Debut exhibitions can be hit-or-miss.
Gallery 122 At Hang It
But given the creative prowess Mason Jennings and Benson Ramsey (of The Pines) are known for in music, it’s safe to say “Bears and Stuff,” a joint exhibition opening Friday at 122 Gallery, is worth checking out. This show marks the first time the close friends and fellow musicians will share their artwork in public. Jennings will unveil a series of large-scale black-and-white paintings originally created as quick, small sketches on scrap paper. Ramsey will exhibit landscape photographs taken on nature walks in locations like Duluth, Northfield, and Iowa. These budding artists bring fresh-eyed, deeply unique aesthetics to their respective mediums.
We asked Jennings and Ramsey about their unexpected forays into visual art.
City Pages: What prompted the creation of these paintings and photographs?
Mason Jennings: I’ve always drawn. Last year during some time off the road, my friend asked me if I had ever tried painting. When I said no, he said that it might be fun to try doing big black-and-white paintings of my small ink drawings. So I tried it, and it was really fun.
Benson Ramsey: It all started when I was gifted a camera in 2013. Around the same time, I began walking a lot; it is my great escape and my way to slow it all down. The two kind of joined. I would just take my camera on walks with no intention. I rarely take it with me on tour. So most of these photos are from me wandering around.
CP: Given that you’re well-established in music, how does it feel to be a “beginner” at visual art? Are you at all nervous about being a “newcomer” on the art scene?
MJ: I feel like a beginner at life in general, music included. I always gravitate toward that sense of wonder, and painting holds that for me. I’m not nervous about being a newcomer any more than I’m nervous about anything else.
BR: Oh, jeez, I’m totally nervous. I never really thought I would show these, but the cool side of that is I wasn’t trying to do anything. I have found the Twin Cities art scene to be very welcoming, so I just hope they enjoy the pictures.
CP: How is your creative process for visual art similar to your creative process for music? How are the processes different?
MJ: The center of both is joy and magic. And love. There is a similar combination of intuition and discernment involved, letting things come through that want to and not editing too hard, while at the same time being meticulous. The biggest difference is how quiet painting is.
BR: I find them very similar. A camera or guitar or paint or a pen are just tools to transport the spirit to that hidden world that the heart understands but the mind struggles to make sense of. It’s pretty solitary, but overall very similar to the way I approach music.
CP: What does visual art allow you to explore or express that music doesn’t?
MJ: It’s a little more playful for me for some reason. With a painting, there is only one of each, whereas a song or recording becomes like a river. So it is maybe more personal -- at least physically personal.
BR: It requires a little more presence. I have to be standing there to capture that moment. With songwriting, your mind can go anywhere, but with photography, your body has to be there, too.
CP: What truths, lessons, or wisdom have you gleaned from observing animals and/or nature?
MJ: Oh, man. Every day animals teach me things and guide me. I’m an animal medicine believer. I’m always looking up animal medicine when they cross my path.
BR: Taking photographs along with walking honestly has saved me. It allowed me to slow down. It’s all so infinitely simple and complex. The trees have a kind energy, and I like wide open spaces. They make you remember you’re walking on a planet, which is funny that we have to remind ourselves of that. And nature is always changing. It can go from pretty to eerie very quick.
CP: Benson, how much alteration or manipulation did the photos undergo?
BR: I’ve altered some in my learning process and some just to twist the mood. But most are fairly untouched. I’ve begun to gravitate to “the more untouched, the better,” but I’m not a purist. It’s all game.
CP: Mason, how do you use humor in your art?
MJ: I like when a little quick drawing makes me smile or laugh. Or makes someone else smile. And then I don’t edit that. I just make a big painting of it and think, "If any serious painter got a hold of this, they wouldn’t let that horse look so quick and hilarious. And they’d change it and ruin it." So I guess that’s important to me. Although, serious horse paintings are also the bee’s knees.
CP: What is it about each other’s artwork that makes it a good match for yours in this show?
MJ: Benson is one of my closest friends and one of my biggest inspirations. He recently took up photography in a similar way that I took up painting. So we thought the spirit was similar enough to collaborate on a show. I love his photos. He’s taken my last two album covers. And I love to sit at his house and look through them all. They make me feel magical and good about this world.
BR: Mason was so encouraging to me when I started taking pictures. This is a pretty cool thing for both of us and I am deeply honored to be putting it on with him. He is a dear friend, a great inspiration, and a truly great artist.
CP: Why is this the right time for you to exhibit?
MJ: ‘Cause I have a batch of paintings that feels like a show when I stand in the middle of them. A lot of them are really big, so it feels like being in an orchard that’s ready.
IF YOU GO:
"Bears and Stuff: Mason Jennings & Benson Ramsey"
Gallery 122 at Hang It
There will be an opening reception Friday, May 12, from 7 to 9 p.m.
All ages; through July 8