ARTIST STATEMENT: Benjamin Kuchera
I've been an artist for more than thirty years and have had the opportunity to create art and media projects from coast to coast. My story originally started with creating small comics when I was I was a young boy in Indiana and then later in Minnesota. In my early adolescence, my simple drawing skills evolved and I would come to know the value of "the frame" as I began to branch out and shift my primary focus to more complex illustrations
The frame (canvas) has always struck me as my home away from home. When it was blank, I never felt lost. I've always known the limitless potential of bringing something to life from the foundation of a blank space. Creating something from nothing has been, and still remains, one of my primary joys in life.
At thirteen, I was lucky enough to encounter an Art teacher from New York who had taught at The Cooper Union. As my first mentor, he saw potential in me and made investments in my talents. He helped me broaden my approach and expanded my focus into new territories and mediums. I started working in clay, wood, pastel, watercolor, early paper, computer 2d animation, and eventually film photography.
I moved into the International Baccalaureate diploma program (IB) in high school and attained the highest score possible on the world score system (7HP). By the age of sixteen, as a Junior in high school, I was admitted to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in the Post Secondary Enrollment Options Program (PSEOP) where I moved deeper into pastel and ink work.
Although I was an illustrator, the "mac lab" caught my eye in 1991, and it was "game over" at that point. I had found electronic media at the earliest possible entry point and started building machines that would allow me to create Artwork that, with computer assistance, would move into strange territories in which few were delving. I was a very early adopter of computer technology at the forefront of studies. In 1991, the available color spectrum was only 256 colors on a computer screen. When 4,096 colors came out, that shift allowed photo-editing programs to become more useful.
Continuing my studies in all mediums, including some metalwork, I jumped deeper into the digital canvas. I began working with digital illustration and in 1992 I discovered the analog medium of video. I was enthralled by video and immediately started cutting on videotape. Not long after that, I was shooting film and ordering film to video transfers.
In 1994, I was admitted to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago on a scholarship in illustration, but by that point, I had fallen in love with film. This was a strange time for me as an artist because I had just gotten into the best Art school in the world, but as an illustrator who was gravitating toward film. I completed a year at SAIC and lived on Michigan Avenue, but eventually, I felt called to apply to CalArts (specifically the school of film and video) and entered the program in 1995 just after the Northridge earthquake. It was at this point where I started to keep my own creations.
Over the next four years at CalArts I would walk among 2D and 3D animators, mixed media creators, experimental Artists, interface designers, musicians, actors and even a ballerina or two. My goal was to finish my first thirty-minute 16mm film at CalArts by my second year, and a feature in 16mm by my final year. I did exactly that. I graduated in 1999 with a BFA in Fine Arts with a focus on film, video and sound design.
In 2003 I moved to Lexington, Kentucky and began creating more Artwork. I quickly got a job as a television producer and started winning awards and getting work on local PBS. By 2005, I was truly in my game and started teaching in a technical college. It was there that I began to train others and focus on my own skill sets to make another move within the Arts. I had found the “next” for me. During those years, I continued to win many more awards, start community-based projects, begin some of the hardest and most rewarding experimental works I could, move to lead a magazine as a creative director, and finished my first feature film in the digital format. The wilderness time of my life had prepared me for all this without my even knowing.
In 2005, around the time I started teaching college, major injustices were taking over—world crimes, political chaos, protesters silenced, people killed from the sky—it gnawed at my Artistic conscience. Even though I was creating new works, I was beginning to see something else that I wanted to be a part of. I was beginning to see a way forward in the Arts that could enact change. I started working on scriptwriting, and my storytelling took a turn. I continued to teach for two years, and then the crash happened. It decimated the college and the lives of so many people I knew.
After having taught for more than two years, I was pushed off a new cliff. I started amping up my agency, which made a way for me financially. I got an inheritance a few years later which allowed me to expand and create new projects in my own free time, which I hadn't had for quite a while. I began revisiting my past and started writing a television show. I knew that because I had money, I could produce the show on my own. I wrote the first season with confidence, and by the end of 2013, I started production design and planning. I scaled back my agency and went at the show with everything I had. By 2014 I had begun building the cast and filming prototype scenes, and by 2015 I was filming the series and running the agency much more than full time. By the middle of 2016, the first half of season one was completed. I found that filmmaking was still deeply ingrained in who I was and I couldn't look back, so I scaled the agency back significantly to focus on the series and my family.
Currently, I am filming this season while I continue to run a new company on the side. I have recently doubled down on my series as I believe it to be a real chance to get into the raw things that are going on in our social and digital culture. It's been a joy to work with actors and artists again on the project and I hope to have the first season done by 2024—a full run-time duration of six feature films.
I am a devoted father of three. My kids are ten, eight and four—two boys and a girl. I just finished my master's in Nov. 2019 and I'm looking forward to a full new life in the Arts that will be filled with adventure.
In the end, I have found out who I am in the Arts and where I thrive. It's been a journey for sure, and I know there are many new things to come. What is certain is that in my mid-forties I now know this one thing fully—give me a blank canvas of any type, organic or digital, and I'll make something of it. It's what I have always done, but this time with much greater responsibilities. I'm a builder. It's what I do and who I am.