaps greater Europe in general?
I think that Europe throughout the ages is still at the roots of what we see today in art. In Europe and Belgium you can still see the traces of famous masters in history, where they lived and worked, where they stood while they were painting a landscape or a house, a boat... That's what is so interesting, you can feel the atmosphere and try to see things like they did.
What advice would you give struggling young artists still searching for an identity?
I would say keep on working. Do it over and over again. If it's in you, it will come out in time. And please don't watch those YouTube tutorials or lessons that make painting look so simple. It isn't – you will get disappointed.
What are some fascinating things the audience would love to know about Benny Smet?
Well I do play guitar now and then… I only play electric guitar. When I got interested in music, the guitar spoke to me, and once you start to play yourself, you realize how difficult it is. It's a feel. I've tried to copy several guitarists from Neil Young to Ritchie Blackmore, from Angus Young to David Gilmour. What Influences me in their music is the feeling they express. I've listened to every note they play. Sometimes it's a question-answer game – sometimes anger, sometimes fear, weeping and crying. All this creates a thought with me, an impression which I have in my mind when I'm painting.
Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years as an artist?
On a lake in Italy, LOL.