With the wit of an artistic sniper, Ben Frost is as deliberate in his speech as in his art.
Every element of his work is precisely as it should be.
But what kind of person would fake their death as a joke gone wrong for art’s sake?
Today, we’re examining this controversial artist and checking into Frost’s other creations that inspire the macabre.
Let’s dig in!
Ben Frost’s Story
Ben Frost was born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1975. And there isn’t much information about his early life except that there were years of introspection. We know he went to art school at the Queensland College of Art to become a contemporary pop artist.
It’s hard to believe Ben Frost was only 27 when he got his big break. The Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art picked him from a group of up-and-comers to be part of its showcase, Primavera: Young Artists Under 35.
For the past two decades, his art has been shown internationally.
Ben’s irreverent, pop-inspired paintings, prints, and merchandise are satires of contemporary consumer culture. Frost redesigns prescription drug packaging with images of famous cartoon characters and overlays them with popular iconography. For example, he overlays the McDonald’s arches with superhero and villain faces.
Frost attacks and subverts the mind-numbing entertainment of advertising with his confrontational art. Including the time In 2000 when Frost faked his death by sending out funeral notices that doubled as invites to his solo show.
Some, of course, saw this in poor taste, and the media instantly reacted harshly. However, even though they criticized his stunt as perverse, the effect was what he had hoped for, prompting a discussion concerning the artist’s role and how his message elicited a response.
Since then, the Australian-born artist has weathered controversy. He has had his work stolen by right-wing groups and slashed with a knife at an exhibition. Additionally, complaints from the Australian Broadcast Tribunal prompted an investigation by the police.
He lives and works in Melbourne, Australia, where he shares a studio with his fashion designer partner, Nixi Killick.
What Inspires Ben Frost?
Inspiration for Ben Frost’s art comes from his struggle to find a balance between conscience and consumption. Informing his audience is a driving force for Ben.
Ben’s works of kaleidoscopic mash-ups and paintings gain inspiration from graffiti, collage, and photorealism.
He likens his work to shoveling coal into a steam engine. Frost sees his audience as the engine and his art’ as the coal that keeps it burning.
What Are Some of Ben Frost’s Art Pieces?
Ben Frost’s work is an ironic, deliberately disrespectful view of modern icons, challenging western consumer culture in every piece. His weapon of choice is colorful, painted mash-ups of pop-cultural references with commercial products as backdrops.
Prescription Box Art
Ben’s creations of Prescription Art Box are a series of paintings directly on empty and flattened generic and name-brand pharmaceutical packaging. He also creates large-scale paintings and giclées using the same theme. In addition, he has painted characters that include Bugs Bunny on an OxyContin box and Snoopy on one for Fentanyl injections.
Frost’s series of Xanax boxes feature stressed-out cartoon characters, including Bart Simpson and Yogi the Bear. The one with Yogi on it paints the bear in bright colors and a big smile with his eyes all spun out and red.
One of his latest prescription boxes is of the Mandalorian cartoon character Grogu with red eyes and crossed arms on the front of a marijuana test kit.
Know Your Product
Ben’s pop culture LSD artwork, Know Your Product, is a limited edition archival pigment print art on perforated blotter paper.
With subversion being the essence of his art, this piece is essentially the appropriation and weaponization of imagery used against the system that created it. Ben feels that the less you fill your mind with the numbing advertisement of bad television, the more space you have in your brain for things of value.
Here we have another piece of Ben’s that exhibits the juxtaposition of villain and commercialism. In Memento McMori, Frost uses death as the ultimate villain and sets this symbolic visage of a skull against fast food.
Memento Mori is Latin for “remember that you have to die.” It’s also an artistic or symbolic trope that acts as a reminder of the inevitability of death. It has its conceptual roots in ancient Greek philosophy and Christianity. It’s also shown in architecture from the medieval period onwards. Many believe that fast food leads to a quicker death, and the irony doesn’t escape us.
How Can Artists Legally Paint Copyrighted Cartoons?
If you create content using cartoons created by others, you need to understand the difference between copyrights and fair use.
While fair use allows the use of works protected by copyright, it doesn’t allow you to claim them as your own. On the other hand, copyright gives you full ownership of the work and the right to claim it.
Copyright and fair use keep each other in check. Copyright protects your work, and fair use allows you to use art protected by copyright. An artist just needs to be sure they’re working within the bounds of what’s considered fair use.
Ultimately, getting approval to use copyrighted cartoons is easy. All you have to do is contact the copyright owner and ask permission. We don’t know if Frost has received authorization from Disney, McDonald’s, or Warner Brothers. However, he likely did since he’s making money from his pieces that use these images.
Where Can I See Some of Frost’s Art?
Ben has exhibited in London, New York, Los Angeles, Singapore, Berlin, and Miami and has collaborated with fashion designers and brands, including Moschino and Carolina Herrera.
In two decades of international exhibits, Frost’s solo work has appeared in cities from London to Bangkok. In addition, his work is shown extensively across media outlets, including the BBC, Wall Street Journal, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar.
His work includes collaborations with Pearl Jam, Rossignol, Livid Music Festival, and J&B Whiskey.
Some of his biggest shows have been on exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane, the MCA in Sydney, and the Urban Nation Contemporary Urban Art Museum in Berlin. Ben has also been included in an exclusive showcase of artists for Pop the Streets at Saatchi Gallery, London.
Ben Frost’s Contemporary Radicalism
While Ben Frost’s art might remind one of a particular pop-art approach, the contemporary radicalism in his paintings puts the grind of his labor squarely in the present.
Perhaps the most satisfying thing about Ben Frost is his responsibility as an artist. Ben’s commitment to his work and words are as significant as his devotion to his audience.
Keeping a healthy level of ignorance and enlightenment is something Frost struggles to find. Yet he’s one of few artists who genuinely grasp the intricacies and contradictions of living in such a commercial era, and it shows.
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore more folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
We’ll also be offering pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when!