Photography by Ye Rin Mok
Benjamin Critton is a designer, type designer, art director, friend, and close collaborator. He is responsible for a large majority of Building Block's branded domain, and at any given time is hard at work on a number of varying pursuits that vacillate between object, image, commercial commodity, and art. Among his diverse pursuits, Benjamin is one-half of Norma, a new studio for objects + interiors that he shares with his partner Heidi. The two recently adopted their first dog, Wiley, who hangs out with us at Benjamin's Echo Park studio while we talk about personal and professional possibilities.
What about your life now would be most unexpected to your younger self?
Younger self would be surprised—taken aback, almost—that older self lives in Los Angeles … that older self lives anywhere other than New England, really. Saying ‘Los Angeles’, specifically, would almost do something like scare the little guy.
Are there any objects or pieces of clothing which you've owned for a majority of your life? If so, describe its / their significance to you.
I have a hinged tritypch painting by my half-sister’s grandmother that I found in my dad’s garage as a young person, riskily asked after, and was generously given; it was the first object or artwork that I can recall feeling a need to exist around or in-relation-to. Looking back, it’s also kind of a prescient meeting of surface (the painting, a graphic abstraction of two stars or suns) and structure (the hinge mechanism, allowing the piece to function like a small folding screen).
What is a profession / job other than your current situation that you've always dreamed of having.
I would really very much like to make a movie—just magically conjure one into being, feature-length and fully-rendered and well-wrought. I would love to feel the daily need to write in the same way I feel the daily need to make some sort of visual form. I’d love to build a building. I may still recklessly pursue one or all of these things in some form or another.
Name a book you often return to.
Canon is Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture Without Architects, which is one of these great books with a title that tells you exactly what it’s about. I return to Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa’s Super Normal with regularity. I will consistently be given an indescribably complex and nuanced sense of genuine, melancholic nostalgia when re-reading The Preppy Handbook.
What brought you to the current city in which you reside?
Several good, trustworthy friends were cheerleaders of and for Los Angeles before I ever considered it a destination. Their enthusiasm for the place was compelling because each came from markedly different cultural, geographic, and professional backgrounds, none of which seemed to dovetail with my understanding of the city. After meeting my partner of several years and discovering she grew up in the San Fernando Valley and was at some point hoping to return, the gravity of the city became tangible.
What are your personal ‘rules’, what are your professional ‘rules’?
This is a very good question. The rules are the same, or at least very similar, across Personal and Professional; the two have fused irreparably, for better or worse, as they often do in the context of a 1-person studio practice. Rules are: make a bunch of work, knowing full-well that not all of it will be good; pursue nodes of research or interraction to their logical end-points (if an end-point exists; if not, continue pursuit); collude with people who will provide objectivity and lateral (or semi-lateral) enlightenment.
What do you miss?
I miss the Autumn. Like, crispy Autumn: hued foliage; apples-from-trees; bad cardigans.
What's your favorite thing about being your age right now?
I’ve a tremendous amount of agency and latitude in my day-to-day, which is a great privilege. At 35, it occurs to me, a person is neither Young or Old, which I enjoy; this must last just three or four years, I reckon, maybe 34–37. The neither-here-nor-there milestone is noteworthy because it prompts a tangible indifference, and ultimately balance: I care precisely for the things I care about, and I do not care for the things I don’t care about; there is very little surplus. This all prompts a sort of boring personal equilibrium, which is a real luxury.