Artist of the Month: Benjamin McVey: Painting Objects Lost and Found

American Artist of the MonthMcVey Of What Is to Come oil This New York City artist paints landscapes, still lifes, and portraits that highlight the relationships between seemingly disparate objects.

by Naomi Ekperigin

McVey This Situation oil McVey Self-Portrait Shouting oil
This Situation
2006, oil, 20 x 16.
All artwork this
article collection the artist.
Self-Portrait Shouting
2008, oil, 22 x 18.

“Art has always been a vital part of my life,” says Benjamin McVey. “I knew I wanted to do something creative for a living, but I wasn’t sure what direction to take.” The Houston native attended Southwest Texas State University, in San Marcos, where he majored in Communication Design. The curriculum included fine-arts classes, and the artist quickly found himself spending more time working on studio projects outside of the classroom. However, after graduation, he left fine arts behind to pursue a career in advertising and design. “Five years went by before I seriously began drawing again,” McVey recalls. “I found I was craving something more in my life. I enjoyed my job, but I felt that at the end of the day I hadn’t created anything of value. A friend suggested I sign up for a drawing class at the Art Students League of New York, in Manhattan, and I discovered that I still had a natural aptitude for art.” As he tapped into his drawing skills, the artist soon developed a desire to paint and studied oil painting at both the Art Students League and the National Academy, where he studied under Dan Gheno, Sharon Sprung, and Costa Vavagiakis.

McVey Your Hands Are Like Mine oil McVey Of What Is to Come oil
Your Hands Are Like Mine
2008, oil, 12 x 24.
Of What Is to Come
2008, oil, 20 x 20.

McVey spends the most time developing his composition, employing digital images and Photoshop to make sure that the final set-up is a good fit for the size of the canvas he has chosen. “Having the digital image on my computer is great because it helps me decide if the composition is working and gives me a clearer picture of what the painting will look like when I’m finished,” the artist adds. After printing the photo, he covers it with tracing paper and does a rough sketch of the image. He then draws a graph over the sketch and copies a proportional graph onto his canvas. “I use the smaller sketch and photo as my guide as I draw the image onto the canvas,” he explains. “But when I start to paint, I work directly from life, which I try to do whenever possible. I think the whole process really helps me understand the painting.” By the time all of this preparatory work is completed, McVey says that he is so familiar with his subject that painting goes rather quickly and easily, although he is sure to stay flexible and allow for changes along the way.

The artist occasionally paints landscapes and seascapes, but his subject matter consists mostly of found objects and people. “My still life subjects are simple, everyday objects that catch my attention,” he says. “They are items that have been discarded, forgotten, or passed by because people have lost interest. By painting these items I give them new life. Objects once old and forgotten become interesting to the viewer because they are seen in a different way.” For McVey Of What Is to Come is exemplary of his belief in the importance of these objects. The chair looks as though it is suspended in midair, defying gravity and almost threatening to fall upon the sewing machine below. There exists a movement and stillness in the painting that makes the objects appear very much alive.  “The abandoned sewing machine and worn-down chair represent how easily we throw away objects that we view as useless in favor of the next new thing,” he says. “By elevating the chair, I tried to bring focus to the object and glorify it, as though it were the subject in a portrait. I used the sewing machine to not only balance out the composition but also as a slight jab at new technologies that have made this beautifully crafted object, and others like it, obsolete.”

McVey Brice's Dog oil McVey The End of the World oil
Brice's Dog 2007, oil, 50 x 34. The End of the World
2007, oil, 60 x 52.

McVey likens these still lifes to the Dadaists’ found objects and ready-mades, and he cites a multitude of influences in his work, such as Sargent, Van Gogh, and Hopper. “I like when realism is taken out of place a bit, when it appears somewhat off-kilter. It’s not quite surrealism, but definitely not total reality.” In addition to the spacing of his objects, the artist often places them in bare rooms, as though the space they inhabit is all their own. The seemingly empty room that acts as the backdrop in Of What is to Come and This Situation highlights the objects’ importance and usefulness in the eyes of the artist. “My background in design has greatly influenced my work,” he says of his stylistic choices. “I like for my subjects to occupy the space, and I render the space simply. I like the paintings to breathe.”

About the Artist
Benjamin McVey earned a B.F.A. in Communications Design from Southwest Texas State University, in San Marcos. He moved to New York City in 1998, where he has taken classes at the National Academy of Design, and the Art Students League of New York, both in Manhattan. His work belongs to private collections in Texas, California, and New York, and he has exhibited his work in group shows throughout New York City. For more information on McVey, visit or email him at

Naomi Ekperigin is the assistant editor for American Artist.


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