JM2016 artist Ben Cove, as remembered by his sister

Ben Cove was selected to exhibit in John Moores Painting Prize 2016 with his painting, ‘Freeloader’. Tragically, Ben passed away unexpectedly after a short illness during the selection process. His sister, Melanie Cove, talks to us about her brother's work and his influences.

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What attracted Ben to painting?

I don’t know exactly what attracted Ben to painting, but I do know that he felt compelled to communicate using a visual language. He continually returned to paint despite explorations using sculpture, video, installation and drawing. Whilst we were growing up we spent a lot of time sat drawing together. We have both told the story of complaining to our mother that we were bored and being told to “…go and sit quietly and draw”. Our activities were limited by Ben’s disability but we found through drawing that we had other possibilities. We even made up our own game based around drawing so the fact that we both went to art school is not surprising in hind sight.

What was his approach to painting like?

Ben liked to explore what the potentials of painting as an object could be. At times he leant paintings against the wall rather than hanging them. He installed paintings on large images of archived press photos, embedded them in sculptural structures, leant them on precarious appendages and stood small paintings upon the top of larger ones. He used oil on various surfaces and had recently enjoyed returning to acrylic paint as the fast drying nature of the acrylic was well suited to his process of over-painting. Freeloader, exhibited at the John Moores Painting Prize, is shown in a more conventional way, which Ben was comfortable with, but he had planned that if not selected it would have formed part of an installation in his solo show at Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth. Ben was described as having a ‘modular’ approach which is an apt reference to the interchangeability of his paintings within installation in order to create new meanings and ideas.

What inspired Ben and influenced his work?

Ben probably did have personal influences but I would be uncomfortable attempting to name any of them. He certainly had ideas that were fostered during a time studying architecture. He said that the course had a modernist emphasis and ideas surrounding modernism such as the nature of materiality, ideals and utopias and their shortcomings, a drive toward experimentation and a tension between representational and abstract imagery all influenced his approach to making work. I think Ben was just inspired to take part in the conversation that the work of an artist allows. It was the idea of taking part that I think of when I consider what inspired my brother.

Why did Ben want to enter the John Moores Painting Prize?

Ben was well aware of the importance of the John Moores Painting Prize and applied over the past three cycles. I think that he would have felt that his work had the recognition of peers within an established institution that he held respect for. He would have appreciated the mutual respect of being part of the community shown amongst the selected artists and his work happily hangs with peers who were also friends

How did it feel to see Ben's work on display in the exhibition?

Seeing Ben successfully shown in the exhibition was a real joy. Ben died before the announcement was made and it was a strange time waiting to see if he had been selected without being able to discuss it with him. It is frustrating to think that he was gaining more and more recognition for his work and that the challenges that Ben brought to what painting is, and can be, has been cut short.

How do you think he would have felt about being at the opening and seeing his work there?

Ben would have been satisfied with the achievement of getting into the prize and would certainly have been looking forward to new challenges. He would have learnt from the experience and I very much missed the opportunity to hear what his reflections would have been on the show and the nature of painting today reflected in the short listed works. He was keenly intelligent, generous and perceptive and we are all poorer for the loss of his voice.