An old man with an anguished expression is drawn in black on a white canvas. The words scrawled boldly across the top read: "WHY'D SHE HAVE TO TAKE THE DAMN DOG?" Artist Ben Horton might have had an answer in mind when he created the drawing, but he prefers ambiguity.
"His ex-girlfriend could have taken the dog," Horton suggests. "Or, who knows, maybe someone killed the dog. Then there's always the question of why the dog is so important. There's some meaning behind it, but that meaning could be different for you than it is for me."
Horton began drawing quirky creations as a child and channeled his talent into a professional career designing skateboard graphics for the last 15 years. He kept his paintings and drawings a hobby until four years ago, when he had his first public show. Since then, Horton's continued showing his work and is now showcasing his latest pieces at downtown's Voice 1156 Gallery in Below Sea Level, an exhibit he says is as a reflection of daily life.
"I have a pretty busy lifestyle," Horton explains in a voice that reflects anything but. "I have a day job, I have a wife and two children, and then I do freelance art. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed-the expression "trying to catch my breath' fits right. It's a sea of constant errands and relationships that need to be taken care of, and there's no time to float around."
Horton's hectic lifestyle doesn't prevent him from taking in his surroundings. He sees people and animals as extraordinary art forms; his take on everyday life is filled with a Zen-like appreciation.
"Animals seem so common, but you rarely see them unless you go to the zoo," says Horton. "It's almost as if they're mythological, like dragons. Raccoons aren't particularly unusual, but if you see one on the street you'll still be surprised. Animals get that reaction from you. They're untouchable."
There are always more people and animals to paint, but that doesn't mean Horton wants to quit his day job at the skateboard manufacturing company. "Skateboarding is artistic in many ways," he says. "It's therapeutic and a way to express yourself. It's like dancing or creating art-there are no rules."
Horton may like the therapeutic aspects of his work, but he isn't sure if he wants the world to know about them. In fact, he remains vague about his future plans. "I've been inspired by identifying with someone's book or art, so if I can do that for someone with my work, that's cool," he says. "But I don't know how long I'll be showing things. It's kind of weird. Expressing your thoughts and feelings to people you don't know is rough."
Ben Horton's Below Sea Level is on view at Voice 1156 Gallery, 1156 Seventh Ave., Downtown, through the end of July. www.ben hortonart.com.