By: Jack Stanley
Benedict Radcliffe wasn’t always going to be an artist. After finishing school, Radcliffe spent time working on construction projects alongside his father. It was only later at age 22 that Radcliffe decided to enroll at Glasgow’s Mackintosh School of Architecture. But once there his career took another turn; during his training as an architect, Radcliffe began working at an art design and fabrication workshop, which led him to change his focus to art. Despite his move away from architecture, Radcliffe’s training in the field is clear in the meticulous construction of his large-scale artworks.
Radcliffe’s art focuses on car culture and engineering, reflecting a fascination with automobiles and mechanics that can be traced back to a childhood spent around cars. His works include a range of 3D steel wireframe reconstructions of iconic vehicles, beginning with a full-size Subaru Impreza at his first exhibition in Glasgow in 2005.
Following that exhibition, brands such as COMME des GARÇONS, PUMA and Paul Smith began commissioning Radcliffe to create new pieces, including a stretched-out scooter and wireframe Honda Gold Wing. He then established a studio in London in 2007 and has since worked with brands as diverse as Nike and Honda, while also exhibiting works at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and alongside Damien Hirst at HM Electric Gallery.
For the past decade, Radcliffe has worked on and off with Silvio Perna of engineering firm AWBL, based about an hour outside of London. Radcliffe’s relationship with the company allows him to further develop his work; together they collaborate on large-scale projects, and share machinery and expertise.
Benedict Radcliffe Takes Us Inside His Factory-Turned-Studio
Exploring the otherworldly artworks of the Brooklyn-based painter and sculptor.
Why did you choose cars as your preferred medium?
Yok & Sheryo
I’ve always been surrounded with cars, mechanical stuff, bikes and lawnmowers. My father had three or four sheds and garages full of them. I really enjoyed taking apart old mopeds and attempting to make go-karts out of them. At 17 I got my first car, a VW Golf. I crashed it a few months later and then repaired it using second-hand parts from breakers yards with a bit of help from the old man.
I have the utmost respect for mechanics and engineers who can repair and build cars and I’m into that. I love going into body shops too and the smell of filler and paint. It’s all very familiar from growing up.
So, what were your first graffiti and DJ aliases?
I started writing “BISC” early as f*ck, I think I was 14 or something. Then it became BISC 1. When it came to DJing, I put out tapes as “Biscuit” for a while and then Bisco came at some point when I was putting out MC records. My first tag was “Aladdin.” I was sitting next to my middle school homie from Yonkers in chorus class and I was like, "Yo, I need to come up with a tag, bro." He's like, "You should write Aladdin" to honor DJ Aladdin. So I started tagging “Aladdin” and I think the Disney movie came right after I started tagging that name.
Erchen: It’s very important that each restaurant does different things. We’re inspired by many different eateries in Asia. So Soho is quite minimal, it’s very food focused. It’s in Soho so loads of people are coming in and out and they only want to spend maybe 30 minutes. With Borough we were inspired by the late night grill places and drinking places in Tokyo. We have a highball machine here. Everything revolves around the late night eating style. I think the inspiration comes from a different area but they’re all kinds of Asian eateries and it filters through different restaurants.
Wai Ting: It’s just trying to bring different elements of Asian culture to London. At Borough we did the KTV room downstairs, and we’ve got the hatch there, almost back to our street food days.
I found this expression when I was living in LA back in 2011. In my apartment, I had papers up on the wall. I was writing out my future goals on them, creating bubble charts and sh*t just to get my mind moving. Eventually, I turned on an instrumental beat during one session and it just hit me. I just started freestyling on the paper. It gives me chills just thinking about that moment.
How did you get started as an artist?
I went to university in Glasgow as a mature student and I had to work. I started working at this place called Scott Associates - Sculpture and Design, a design and fabrication shop. I learned a different process for making artwork under Simon Hopkins, and we would make artwork for many well known Scottish artists including Simon Starling and Martin Boyce. And then I finished studying architecture, and just carried on doing this. 2005 was my first wireframe car, the mighty Impreza shown at the Brunswick Hotel in the Merchant City. I moved to London a few years later.
