We had the good fortune of connecting with Aleya Lehmann Bench and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Aleya, do you have some perspective or insight you can share with us on the question of when someone should give up versus when they should keep going?
Keeping going, that is the only mode I know and the only mode I believe in. I may decide to turn this way or that, but giving up is something I do not ever consider. My current studio-based photography project began on a whim, when I came across some enormous silk and satin party costumes in a going-out-of-business sale at a local shop. I bought five or six, loaded them into the back of a taxi, took them out to my studio, and called one of my artist friends to see if she could “model” them for me in a photo session. A simple beginning, which led to my discovering loads about circus, theatre, photography, motion–and as important, about myself, what inspires me, what am I influenced by, what do I like to look at myself, and why, and much of it relating back to childhood, which is not unexpected. It just keeps going, I keep going with it, the project, and it leads me in new and uncharted territories.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember . . . when I was seven or eight, my mother gave me a set of pastels in a tiny little wooden box, and a nice, big pad of paper–and then she signed me up for Saturday morning painting classes with a local artist, Charles Vinson. I studied with “Mr. Vinson” until I went away to college, Boston University; I thought I was leaving childish things behind, and at first I was an English major, but in my second year, I transferred into the fine arts department, and found my way back to painting. I earned a BFA in painting, and later an MFA in painting as well at American University, in DC. As soon as I got my degree, I took my last remaining $300 and bought a one-way Greyhound ticket to New York City. So that was in 1983, which seems like a long time ago, but also just a minute ago. And although I have had a wonderful arts administration career, which has run parallel to my career as an artist, and currently work at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, it really is the studio practice that is the most important thread through everything. I think making art really requires tuning everything out in many ways; for me, finding my way back to childhood memories has been the most important development; and identifying a visual format for the work, long exposures for one, also color, and more recently, becoming my own model, placing myself in the pictures brings it full circle.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
I was actually asked this question not too long ago and came up with a pretty good list. Beautiful places, eccentric places, beautifully eccentric places. For food I might go to Daddy D’s BBQ or maybe Mary Mac’s for the quintessential Southern food experience, maybe Victory Sandwich Bar or MetroFresh for lunch – a delicious and healthy menu. For breakfast you can’t go wrong with Home Grown, or Lips Drag Queen Show Palace’s Gospel Brunch. My favorite place for an afternoon pick-me-up would be Joe’s East Atlanta Coffee Shop – nice staff and good music, plus they tolerate me spending hours there working on various projects. For beauty and the outdoor experience, I’d recommend walking in Piedmont Park or walking the Beltline, exploring Oakland Cemetery and the Sweet Auburn district, the MLK museum, the Botanical Gardens, and one of my favorite local haunts, Sweetwater Creek State Park. There is a Native American petroglyph there which many are now thinking is Taino, the first people Columbus met on Hispaniola. Quite amazing if this is true, but maybe only of interest to art nerds like me. For nightlife I’d recommend Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium – plenty of weirdness there, and church organ karaoke, or Skyline Park on the roof of Ponce City Market, which may be the most beautiful view of the city at sunset. It’s a romantic sort of place, but with mini-golf, carnival rides, and a giant slide.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My shout out: to my family in LA! My little sister Asya, a brilliant accountant, and my big brother Ali, a brilliant labor economist. Both researchers at heart. Indeed, our father, I. A. Saad, PhD, was a research scientist, a chemical engineer, who most likely always wished he’d had a scientist among us, but did not get–however he did get researchers, just like him I think, all researchers at heart. So my shout out is to them, to our shared bonds, and especially to our shared passion for research which grounds all of us in reality, nature, and love, and a shared humanity.
Images courtesy of the artist