KEN Mode cover artist Ben Bonner discusses his crazy, massive “cloud ghoul” sculpture

cloudghoultrillghost by Ben Bonner

KEN Mode: EntrenchKEN Mode: Entrench (Season of Mist, 3/19/13)

“Counter-Culture Complex”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

If you’ve picked up Entrench, the latest from Canadian sludge-core band KEN Mode, you likely noticed the artwork — featuring an amorphous creature made of tentacles, bones, and bubbling muck strolling through the dark with a tiny catlike figure perched atop it. This deceptively large piece, Cloudghoultrillghost, is the work of sculptor Ben Bonner, who was asked to lend it for cover photos. We talked to Ben about his creative process, the story behind the sculpture, and how humor and darkness go hand in hand.

How do you begin development on a piece like this? Do you work with a crew at all? How long does a piece like this take?

I wish I had a crew to work with; [I] just [have] a couple talented people for fabrication/engineering, since those are not my strong points. The initial stages of this piece were pretty frustrating. There was no access to a facility like in the sculpture department at the university. I initially gained access to welders and cutting tools to begin the armature at a vocational high school, which turned out to be probably the worst working environment you could imagine.

When it became clear that the frame of the piece was becoming too large to work on there, my family and I devised a way for me to continue production out at our cottage. In total, I think I worked on this project in five different places. In the end, it took roughly eight months, even though it probably should have taken five or six at most.

cloudghoultrillghost detail

There is some narrative in the anthropomorphized cat. Does the piece have an overarching theme (besides being “a traveling ecosystem of serene cloud-rot”)?

It’s all narrative. When the piece was shown, I had a long write-up detailing the arc. It basically outlined how the being was this ancient ghoul that had transcended its own body through an evolving and ever-expanding mutant cloud-like fungus. As it grew, it incorporated architecture and other smaller characters, which fed its existence.

The cat character, whose name is Crik, is sort of the protagonist in all my stories. He is always fighting these ghouls who start out as worms and embed themselves into characters and explode in an array of flesh fireworks to announce their arrival, killing their host in a brutal and somewhat humiliating fashion. These ghouls belong to a gang called the “Toddler Skulls,” named so because of their rubbery and slightly underdeveloped skull-heads and cartoonishly small bodies.

I’m getting off topic, but Cloudghoultrillghost basically serves as the oldest and most revered form of this species, with deity and heavenly plane fused as one in a process of continuous growth — something regular ghouls can aspire to become a part of. Crik is the agent deployed in order to lay waste to the abomination. It’s sort of my own version of the Silver Surfer / Galactus tale, except that it differs from that in almost every way.

cloudghoultrillghost detail

When you associate the piece with a particular genre or, in this case, album, do you think that changes its context?

Inevitably, it does. There are certain elements of it that point to a horror tradition no matter what, like the huge skull or the terrified heads popping up, but the overall vibe of the piece ranges from severe to playful depending on all kinds of variables. The photography we took makes the form pop very successfully, but it also creates a really dark and sinister vibe.

I think this works great as a complement to the sound of the album, but it’s pretty different from my initial intent while making the piece. The way it looks in the album layout compared to how it looked when it was lit up in the gallery is vastly different. Still, I’d like to think it has universally hilarious elements. Every time I see the shot of Crik with the impaled duck head atop the skull, I chortle.

cloudghoultrillghost process

cloudghoultrillghost detail

cloudghoultrillghost process

cloudghoultrillghost process