Mead Carney is proud to present ‘Gentle On My Mind’, the first solo exhibition of new paintings and photography by Ben Kustow.
Ben Kustow’s first exhibition in London is the culmination of a road trip that began, if not physically, then psychologically in childhood. Describing his arrival at the Calgary Stampede (an annual rodeo, exhibition and ten-day event festival held every July in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and billed as: ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’), Kustow explained: “I felt like the ultimate voyeur at the coliseum of a foreign sport, drawn from a lifestyle familiar to me through a thousand movies absorbed in childhood.”
The boyhood dream of ‘playing cowboys’ translated from fiction into a new, if surreal, reality. The cowboys were no longer the pioneers of myth and legend but had evolved into professional sportsmen, displaying their skills in the contemporary arena.
The cowboy though is just one area of focus in Kustow’s search for the real life icons so emblematic of people’s perception of Canada and the Western States of North America: “I was seeking the cowboy, the traveller, the drifter, the rebel, and all the things cattle herders have come to represent. The cowboy is still America’s sweetheart. The iconography is familiar to anyone who has ever seen a ‘Western’ movie, but its contemporary cultural form is ever evolving.” Music is one arena where the drifter can continue to roam. Indeed the title of Kustow’s exhibition and the spirit of the show was inspired by a song about a wistful wanderer, written by John Hartford. Kustow likes the Glen Campbell version and the ideas expressed about freedom, travelling and the remembering of a lost love without bitterness.
The body of work exhibited in ‘Gentle On My Mind’ is the product of two journeys: the first originated in Nashville, progressing from Memphis to New Orleans, Houston, Flagstaff, Arizona, Monument Valley, Las Vegas and finally culminating in Los Angeles. A grand tour of a mythic USA route, it came complete with cheap motels, cheap gas, cheap cigarettes and the travel was accompanied by a sound track that shifted from Country and Western, to Blues and to the relaxed sounds synonymous with the West Coast. For Kustow, it was a sensory overload: “You can smell the Mississippi miles away and you sail through the deserts. Only a few can live there. You are passing through. Everyone is there on their own terms. Little towns where ‘out of town’ is two miles out of town. The people are slower, with time for you.”
The second journey was to Canada for the Calgary Stampede. Whereas on the first trip, Kustow was both explorer and curious observer ‘along for the ride’, passive and receptive; with the second he had a deliberate aim: to see the cowboys in action, to find these pioneers turned sportsmen, still proud and celebrated without irony and to delight in the virtuosity of skills that boys the world over marvelled at through film. The result is an unabashed depiction of masculinity, boyhood dreams and a yearning for a lost simplicity that can be defined by the age-old image of man and horse, one that crosses cultures and time.