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Uplifting Communities through the World of Art

  • Marsha James

Drawing people has always infatuated Ben Hamburger. It’s something about people’s relationships to one another and their environments that Ben enjoys to interpret by putting his paintbrush on a canvas.

Ben Hamburger is not just a painter. He is a community artist, a muralist, and an educator as well. His love of art came from his grandmother.

Ben Hamburger
Ben Hamburger

“My grandmother loved collecting Art. Not just traditional fine art, but stuff she would find off the side of the street,” he says. “She would see it as art then bring it home to hang on the wall.”

Born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, Ben says there was nothing more important to him than painting. Art was always a staple for Ben during his years in secondary school - it opened a door of expression for him.

Attending Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, Ben really pushed his painting forward. In 2008, he did a semester in Perugia, Italy where he studied art history and oil painting.

Graduating in 2010 with a degree in visual arts, he moved to Asia where he continued painting and teaching in diverse settings in Bangkok, Thailand and Gujarat, India.

Hamburger’s experiences abroad influence his artwork and teaching methodology.

Ben Hamburger
Ben Hamburger

“Art became this way for me to connect with people. It showed me how I can breach cultural and language barriers. It was a way to engage with other people and other cultures,” he says.

Returning to the United States, Ben Hamburger spent time in New Orleans and later, Baltimore, Maryland where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in the Community Arts program at Maryland Institute College of Art. Ben has facilitated a community art projects for refugees as well as assisted with a community mural, led by residents of the community organization, C.A.R.E. – (Cleaning Active, Restoring Efforts)

Throughout his time in Baltimore, Ben watched as abandoned houses and buildings were being demolished and replaced with high-rise buildings.

One day while talking with residents of East Baltimore, he decided to capture their portraits on fragments of formstone debris from torn-down buildings. That project, became known as, “Facing Change: Portraits and Narratives of the Shifting Cultural Landscape in East Baltimore.” Ben did the project as his thesis work for his master's program.

“It started with me doing landscape paintings outside as a way for me to interact with people and get these stories,” he said. “Over time, the stories of gentrification, redevelopment and the shifting priorities of the community became the most important thing,” Hamburger says.

'Facing Change' Project
'Facing Change' Project

Each piece of formstone displays a portrait of someone who lives or works in the community. Ben Hamburger even made one of himself. But he says that understanding the community was an important part of the process of making ‘Facing Change.’

“I realized if this artwork is about community development and housing it had to be more directed by the people that have been impacted by these issues for a long time or the people that are continuing to be impacted by these issues. So I was forced to reflect on what I was doing and why I was doing it rather than me going out and choosing locations to paint, it started with me speaking with people.”

Hamburger has a sure hand with paint. His portraits are diverse and he uses broad brushstrokes and layers to create textural elements and patterns. “Live your life like a work of art,” his grandmother told him. Community artist Ben Hamburger is doing just that.

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