Featured Local: Benjamin Sorrell

Samantha Chamberlain

What do you do creatively speaking?

I do woodblock printmaking and I repair fabric things of all kinds, and connect the two. So much of art is tied up to creation, often thought of as the New, so it’s funny to me to say that I try to not “make” more stuff, instead re-using already existing materials. I seem to be a mender these days, a craftsperson, one good friend likened me to a “hidden mystic” regarding the way I tie up my spirituality and intentions to repair things. I guess I’m part of a “visible mending” community.


When did you start?

With printmaking, I started right out of high school, learning the medium in Del Mar College. I fell in love with printmaking. It still holds tight to my heart, even though I don’t do as much of it these days.

With mending, I started by repairing my jeans while going to TAMUCC, my first semester there, in 2016. I was inspired to repair denim in a visible way by a mender named Matt Rho, seeing his repairs and advocacy online. It led me down a long path of Visible Mending as something of a movement, tied up to consumption habits and economics and politics, and I became an advocate of the craft.


What have you been inspired by?

History, mainly. Speaking on clothes, at least, mending was the normal thing all societies and cultures did for all of human history, until the Industrial Revolution. There were all kinds of creative ways people fixed their clothes, rugs, tents, really anything. Often it was made to be discreet, as invisible as they could make it, as some cultures associated shame and poverty with repair and reuse. The “visible” part of visible mending is historically, sort of a modern invention-being proud and wanting to show off these repairs was born of a different mindset.

Beyond history, with visual art in general- so many artists and craftspeople have so much to offer- not just those who’ve made it into curriculums and blue chip galleries, but my friends and acquaintances and the love they put into their work as well.

The way nature and time breaks all things down is a part of it. I often go to the beach or the broken-up seawalls of Corpus to sit and be quiet, to look around at the birds, and how the ocean smoothes brick walls into these lozenge shapes, cracking the stones into jagged chunks. I pick up trash while I’m there, and hold onto the fabric scraps I find, studying what the environment has done to them.


Who all has supported you so far?

Oh, goodness- so many people. Far and away, nearly my whole family has been exceedingly supportive, since I was young. It’s definitely a privilege that should and must be extended to as many people as possible.


Have you ever felt like giving up?

I’ve done that several times- it just didn’t last very long. Nowadays I know that when I feel that feeling, I need to reevaluate what it is that’s dragging me down like that. It’s healthy to reprioritize and make new plans.


What have been your favorite parts so far?

How people react to the prints and mends when they integrate it into their lives. The best feeling I get from my art is when I see how people wear out the printed patches, the mended clothing, the embroidery. Sometimes I need to explain myself, that I hope the printed patches I make get worn down by the person’s day to day living. It’s okay for them to be damaged or added to, re-used for other things. Art related to clothing and to mending is very intimate and personal, I believe. If someone cared enough about something to wear it down into rags and tatters, it’s an honor to be trusted with repairing it, or adding to its story. In that way, my work is centered on the little human acts and continuity of living.


What's been the most challenging part?

Frankly, believing in myself and giving myself the space to grow. I’m a huge procrastinator and I freeze up at the idea of moving forward, thinking about all the variables and how things could go wrong. My mental health is something I’m working on nearly constantly... It’s just a reality of the body and mind and circumstances I’m in, I need to take care of myself. My heart rate still jumps when I apply for residencies, schools, jobs, anything. This work I do is a way of moving past those sinking feelings.

Another challenge is sorely missing the communities I’m a part of, being with lots of people, being together (at the time of this writing in early 2021), and the ability to get my work out to receive critique from other artists.


Has anything pleasantly surprised you?

I think how intuitive and receptive people are to all this, especially the mending. I know so many people who have memories of family fixing things, but it’s a practice that’s been so neglected for so many decades, it has become a statement on its own.


What is success to you?

That’s a tough one. I think an obvious thing I should say is that I’d like for this
work to become self-sustaining. In a way, it’s the longest job I’ve ever had, and the only one I worked far more than 40 hours a week in, something a lot of people are familiar with... “Success” right here, right now would be for me to be able to exist at all solely from this work. I’m closer than I ever thought I’d get, but not quite there yet. Then, as longer term goals materialize, I’m looking for solidity and stability, and to bring what I can to a community that takes care of each other- in the hope that someday, when I’ll undoubtedly need that help back in my later years, I won’t be alone in the endeavor.


What are your dreams?

For myself, it’s all small stuff. Dreams for what future may come for us, that’s a different story altogether.

Dreams- travel more, a lot more, maybe even not stop for a stint of time. That’s entirely achievable with a lot of will and some fuel. For obvious reasons, I’ve done no traveling lately, but the places I want to visit and revisit are mostly places like national and state parks, so I think I can be allowed that sort of trip!

To be able to take care of myself and have breathing room left over while doing it financially.

To have a studio that, someday hopefully soon, people can come and go, give and take things in, and feel at home at.


You can find some of Ben's work for purchase at Fresco and other small businesses as he pops up around town. To see where he'll be next, keep up with him on Instagram.


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