This piece in particular evolved as I worked on it. I didn’t have this idea solidified from the beginning, it presented itself along the way which sometimes happens and sometimes doesn't. It's just part of the process. And I let that process kind of take me where it needs to go because at some point if a painting is going to be speaking louder to you than you are to it, then that's when you know it's there. It’s a conversation.
Your freestyle calligraphy also merges music and art in a harmonious way. Can you tell us about how this approach came about?
Good advice is work a lot, experiment a lot, and see a lot of art. Find out who the artist is who you really admire and what do you like about their work, what can you bring into the work, but also how can you experiment with materials and make paint do something that's your own language. At least for me, that's always been really important to my practice.
“I love going into body shops and the smell of filler and paint. It’s all very familiar from growing up.”
“I’m trying to use the lines which most describe that particular car and no more.”
Sheryo: Not as much as we like to. Now, we’re very busy with studio work and traveling to different locations in Southeast Asia.
Yok: Yeah, we’re busy finding places to do installations. It’s our new thing. We also travel often to learn niche handicrafts. We get stoked about going to places like Indonesia and spend months learning how to do Batik and making other local artisan works.
“There are elements of creativity in what I do but it's very process-focused work.”
As I said, I did architecture and we were always working with drawings, elevations, front elevations, plans, sections. I suppose I was able to learn how to read drawings. I’m using those blueprints to make my cars, but what’s really important is capturing the car’s “lines.” It’s quite tricky to draw a car freehand, I’m trying to use the lines which most describe that particular car and no more. A real kind of economy of line, and a fluidity with the lines. It’s interesting how much even just a tiny little line will somehow represent a certain detail on the bonnet, or the wing.
Where does your process begin?
Yeah, that’s what I’m into, a real simplicity. With the small scale Porsches we are developing, I had to really simplify it for a couple of reasons. Manufacturing is difficult so we have to reduce the number of lines and component parts with regards to welding and assembly, but also it just looks really good, that simplicity. Then I go from the simplicity of the small scale 911s or Deltas to the third scale Komatsu Mining Truck we are working on. I went really deep into the details and also the structural dynamics. It’s 2.5 meters high and over five meters in length. We spent months on the different components, including the chassis, the wheels, the bucket and the cab. Then we bolted it all together and suddenly you’ve got this big truck. I can't wait to finish it and get it painted.
So the idea is to reduce it, to make it clear what it is but nothing more?
100%. We have the facilities here at AWBL to produce editions of the full-size cars and I am training up the guys here to do this. And that is the same with the smaller scale Porsches and G-Wagons. Not everyone has the space for a full-size car sculpture so we are working out how to produce the work at 1:5 scale. They look great hung on the wall. Obviously the cars are what I do, and what I want to do more of. But I put some prints online the other day and they sold amazingly. I want to start doing more prints and more T-shirts and sweatshirts. I really like working with graphic designers, CAD engineers and technicians who are really good at what they’re doing, building relationships and producing high quality work.
Is that something you’re going to do more of in the future?
Yok: We would look at our drawings and imagine how it would be great if they were worlds that you could go inside, touch and move around. That's where the installation inspiration came from, I guess.
Sheryo: It was kind of natural, really, a progression from 2D to 3D. Yeah.
What about installations are you both most fascinated by?
Yok: We’re working on an immersive installation at the Paddle 8 auction house at the Lower East Side of New York City. We’re creating this nine-foot wooden sculpture of a middle finger with Donald Trump’s tombstone on top.
Sheryo: It’s this pretty big basement spot. We are making sculptures as well as creating the upholstery and benches. It has a really dingy and dark vibe. It’s kind of a lounge room setting. It’s going to launch this coming fall season.
What are you both working on right now?
