An interview with Ben Duarri-Screen Prince

 Donna Summer
Ben Duarri-Screen Prince, 2013

Ben, can you tell us about your "Donna Summer" calligram work?
The project was sponsored by someone working for Southern Fried Records, Fatboy Slim's label.
The song was a personal favorite and I had a very deep connection with this song when I was little.
I knew I had to get Donna's elegance in there and as I had only been using the copperplate dip pen nibs for a year or so and the Pentel brush pen for a few months the pressure was quite enormous but that got me to a state of doing things with a lose immediacy that comes with calligraphy.

The image I drew in pencil as my template was a mash-up of lots of images of Donna's record cover shots and also heavily inspired by her psychedelic video where she does that wave dance move with her arms.This drawing contains the arms and hands more of her waist and is pretty big. 
Printing the background layer in a blend of colors  was a must and with it being quite a big area it made doing fifty of the same blend was just not gonna happen without wasting a lot of ink so I decided to try different color ways on different colored card and it turned into about fourteen little AP editions. They were really just the beginning. Where the first pieces of calligram artwork came together for the first time. They were clean, smart and minimal.
It became a very popular print and Art Republic bought pretty much all of them off me in one go.
I only had a few left when she died in may 2012 and I knew it would be soon time to print a second approach to mark her passing.
Since then Fatboy Slim started using it his enormous live shows like Big Beach Boutique Brighton, Ibiza, Japan and it was one of the biggest screens in the world! That was pretty cool seeing 25000 people dancing to my picture and Fatboy Slim symbolically bowing to her while he played his dedication to the queen of disco.You can see it on the DVD. He went on to do a mash up of Adele vs Donna Summer which he played in Brazil at new years and the print became the unofficial online cover for it and they gave a really nice shout out to me.

I wanted to get that motion video quality into the calligram and I wanted to get the rhythm of the repeating nature of the song, the drum machines and loops in it that over lap and how she sings it in this exuberant ecstatic way...repeating one line for each verse like mantras. Generally, I was working on drafting film and tracing papers in dip pens over my original drawings, shooting them onto screen and printing onto more drafting film and cleaning bits up with a scalpel and then re-shooting it onto screen, refining each layer.
With the black layer I made a negative by filling the screen and washing out the original stencil and printing that to make more transparencies.i then carved out the blue layer in the hair made a negative of that and so on. After working on the body, face and hair for months in this way i started proofing them in black gold and red on purple card and just before printing the edition I came up with the background for the chorus stretching the notes and visually forming the 70's special effect making trails on her movements in the video and the L O V E halftone layer on her skin. That layer represented a–little beads of sweat you get on the dance floor when you're peaking and b–all her tingling nerve endings feeling love. That was when the print just came alive. I was very happy. I then made the lips artwork to match the background style in the brush pen. For me the lips that goes on last just makes the print complete.

What did you change from the original one?
Well I kept the ingredients i.e. the layers of artwork used the same and decided i was going to just approach the 2012/13 print differently. Once again but with more passion emotion and dedication.
I went for doing all the things I hadn't had time to try last time, and things I had come up with seeing the print on live video screens and just to give it all the room it needed. I repeat printed offset layers of the background and creating drop shadows of red and orange blends and the colors got more and more intense. I loosened up my method a bit using an overlay for each one and started treating each one of 77 prints like paintings. This really upset my clean tidy printer side but my luminosity chasing painter side was just buzzing. I had to say to my printer side that it was painters turn! Once I let go all the fun started happening, and I just went for it making huge negatives of the background chorus and her silhouette which I printed in a vermillion and purple blend.This connected the whole print and all the layers under it became like a red halo around the brighter letters in a white to yellow to orange to pink blend giving the whole print an extra dynamism and a glow that I had been craving for.
I also dusted a turquoise eye make-up dust to the drying gold ink on her eyelids. This is done to each one with a soft make up brush shortly after printing.

Can you describe the printing technique?
It was screen printed on a vacuum bed using the squeegee on the arm on the larger screens and if I wanted a negative I would let an oil based paper and board ink dry in and wash away the emulsion. All the original hand-drawn or written layers were shot onto screen using photographic emulsion.

How many copies did you print and where do you sell them?
They are all part of a set of 77 to mark the date of the songs creation which is also when I was born.
Most of the 77 are A P 1/1's but I did do a small edition of 11 but even they are individual in there subtleties.
The edition of 11 are going on sale first and they are the cheapest ones only available on my BigCartel page.
With every set of eleven the price will be going up about eighty pounds each time getting rarer and rarer with the really worked ones with extra pen work on top coming later.

What does "I feel love" mean to you?
The song means many things on many levels. It represents to me something very human, to declare "I feel love" using something very right brain and intellect based like language to describe a very abstract left brained concept that has no real physical substance or logic. When most of us first fall in love it is with our parents before we can speak.
The patterns within the simplicity of the song are mesmerizing and hypnotic even, and it gets you singing the words "I feel love" which immediately becomes reality and makes you "feel love". This is extremely powerful. The same happens when you start sing "it's so good it's so good it's so good" or "falling free falling free falling free you and me you and me you and me". It turns the mind and heart to ecstatic peak experiences of love for another and just feeling love full stop.

Musically it represents the beginning of machine made dance music with human vocals and a whole new era of music that is about love and ecstasy but not religious or part of any doctrine. Disco was an explosion of honesty and freedom of expression and sexuality spearheaded by this divine artist.

Thank you Ben and... bravissimo!
Useful links
My BigCartel page
My Facebook page
Facebook group to join
Donna Summer, calligraphic calligram work by Ben Duarri-Screen Price, 2013
Fatboy Slim - Big Beach Boutique 5 - I Feel Love - 02/06/12, video on YouTube
Fatboy Slim - Donna Summer Tribute, video on YouTube


  1. What a fantastic interview. Thank you for featuring Ben. I just featured him on my blog too. I love his work so much, very inspiring.
    It must have been amazing seeing his own work on such a large scale like that and with so many people in front of it at one time.
    I love Donna! She is an icon of my youth and represented confidence and freedom for women.


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