Halloween Special: Heather Benjamin

In the week leading up to October 31st, every day we will be sharing the bone-chilling work of one of our favourite freaky artists, alongside a hair-raisingly festive little interview! 

John Cale once sang that fear is man’s best friend, and he was right. Although, maybe by best he meant most familiar. Ironically, the only true escape from the torment of fear is in the thing that we fear most: death; our inevitable transition into nothingness. All of the things that we make and do and say, in other words all of our attempts to define ourselves as living individuals, share the same fate. Inevitable nothingness. This includes the random scribblings that we call art. For our final (and spookiest) Halloween Special we’re featuring Rhode Island artist and general badass bitch Heather Benjamin. Heather is best known for her disturbing and terrifyingly detailed illustrations from her zines Sad People Sex, which she’s been self-publishing since 2008. They kind of capture the feeling of horror that begins to creep into our lives as adolescents – the doodles along the margins of the math tests. The blood and the guts, the bleeding genitals and the craven, animal urges. The realization that humanity and all of nature is an oil slick. -J.M. 


What was your most memorable halloween experience/costume?
One year I went as pebbles from the Flintstones, because I already had my hair dyed that exact color of orange and have always loved that character anyway. I made the costume myself (ok, not going to lie here, it was definitely a “slutty pebbles” costume, haha, think blue fuzzy miniskirt) and borrowed a housemate’s giant leopard print coat. i felt pretty fabulous and freaky. actually, i loved that costume so much that i wore the shirt from it, which was just some crappy little white crop top that i dyed neon green and sharpied black triangles all over, for months and months after that until it just completely fell apart. i have a tattered piece of it somewhere that i’m holding onto for no particular reason. i don’t even remember exactly what i did that night.. probably a good sign?
What is your favourite horror movie and why?
I actually haven’t watched that many horror movies! but the first one that comes to mind that i really like is probably polanski’s “repulsion”. i think the first time i watched it, i didn’t make it all the way through.. either that or it just didn’t stick with me. i rewatched it again somewhat recently and was so into it. i guess i’m more into the psychological horror end of things. i like any kind of work about a suffering paranoid female protagonist, haha…
What possesses you to create?
I’ve been serious about making work for a long time, i guess since my early teens. so part of what possesses me to create is that being someone who feels strongly about having a constant output of creative energy is just the way i’ve been ever since i like, started developing as a person; it feels like it’s just really deeply engrained as part of my character. beyond that, if i had to sort of sit down an analyze it, i guess i’d say that i’m possessed to create by a need for emotional release, and am dependent on the meditative and cathartic process that it provides me with.
Is your work intended to induce fear?
I don’t think my work is necessarily intended to induce fear, although if it did i wouldn’t say that was the “wrong” reaction. my work is fairly selfish in its conception; the only tangible intent when i’m making it is for me to express myself, not really to create a reaction in a viewer. but when i start thinking about what kind of reaction i might want to induce, it would be less one of fear and more one of reliability, understanding… like for someone who also feels the way i feel, or goes through what i go through, to look at my work and feel like it might be kindred to their experiences or emotions, that’s i think what i would be going for. that being said, if someone who just has no idea where i’m coming from or what i’m trying to say was to look at my work and be totally freaked out or experience “fear” – which i guess has happened, haha – that’s fine too, i think that’s funny..
What are you most afraid of?
I’m not really comfortable with death or loss. i guess i would say one of my biggest fears is having to experience extreme loss of a loved one or someone i’m really close to, which hasn’t happened to me on an earth-shaking level so far in my lifetime, although i’ve seen it happen to friends and be crushing. i’m definitely afraid of having to go through that, even though i know it’s inevitable.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Yes!! i’m not sure exactly in what capacity i believe in ghosts, like whether i think they can take a human form or talk or open doors or whatever, or if it’s more abstract than that.. but i do think they exist. i’ve had several experiences in places i’ve lived where i’ve felt distinctly like there was an inexplicable, inhuman presence in one way or another. i love listening to all the old archives of art bell’s halloween special, “ghost to ghost”… i had a vague belief in the supernatural before that, but hearing all the people calling in over the years to share their insane ghost stories on that program is probably what really solidified it for me, that there’s no question that it’s real.
Do you believe in magic?
Yes. i believe in the ability to harness abstract forces outside of oneself, as well as to manipulate energy in ways that can serve various purposes.. i guess some people would refer to that as magic; i don’t find myself using that word though, to me that just seems like a part of life and existence that just for whatever reason isn’t quite as recognized or utilized as much as it should be. i believe in being able to manifest intentions through your will and through directed energy, to an extent. i’ve been reading a super new age book on sex magic recently that’s been extremely interesting; the guy who wrote it has a bit of a misogynistic approach, but overall i find myself in agreement with and understanding of the general concepts of taking things like the overwhelming energy and emotion that people often pour into lust and sex, and instead directing those masses of abstract energy towards other, non-sexual causes, successfully.
Have you ever had any sort of supernatural or paranormal encounter?
Nothing super intense, not like some people! but it’s happened. several years ago, i moved into a two bedroom apartment with a guy friend of mine. our rooms were on either side of the living room. on our first night in the new place, we had synchronized nightmares of people breaking into the house trying to “get” us.. i woke up super terrified! and at the same time, he woke up, having sleepwalked into the living room, one fist behind his head ready to punch an invisible intruder in the face! for the rest of the year we lived there, these really high up cabinets in his bedroom that neither of us could reach would just inexplicably be opened and closed at various times without us touching them, and on the night that i moved out i had a crazy dream about some “entity” throwing all my belongings out the window and reclaiming the room. we also found a freaky old crucifix nailed above the entryway on our deck. that place definitely had something going on.
Given the choice, would you become immortal?
Hell no!! i wish i had been born fifty years ago. i already detest the way things are in the world today, in pretty much any aspect you could name. the last thing i wanna do is see how much more terrible it’s gonna be a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years from now. also, i can’t imagine being alive on earth after literally all of my friends and family are dead.
If you were a monster what kind of monster would you be?
A gargoyle! a big hairy one with huge claws and gigantic wings, who by day is made of stone and resides on top of a column of some old creepy building, but by night comes alive and flies around terrorizing children. that or bigfoot, lonely and hairy in the woods somewhere in northern california. haha. whatever i’d be.. i’d be hairy.