Photo courtesy of Ruckus
Benji Pierson, a.k.a. Ruckus, moved to Jackson Hole, Wyo. from his hometown of Seattle with little more than some art supplies and turntables. Making ends meet by DJ-ing parties, weddings, his own radio show and then working as a lifty at the local mountain, he started on his now-promising art career. “Back then, snowboarding was the number one priority. My art career was virtually non-existent at the time,” says Pierson. Nearly a decade later, Pierson’s art has been featured on skis, snowboards, jackets, several prestigious snowboard and ski magazines, Tony Hawk: Shred, over five Storm Show films and Travis Rice’s newest flick, Flight. Even with all of the success, I got the feeling that he isn’t in it for the money or the fame but for the pure love of what he does. “I love art because I love being accepted and being paid to be me … I mean, getting paid to be yourself? That’s awesome, are you kidding me? Plus, I get to drink beer,” he says as he opens another can.
The story of Pierson and “Ruckus” is one of perseverance. As a kid growing up in Seattle, he was diagnosed with epilepsy. “I credit a lot to epilepsy, because I couldn’t go out and do a lot of the things the other kids could do, because I would have a seizure and break my jaw or crack my head open, which I did,” says Pierson. “So I was forced to stay inside and my dad would sit me down and we’d draw airplanes or whatever.” Pierson soon found that, although a curse, epilepsy might’ve molded him into the artist and person he is today. “I appreciate every day and I think epilepsy taught me that. So, maybe I’d have been a normal kid, where it’s all about money, cars and status. I literally take a deep breath, soak it in and appreciate every single day. A lot of the time, with that disease and with other diseases, you’re not able to do that. Every day was a struggle and I’m thankful for that,” says Pierson. When Pierson reached his mid-teens, something very peculiar happened. His epilepsy disappeared altogether. “All of a sudden, when I was fifteen … bam. It was gone. It was like a miracle. Unbelievable,” says Pierson. “I overcame my illness and it gave me the confidence to overcome a lot of other obstacles.”
Two days after relocating to Jackson Hole, he met Darrell Miller, producer for Storm Show Studios. The chance meeting ended up being a pivotal event in his career. Aside from becoming the Art Director for Storm Show, his relationship with Miller landed him several other gigs as well. First was Avalon 7, a multi-level artist collaboration founded by pro-snowboarder Rob “Kinger” Kingwill. Shortly after that, he began designing graphics for Compatriot Snowboards, where one of his boards was picked as an Editor’s Choice in Snowboard Magazine.
Perhaps one of his most valued commissions came from another chance meeting with snowboard guru and Jackson hero, Travis Rice. “He would come to my art shows and he was always like, ‘I’ve got my eye on you, I’m checking you out.’ Finally he came up and said, ‘I think I’ve got a job for you, I want you to do my jacket,’” thus beginning his professional relationship with Quiksilver. “We had some beers and we talked about what colors he wanted. He showed me a drawing that one of the Quiksilver artists had done and he didn’t like it: He said it was too Disney. He wanted something a little more hardcore,” says Pierson. “For Travis, everything has to be the best because you’re dealing with one of the best riders in the world. They put so much on the line for their sport that you want to make sure that you’re putting everything into what you’re doing for them.” Pierson and Rice brainstormed on a Wednesday, and by that Friday, after nine hours of painting, the print for the jacket was done. “I was exhausted afterwards. And now [the jacket] is all over the place,” Pierson says. “Here I am in a video game and I have no furniture.” In retrospect, Pierson had this to say about the experience: “If some kid’s going to see that jacket and have it subconsciously sneak in and be influenced by that, that’s all I can ask for. It’s awesome. It’s an awesome opportunity, and I’m forever indebted to Travis.”
Pierson relocated to SLC in October 2010 to take his art to the next level. When I asked him why he chose Salt Lake, Pierson said, with a bit of enthusiasm in his voice, “I came to Salt Lake to make some waves and I think Salt Lake has the perfect combination of both the urban element and the mountain element. The key reason: you’ve got an up-and-coming art scene that’s not overly saturated. There are a lot of good things going on here artistically and I think that SLC will appreciate what I have to offer.”
He already has big plans for Salt Lake. As the Art Director for Storm Show Studios, he was excited for the world premier of Miller’s Thriller, which took place on January 21 at Lumpy's in Salt Lake. He has been working closely with the Hive Gallery to get some shows set up in the spring. “I’ll be hanging up my products like the jackets, K2 skis, and Compatriot boards along with the original [paintings].”
As an artist, Pierson is in a league of his own. He combines spray paint and sharpies, and utilizes negative space to create his sci-fi works of art. “I don’t reference anything, I don’t look at any pictures. Everything is straight from my subconscious, straight from my imagination,” says Pierson. “Everything’s freehand, too. I rarely use a ruler.” Many of Pierson’s paintings are Star Wars related, due to the fact that during his childhood the movies never induced seizures despite the light-saber duels and hover bike chases. “I call myself Sci-fitti. It’s science fiction, but it’s street. I want to put CG on paper. I want to show you that we don’t need computers to do art,” he says.
As an artist and as a human being, Pierson draws his inspiration from his struggle with epilepsy and his appreciation for life that he found as a child. As far as art goes, “Nobody can teach you art. You’re either born with it or you’re not. I think teaching and art is a contradiction of terms. You can’t teach something that’s just in somebody,” says Pierson.