Archie: We aim to hire people that are extremely multidisciplinary. But at the same time they don't have to have done everything, because in this studio, Jeff and I have not done everything and the principle of this studio is that we won't.
What most people don't have that Dillon, Phil and Ana all have is the rare layer on top of professionalism and the ability to design — the ability to not have ego, to want to learn, and to want to try things that aren’t comfortable. When you’re uncomfortable, good stuff happens because you’re able to fall back on and grow your basic skill set. Dillon didn't design shoes before he got here — he just wanted to. Now he's a shoe designer. To Phil's earlier point, that's why PLAYLAB is a school.
When you decided to grow your team, what qualities were you looking for in new members?
Dillon: Residency programs and other resources for artists — let’s make a school someday.
Jeff: I want to make a penny press called “Penny, Pressed.” The image that goes on the penny press is a penny. I'm not even sure if that’s legal, but it's in the works. I also want to make more art. I think we need more of it and that everybody thrives off of it.
Archie: I want to do it all. I want to see PLAYLAB continue to thrive and grow and morph and change, and I want to be surprised by it every year. I love the projects we work on, but I love the studio more than anything. The studio is the project because it's art.
What's next for PLAYLAB? Is there something that you've always wanted to design through PLAYLAB that you guys haven't touched yet?
What is the typical workflow of a studio that has “no particular focus” but also has many projects to focus on at once like?
Jeff: We have so many things going at once, so there's no typical day. On any given morning everyone knows they can walk in and we'll be like, "What you thought you're going to do today is not going to be anywhere close to what's going to happen, so let's shift gears." It's changing all the time, which is how we like it.
Dylan: Day to day is not a real thing in this studio. There's a rough energy level and thought level that we have to keep consistent, but in terms of projects we are always pivoting. When I come into the studio with a rough idea of what the timeline of my day looks like, it generally gets moved around because we're working on projects simultaneously that are all so different in nature and are always changing.
Do you find that working on multiple projects simultaneously makes each separate process stronger?
Phil: Yeah, sometimes your work for a project will have to be put on hold, but then you interweave it with some of the learnings you have from encountering another project in that time gap. Now you can bring some of those teachings back into that first project that you had to put on pause, and sometimes that can really work to the project's benefit, even if it's really subconscious.
Anna: It's really helpful that we're not working on all branding projects or all experiential projects. I can get inspired by something that we reference for a branding project at 9 a.m. EST, and at 1:00 p.m. EST it's one of the main ideas for a separate experiential project.
“The real magic of the project wasn't the two weeks that it existed and was beautiful - it was the drudgery of the work to get there.”
By: Jack Stanley
How has your process changed working in the factory as opposed to the studio?
I love my London studio, but also love working up here. I enjoy the collaboration part and working with talented engineers and fabricators, because I’m learning so much about the manufacturing process and business. Here, I’m constantly stimulated by new machines or new techniques. They use carbon fiber and titanium which is super high-tech and something I want to use in my work. The machines make my life a lot easier and we are able to bend super complex compound curves.
Of course being in London is fantastically stimulating but this is stimulating in a different way, a manufacturing way. Which is what I want to try and push, making multiples and editions of my work. Each full-size car takes between three and four months to produce. I want to get that time down and make four or five of each model and to send them to collectors around the world. The Lamborghini at the Palms was a big deal for me to be exhibiting alongside the likes of KAWS, Murakami, Timothy Curtis.
HYPEBEAST recently joined Radcliffe on a visit to the AWBL factory to discuss his creative process, upcoming projects and career so far.
The Nike project was fun. They asked us to do the outside space at their 1948 space in Shoreditch. We designed a very convivial green space in urban Shoreditch with benches, trees and plants and a vertical garden. I also made a three-and-a-half-meter long giant Air Max trainer sculpture and put it in the middle. It was more or less the same proportions as a car, but as a trainer. People loved it, not just sneakerheads. It’s now outside the European Nike HQ near Amsterdam.
You’ve worked on other non-car projects, including with Nike. What was that like?