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F**k You, Grandma! There’s a New Quilter in Town

Self-taught quilter Ben Venom takes punk imagery (and worn-out t-shirts) to new heights of applique and design.
Ben Venom with Don’t Tread On Me! 2015. All pieces are handmade with recycled fabric. Images courtesy of the artist

If ever you’ve sewn a patch on a jacket, you’ve done appliqué work. Quilting is a populist art form, requiring no more than fabric, thread, and a vision—but most punk sewers don’t take it any further than the odd swag or repair job. Ben Venom, on the other hand, is the guy who decided to take it all the way.

Venom’s quilts and fabric art mix punk and metal imagery with traditional quilting—a compelling juxtaposition. There’s something charming and exciting about seeing "DON’T TREAD ON ME" spelled out in colorful patchwork, or an eagle with wings of stitched Iron Maiden tees. It’s all familiar, but you’ve never seen it combined in this way before.


“I have always been drawn to ideas and imagery that can be described as ‘over the top’ or ‘fringe’ [because] they simply go beyond traditional thought and reasoning,” Venom says. “Riding that razor’s edge between complete absurdity and pure genius is where I want my art to live.”

Growing up in the punk rock, metal and skate community, Venom was exposed from a young age to the imagery he still uses: tigers, skulls, pinup girls, chains, eagle wings. These are 20th century motifs with ancient roots. They suggest virility, power, wildness, masculinity. It’s hard to imagine anything more opposed to that, at least in American culture, than quilting. The contrast lands Venom firmly at the intersection of absurdity and brilliance—and the strangest thing is, it works.

Once Bitten Twice Shy, 2015.

Venom does all his work with a Juki F-600 Quilt and Pro Special sewing machine, fabric scissors, seam ripper, recycled fabrics, and thread. He doesn’t have formal training in textiles or craftsmanship, either. “I consider myself a top-seeded amateur,” he says. “When I began sewing I had no idea what I was doing… simply a concept I wanted to create.” Self-taught, with a little guidance from more advanced quilters and sewers, he has always allowed the vision to drive his technique.

This includes incorporating secondhand materials: “People literally mail me boxes of their used clothing to use in my art. Occasionally, I will purchase items from the thrift store or eBay when I want a particular type of material, i.e., leather, white denim, etc.” Using secondhand fabrics is an integral part of quilting—some would say it’s the most important part of the process. Venom embraces this concept. From his artist statement: “Everyone’s unexplained stain, tear, or rip will be included and when displayed visitors will be able to see a piece of themselves woven into this larger history.”


Venom’s quilts range from wall-sized tapestries to smaller jackets. They're exhibited internationally in fine-art galleries and museums. While the bigger pieces tend to be bought by art collectors, Venom makes his smaller work available and affordable to all types of art lovers.

Ben Venom will be showing at Jonathan LeVine Gallery as part of group exhibition The Shape of Things To Come, January 7-28.


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