Ben Venom wasn't born with his virulent last name. He earned it in the Georgia punk scene in the '90s. He regularly attended shows and admired bands such as Slayer, Metallica and Fugazi. It was a way for him to rebel against his conservative upbringing in Cobb County, Georgia before moving to Atlanta.
Venom collected band shirts, pinned band stickers on his jean jackets and lived a hardcore life. “The do-it-yourself mentality is something that stuck through with me all through my teenage years and into adulthood,” Venom says.
After college, Venom left Atlanta to get his MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute. That's where he discovered the art of quilting — a craft that has a slightly less rebellious tone. He was attending an exhibit at the De Young Museum when he saw some huge quilts and, he says, “was totally blown away by these quilts that were, pretty much, entirely from recycled fabric from the community.”
Venom realized he could combine the DIY aspect of punk culture with the old tradition of quilting.
He cut up his band shirts from his punk days and created massive quilts — large patchworks of skulls and Iron Maiden lyrics.
You can’t throw away that awesome Trial by Fire t-shirt, but you could see my nipples through it, and I didn’t think that was very metal to wear in public anymore. So. I was like, I don’t want to wear it, but I can’t throw it away. So I decided to make a t-shirt quilt from my old heavy metal shirts from my teenage years.
And like some heavy metal impressionist painting, if you look closer, you immediately see so much more: all the logos from his favorite bands.
Venom describes his work as a collision of opposing ideas. He likes mixing things together that seem to clash.
[I'm] a dude who quilts who makes a lot of strong imagery, yet it’s very soft and it can’t hurt you ‘cause it’s fabric, but the imagery is aggressive. Again, these opposites attracting and not attracting, more so colliding.
Venom is subverting gender stereotypes simply by being a male working in this traditionally female sphere. And he sees this gender-bender motif even among his heavy metal muses.
“Bands like Quiet Riot, Cinderella, Poison. These dudes look like women, played hard rock and metal music, but at the end of the show, they were hooking up with 10-12 chicks at a time,” he says.
And all this moshpit of ideas – hard and soft, male and female – somehow work together to create these functional quilts: “So if you don’t really like the aesthetics of it, it still serves a purpose in the world.”
Venom's work is currently featured in the Craft and Folk Art Museum's exhibit, Man-Made: Contemporary Male Quilters, through May 3. To hear more about this show check out Men Who Quilt: Sci-fi scenes and cement blocks from our sister show Off Ramp.