“Art is one of the few things that makes perfect sense to me,” said artist-runner-and-all-round-good-guy Ben Wade in our interview in his room in Wharton. The space was brimming with character, from vibrant posters of modern art on the walls, to a collection of his own jotted sketches of an assortment of subjects. I had heard from a friend that everything that he touches turns to art, so understandably, I was at first a bit apprehensive to shake his hand, but it soon became clear that he only used his talents for good.
“Honestly, I’ve just been creating things for as long as I can remember, all throughout elementary school. I would write my own comic books on printer paper just about random stuff,” he recalled, a warm smile suddenly filling his face. “I have this huge appreciation for movies and books. I really think that ties into my love of stories and storytelling. I would want to use my art to tell stories in some capacity.” This desire to capture moments and tell stories proved to be a common theme in Ben’s artistic journey.
Growing up in New York City, Ben increasingly grew to appreciate the magnitude of life that surrounds you in a big city. “There’s always so much going on and so many people going about their days and their lives,” he said. “When you take a second and look around, you realize that there are countless moments all occurring at once and I became intrigued at capturing those moments and telling those stories.”
Ben fell in love with figure drawing, often sketching those around him during trips around the city on the subway or drawing passersby in parks near his house. And, he noted, this desire to capture moments through art has manifested itself in his drawing style. He showed me a collection of what he describes as “messily” drawn sketches that feel like fleeting moments, transporting me onto the subway or in front of a tree waving in the breeze.
As we talked, I began to realize that everything Ben does is creative; every thought that he forms makes you think, “Wow, I would not have been able to put those words together in that order.” Each of his answers was their own little puzzle, so loaded with meaning that they too were masterpieces, works to sit with and consider for hours. I returned to the conversation as he finished a thought about other forms of media.
In high school, Ben joined a track team, and running quickly became an integral part of his life — one he has continued at Swarthmore. “I definitely need both art and running to survive,” he notes, looking at the floor. To him, both are essential releases, therapeutic activities which clarify life around him while also allowing him to drift off away from the world. He describes them as natural to him, activities that just make sense.
“I wouldn’t call running creative, but I think that running and art are both very dynamic ways of expressing yourself. And everyone finds that expression in running in different ways. The types of people that gravitate towards the sport are often strange combinations of chill people who hang out and jog, but also people who are willing to go through the mental war of racing — which creates a really interesting community.”
This interest in the running community has shaped Ben’s current project for a photography class that he is in at Swarthmore. He is documenting the everyday interactions on the track team in the hopes of capturing the wide range of moments which he describes.
“At practice we have moments where everyone is sitting around joking and laughing followed closely by moments where people are pushing themselves to their absolute limits, enduring mental and physical battles, only to within a half an hour be joking around again. This mixing pot of emotions, experiences, and people creates these fascinating scenes that I’m curious about capturing. I’ve been bringing my camera to practice and meets and trying to document my experience with track.” He says that this project has brought him more appreciation for both running and photography. Being able to look back on the expressions of both pain and joy has allowed him to better recognize the depths of his experiences as a runner.
He sometimes goes through phases of creating more, sometimes less, but he finds that returning to art always grounds him. “I think it brings me a lot of peace,” he affirmed, thoughtfully. “Sometimes I really feel like an artist and other times I have doubts, but I always come back to the knowledge that it truly brings me joy and that is all that matters to me.”
As a junior, Ben isn’t totally sure about his future. He might venture into photojournalism as a means of the storytelling that he covets. He may return to those comics that led him to fall headfirst into the world of art. Either way, he knows that art will always be a part of his life, as he continues to seek to capture moments of his life in the best way that just makes sense to him.