Artist Profile: The world’s an endless sea of collaging opportunity for Ben DiNino

Ben DiNino // Photo by Martin Rittenberry

Ben DiNino has an obsession with stuff. He says his partner would readily refer to his collection as a certified hoarding habit, especially after making frequent moves around the U.S. before settling down in Minneapolis six years ago. But to him, it’s just an endless sea of collaging opportunity. 

“Recently I’ve been trying not to collect anymore because I’m at capacity,” he says, noting that he’s been making efforts to purge unused materials from his archives. “The problem is, when I start to clean, I’ll find something and after 10 minutes I’m working on something new,” he says. “That’s how things form—it’s really organic for me.”

Collage by Ben DiNino // Photo by Martin Rittenberry

DiNino began in sculpture, working with natural or used materials as a cash-strapped post-grad coming out of Temple University’s art school in the mid-90s. In the years since, he’s been fostering a growing archive of items, from books to magazines to old cameras and film slides, cutting and layering pieces together to express his vision. But it wasn’t until he attended Kolaj Fest in New Orleans last year that he began to fully embrace himself as an artist.

“I never considered myself a collage artist until I went to this festival last year, but everything I do is collage-based,” he says. “Even in art school, my drawing process was incorporating scraps of things glued on top and putting stuff together. I always loved that style. Looking back at my sketchbooks, it isn’t just drawing—it’s stuff layered, and found crap. I just collect stuff.”

DiNino works in several avenues of collage, from narrative work using pieces cut from midcentury textbooks to more abstract concepts using cut images of nude bodies, obscured to form almost painting-like images. “In a way,” he muses, “I think that I wish I just did one thing, because it would be so much easier. But I get bored.”

For this cover, he cut out the center of an old book to layer images in a three-dimensional form. In one corner alone, Minneapolis Lakers legend Elgin Baylor’s playing card (see pg. 10) is tucked under the inferno surrounding a Door County fish boil (pg. 64) and, over the top, is a rider taking part in the Dakota 38+2 Wokiksuye Ride to commemorate the the hangings of 38 Dakota and two others in Mankato in 1862. 

DiNino admits that making all of these images fit together into one cohesive piece was a challenge, as he usually works the other way around, randomly finding an image in his collection that sparks an idea for a larger piece. 

Normally with his other cut-book pieces, he’ll literally carve around illustrations and text already in the book, working page by page to cut out (and save) the pieces he doesn’t need. “I like to try to keep stuff where it is in the book,” he says. “I’m just excavating and revealing a collage that was already there in the book to begin with.”

Though he’s showing more of his work than he ever has in galleries across the country, DiNino is most excited to see the artform take hold in his own community. Just last year, he and a group of fellow collagers formed the Twin Cities Collage Collective with hopes of reaching out to anyone looking for a form of free expression. Or perhaps, just searching for a way to get out some pent-up frustrations.

“It’s very psychologically freeing for people,” he says, “like some kind of therapy, to just go cut up stuff. Not to interpret what you’re cutting up, but just to let yourself be creative.”

As for DiNino, the promise to curb his collecting habits is one that he’s taking in gentle stride. Like any realistic diet, he allows himself the occasional binge. “I was taking my son to the playground nearby on the weekend, and there was one of those big dumpsters two blocks from here, and it was just filled with books,” he says. “I filled up my car with, like, 300 books.”

Medium: Collage
Currently resides: Minneapolis, MN

The Growler Magazine’s Issue 69 cover art // Collage by Ben DiNino