Ben Poechman | Peak Plane
It’s a rainy Tuesday evening in Rotterdam as I hop onto a video call with Ben, who answers while he paints away, brush strokes hitting his canvas in the morning light. Nine hours earlier in the day than I am, and 7,631km away. “My friends don’t usually understand how I just kind of multitask all the time,” he chuckles. “It’s just who I am.” Brought up on an organic farm in rural Ontario, the snowboarder and artist now resides in Whistler, Canada. He’s been snowboarding since he was five years old, and though he always felt the pull to get creative, it didn’t fully unravel for him until he ended up in Whistler. “My older brother is a very talented artist, and it made me doubt my own ability to be creative. I equated my artistic skills to my brother’s ability to reconvey something so realistic (I’ll never be able to get to that level of shading and drawing). And although I took art class in high school – nothing really stuck.
It wasn’t until I ended up in Whistler and had quit landscaping, when I found a Craigslist ad for a three-month apprenticeship for stone carving. I ended up getting the apprenticeship, and started out with carving inukshuks*.
I made my first tree carving that summer. I was, and still am inspired by the late local artist Chili Thom, who passed away in 2016. His work really resonates with me. The tree sculpture that I did was inspired by him. He was the person who inspired me to pursue art. There is a weight behind that first piece [the tree sculpture] because for me it was a sign to push forward and to keep pushing on. If the universe was telling me to pursue art, this was the clearest message.
The sail of the Chili tree was when I started painting with acrylic. And my sponsors are very supportive. North Face is really supportive of my work - they flew me out to do a live paint at MEC and provided duffel bags for me to paint, and Vans has me doing live paints for them. I appreciate that the values of my sponsors align with my own personal values." We come to a moment in the conversation where it’s as if we both realise the ‘flying out’ part hasn’t been much of an occurrence this year. A quiet acknowledgement. “Snowboarding hasn’t really been able to occur for me this year – COVID kind of brought that to a halt. The resort is closed. That being a big part of my life in the spring has changed. Not only could I not go snowboarding in the spring, but it was socially irresponsible to do so. During COVID our studio has closed, and our stone-art gallery is closed as well. Giving me no opportunity to sell work and also not having any hourly work. Because right now people aren’t spending $2,000 on a stone piece. And with the international borders closing, many things aren’t occurring. So, I applied for and received a benefit, and with the benefit I’ve rented a studio space. Driving now to Vancouver to grab stone and supplies.
I created small hearts. Whiskey cubes. I started painting on driftwood. And made the small inukshuks. I was careful, because inukshuks are an indigenous symbol. I don’t want to be doing something that would be considered as cultural appropriation.
A result of COVID was that it made me re-evaluate why I’m making art, and what more I could do after the sale of each piece. People take these pieces home and admire them, and maybe so do their friends, but what happens further?
I thought of it like farming, because the goal of the farmer is to make a closed loop system. That the output goes back in; everything that comes out of the system can be put back in. There’s no waste. He could burn the crops, or he could compost them. Where it would be giving back to the soil, to the harvest. For me, I want to reach that in art. If I’m inspired by something to make art out of it, I should be able to give back by the same thing I was inspired by. To regenerate it.
Art is a devotion to take on. It’s not something I took lightly stepping out onto. You’re on your own, and it’s like you’re in a group and on your way to a party, but then you end up taking the windy path into the darkness alone. You might end up seeing some beautiful flowers and you might end up meeting up with another group down the road but who knows. It’s a pretty scary thing to leave the flow of mainstream society, where it’s predetermined how much you’re going to make per year and you can depend on it. You have to be feeling that it’s what you want to be doing deep down and for the right reason.
There’s something very pure in art. It’s free of gratification and it’s just that you want to make something. It’s like you’re trying to mirror what you see.
So, if you see trees and you appreciate them and you want to mirror that love and appreciation that you see, taking the time as an artist to acknowledge it is a pretty noble action.
As long as you go back to that and find your root. Cause your root intention is what is going to hold you through." I pause and take a moment to reflect on what Ben has just described. How this applies to this situation now, as we approach the winter months of this pandemic. I ask him what he thinks his grounding thought has been during this entire pandemic, what is it that keeps him pushing through now?
“Well, maybe it sounds cheesy but, through the strongest winds your roots are what are going to hold you in the ground. The winds are going to cease, eventually we are going to adapt to how things are going to be, but we’re going to continue and evolve and adapt as a society and live our lives. Do I just wanna stop doing what I’m doing? Cause maybe that’s the worst thing I could do.
Figuring out what your core morals and intentions are, that’ll just drive you and give you hope.
Dig deeper first. What’s my root intention? Well maybe you need to define what your root intention is. Maybe you need to revisit why you do what you do, and that will always give you motivation and drive to continue. The reason is always the driving force.
During COVID I got the chance to reanalyse and reflect why I’m doing what I’m doing. Redefine who you are and what your intention is. Cause where are you stepping from?”
Ben Poechman is a snowboarder and artist living in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. He is supported by North Face, Vans, Capita, and Union. Check his website here: www.peakplane.com Instagram: @peakplane and @soulboarder Facebook: Peak Plane
Photography by Megan-Anne Perrin [@megananneperrin]
*Inukhuks (i-NOOK-shooks) originate from Inuit culture in Canada. Inukshuks (singular: Inuksuit) were used for navigation in the frozen and desolate North, because they stood out easily against the flatness of the white snow. Inukshuks were also used to mark a sacred space, or to communicate the location of a good fishing or hunting spot. In Inuit tradition it is forbidden to destroy an Inukshuk. So, if you see one standing, leave it for the next wanderer to pass by.