Artist Ben Fenton, originally from Dungeness, has forged out a successful career in London for more than 12 years, but wanted to return to the Sussex Coast to get away from the distractions of living in the capital and seek new inspiration and challenges for his work.
Ben's stunning paintings can be found in private collections all over Europe and the UK and he continues to exhibit in diverse spaces in London, Kent and East Sussex. Ben speaks passionately about the relationship between art, nature and mental health...
I grew up in Dungeness, and Greatstone, and Rye, and Winchelsea Beach.
I grew up on and beside the Romney Marsh.
My father was a fisherman and I was putting to sea with him from the age of four.
I grew up with the sound of saltwater dragging shingle away to someplace else.
I grew up with the weight of an uninterrupted sky pressing down upon me.
I grew up in a land that had been borrowed from the deep. A land that built structures from wood, and stone, and concrete to celebrate it, and to keep from giving it back.
I am now returned to the coast of Kent and Sussex and I am painting the souvenirs of my past.
I come from Dungeness, the only desert in the UK. A place where the land is as flat as the sea and both are pressed down upon by the weight of a leadened sky. A place where life and living is dictated by the elements and there is nowhere to shelter from its extremes.
I suffer from mental illness, and I believe the parallels are impossible to ignore. My life has been battered and roughly hewn into the shape it is in by the unrelenting and corrosive tide of depression and anxiety. It has gradually stripped away my worth and desire like the shingled coastline of my home.
Painting is what keeps me going, and it is what brings both together - my illness and the vistas that mirror it. When I am stood before a canvas, stained in oil paint and fizzing with purpose, it is the only time that my hound, my wretched black dog, quietens down. I am, whilst in my studio, for as long as I work, master of my erratic existence. I am in charge of creating and manipulating the images of the lands I grew up in, and still inhabit, that reflect the illness that wants to cut my life short.
I believe there's a beautiful, rather twisted serendipity to the process. One that is finely balanced but imperative to my life. I hope that others find a beauty in it too.