The City Magazine Since 1975

Ben Timpson

Ben Timpson
October 2010
Metamorphosis: Like a Boy Scout-turned-mad scientist, Ben Timpson transforms natural and found objects into enlightened works of art

Ben Timpson is a hunter of palmetto bugs, mayflies, orchids, cellophane pieces, and twigs. “I collect all over the place, from fences and sidewalks to fields, the beach, junkyards, and Salvation Army locations,” he says. “There are samples everywhere.” Armed with small containers and a bug net, this scavenger captures an array of found and organic materials, both alive and dead, before returning to his Maple Street studio and jumping into a complex creative process.

The Meeting Street Academy art teacher creates his pieces in the kind of place you’d want to bring curious kids on a science trip. Shelves of mason jars contain preserved roaches, spiders, and crickets. A light table holds the tools of his trade—tweezers, utility knives, scissors, and a magnifying glass—which he uses to construct miniature compositions: an orchid petal becomes a piano player’s dress, a wishbone becomes a heart.

Set against natural light streaming in through the window, Timpson’s latest work resembles stained glass in a church, a sanctuary for the natural world. In Narcissist, a palmetto bug, mayfly, and orchid are combined with wax, oil paint, paper, ink, and mesh to create an image of the mythological man looking at his reflection in the water. In Venus, a woman made from pieces of a lily, an iris, a feather, cellophane, ink, a twig, and a mayfly stands in the Christ form with her arms outstretched.

He begins with a notebook, sketching ideas from dreams, songs, and daily observations. “What I care about most is the process,” he says of transforming the seemingly ugly and discarded into something beautiful. His compositions are constructed on a slide, then either blown up into large prints and paintings or kept small, compelling the viewer to peer in through a handmade light box. Interested in the infinite nature of art, the collector archives thousands of original slides in black binders in his home.

And while the creative possibilities seem endless, Timpson has recently been contemplating the ephemeral quality of his art. After the recent death of his grandfather, he found himself in the family basement, staring at the man’s collection of model airplanes. Many had missing wings and busted parts. “It broke my heart and made me realize the same thing was going to happen to my collections,” he says. Thinking about the eventual destruction of his own work, Timpson began setting his delicate compositions in marble, granite, and slate. “I finally figured out how to make these things last through a blast or a hurricane,” he laughs. Inside the stone, his pieces will endure, secure for future generations to discover.

For now, his work is being recognized by a growing circle of local fans. “Ben’s detailed layers tell a story that surrounds the viewer with wonderment and allure. I’ve never seen anything like what he creates with his slides,
using found and organic materials in a transparent way to let the light extend their beauty,” says Colleen Deihl of SCOOP Studios, which is hosting a show of his work this month.

“Imago,” the title for the upcoming exhibition, means the final stage of an insect’s life. But for the spiders and mayflies caught by Timpson, their physical selves, parts of them anyway, will live on.

“Imago.” SCOOP Studios, 57 1/2 Broad St. October 1-30, Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Reception: October 1, 5-8 p.m. (843) 577-3292,