Beneath Tottenham’s skies

Artist Ben Summers talks to TCP about documenting Tottenham in his latest exhibition

By Luchia Robinson

As Ben Summers sits at the coffee table in his flat, he cracks open some of the plastic cases piled upon it.

“These are oddly DVD cases that I just acquired and they’ve all become temporary palettes,” Ben says.

“I might only use one for a morning and then put it away, some I use over and over again. They’ve become these really strange objects- they’re just relics of certain points of certain paintings.”

The palettes are offshoots of Ben’s latest work, This Way For The Future.

Credit: Luchia Robinson

Some of Ben’s tools   Credit: Luchia Robinson

The exhibition, which is currently on display at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, is all about Tottenham. It’s Ben’s interpretation of what’s been going on locally and also socially in London, since his move to Tottenham two years ago.

Most of the work in the new show was created in Ben’s fourth floor flat, which has internal studio space and a large set of windows, spanning the width of one of the walls.

The height and unobstructed view has played a big part in Ben’s creative process.

“I’ve basically spent about two years documenting the skies that happen. Some of them are just mind-blowing and I didn’t know what that would become when I started taking those images. It was just a hobby, looking at how the sky was changing seasonally,” said Ben.

This was just a starting point that would lead to each painting in This Way For The Future, having an associated Tottenham skyline attached to it.

The different skies act as mirrors to the ever changing cityscapes captured on Ben’s canvasses.

Ben sees his work as a subtle, political observation of people and places. It incorporates the beauty of nature in a way that allows him to reflect upon how he sees himself in relation to the environments he is a part of.

The figures in Ben’s paintings are of people he has documented via film, photography or sketches, through sittings and conversations. The imagery is then collaged and arranged from Ben’s viewpoint as a bystander, to look like processions of people.

“A lot [of the people] are from the local area- a lot from West Green Road or Seven Sisters Road, and then different areas again in London. [The paintings] are very London centric, but they could be anywhere really, because they’re fictitious com- positions, and I think that’s important,” said Ben.

He added,“I think if people looked at this work as a collection, they would be able to make the link between London, or a large capital city with an incredibly diverse make up, and link that directly to what’s happening post Brexit, post referendum.

Ultimately the title [This Way For The Future] points to having the discussion, ‘What do the next 2 or 3 years look like?’ They’re hopeful pieces for me because I’m generally an optimistic person, but there may be an uncertainty in there as well.”

And what is Tottenham likely to look like in the next few years?

Change is unfolding as we look out from Ben’s window. To the left stands a towering building, in the process of construction, and down on the right is a housing complex that wasn’t there three years ago.

“I think you can sense what’s happening immediately from walking down West Green Road, especially with new premises, new businesses opening up, not that anything is closing or being replaced… it’s hard to say,” said Ben.

“You don’t want the local aspect- the people who’ve lived here and the community to suffer as a result of renewed interest, and the associated development that comes with that and those changes.

If an area can hold on to both, and do it successfully without people being driven out, or suffering as a result, losing businesses and losing livelihoods– then fantastic!”

Ben adds: “I’m not a Londoner born and bred, I’ve lived here a long time, so in many ways although I feel like it’s my city, I know that my experience is different from someone that has maybe grown up in this area.”

This Way For The Future is the result of Ben observing the 500 square yards from his window, asking questions of the now and pondering ‘what’s next?’

By framing his thoughts within a wider societal setting, through the mediums of paint, installation and film, Ben hopes his work allows the audience to be reflective of their local areas, and to maybe scratch beneath the surface of our daily interactions in the city.