The late, great Robert Juniper once gave his young and impressionable son Ben a piece of advice: “Don’t be an artist, it’s a nerve-wracking thing to do.” Contrary to his own advice, however, Robert always knew his son would turn to art.
“When I was two, [Dad] had me on his hip at an exhibition of Oriental art, and
he pointed to the Japanese ideogram for tiger (purely a symbol) and asked, ‘What do you think of that?’” Ben says. “Apparently I said, ‘Bitey!’”
Ben grew up in Darlington in the Perth Hills, where he says that everybody seemed to be immersed in art in one way or another.
“Though I didn’t set out to be an artist, in fact I have always been involved in the arts,” Ben says. “I started playing cello when I was nine, I made my first sculpture at seven and, incidentally, sold my first piece of sculpture age 12. I had been making things with my hands since I was old enough to hold an oxy torch, which, according to my dad, was 12.”
Ben was about 13 when he was enrolled into an adult summer school jewellery workshop by the then-dean of WAIT (now Curtin University), who saw his potential.
He was soon taken under the wing of silver- and goldsmith Geoffrey Allen, and was working full time by his mid teens.
His passion for jewellery was soon replaced by a brief stint in a rock’n’roll band, then a period spent as a set painter and finisher in Sydney, where he made props and painted sets for movies and commercials.
“I came back to Perth because I missed my father – with whom I was very close – and, because Perth had no film industry to speak of at the time, I sort of fell into making decorative wrought-iron work,” he says. “I picked up a set of blacksmithing tools that my dad had purchased, and taught myself how to blacksmith.”
This then led Ben to become one of Perth’s most famous sculpture artists.
His Margaret River Gallery summer exhibition includes some of his sculptures, but is predominantly made up of paintings.
“I have always painted, but only commercially in the last five years – I used to give them away,” Ben says. “Although my work tends not to be thematic as such, if there is a common thread it is vibrant colour, and hopefully my work imparts
a sense of brightness – much like the light here in Western Australia – and optimism.”
Ben says his dad was his biggest artistic influence, and he often draws from their shared experiences to create his works, including The Impossible Lake.
“I was lucky enough to accompany my late father Robert and his friend, photographer Richard Woldendorp, on flights over the north and west of our state,” Ben explains. “The area described in the painting is Lake Carnegie. It’s ‘impossible’ because of the colours – these are quite realistic in season but
hard to believe – and also because it is an abstract impression; I have painted
the geographical features in reverse.”
Ben resonates his father’s artistic style, as well as that of his sister Bec,
who is renowned for her abstract paintings of Western Australia.
“Bec has moved from figurative work to purely abstract landscape,” he says. “When Dad started, he created more figurative works, and became more abstract as his career went on, and I’m sort of somewhere between the two.”
Ben insists he’s not of an artistic pedigree, just a creative one.
“I have three siblings, one who, like me, does art professionally. The other two are naturally talented also, but have other, more academic vocations.”
Despite a successful sculpture and art career, the artist says his siblings were a bit more ‘clever’ about their career paths.
“Being a professional artist is fraught with uncertainty, one is always dealing with people who have differing tastes and values when it comes to art, and it can feel like you’re living life on the edge,” he says, recalling his father’s advice. “I really just feel very privileged to be supported by the general public, and by people who appreciate what I do.”
New Works: Painting and Sculpture by Ben Juniper, Margaret River Gallery, December 27-January 26.