Joel Benjamin and Dean Khalil: WE DID OUR BEST

14th June 2017
12th July 2017

Free entry


Norwich Arts Centre

Wednesday 14 June – Wednesday 12 July
Monday – Friday 1pm – 5pm and Saturdays 10am – 6pm



Opening Night Wednesday 14 June 5pm – 7pm
Catering kindly provided by NORSE


Joel Benjamin and Dean Khalil: WE DID OUR BEST


WE DID OUR BEST brings together two Norwich based artists with a focus on contemporary portraiture and figurative work. Drawing influence from 20th Century British painters like Lucian Freud, David Hockney and also Jenny Saville,  Joel and Dean have a shared interest in the lived out process of capturing a faithful likeness in Oils on Canvas. WE DID OUR BEST collects work from the last year depicting the artists friends, acquaintances and people of Norwich.
Joel Benjamin has worked as a professional illustrator since 2007, creating editorial, portrait and gig poster illustrations. In recent years he has turned his hand to oil painting in an attempt to escape digital processes and modern short cuts.
Dean Khalil is a Norwich based painter. He studied fine art at NUA, graduating in 2008 and now focuses his work on portraiture and figurative painting in Oils.


Joel Benjamin website


Dean Khalil website



 Meet The Artists



Hi Joel and Dean, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves, who you are, what you do?

Joel – I’ve been an illustrator for 10 years now, a freelance illustrator, working for various clients, stuff for websites, blogs and I’ve recently got in to making gig posters and I’m getting a lot of work in the music realm actually. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve turned my hand to painting and this show will be a culmination of that really.

Dean – I’m a builder by day and a painter…by night (laughter), by the weekend. I went to art school here in Norwich , I think I graduated 7 years ago, I did fine art painting but didn’t really paint for the majority of the time I was there or for about 4 years after. Then I started painting, I lived in Australia for a year and had a lot free time so I started painting again. The family that we lived with, I painted their kids and then kept on painting peoples faces but not really wanting to do anything with them. But then last year I started showing my work.

Great, so how did you two meet?

D – How did we meet? I think I’ve known of Joel for ages.

J – Yeah we’ve both known about each other, we’re both skateboarders, although me not very much at the moment. I first knew of Dean when he used to do Forty Ounce, he used to do a T-Shirt company.

D- I knew of Joel through his graphics for Milk Skateboards.

J- And I think it’s through Moosey Art Gallery, we’ve both been in shows there in the last few years.

D- Yeah the Alan Partridge show was the first thing I’d shown any work in since art school and we both had a piece in that.

How did this collaboration come together?

D- I like Joel’s paintings haha

J- And I like Dean’s!

D- I don’t know how big the Norwich Arts scene is and I kind of liked Joel’s paintings, and no one else haha.

J- I’ve wanted to do a show for a long time but I actually have a lot of nerves around exhibiting work and I really wanted to show my paintings. Then the opportunity arose when you (NAC) put out the applications to show here. My first thought was ‘Ah! I want to do this! but I can’t do this alone’. Then remembered that I’d already talked to Dean about doing something together.

D- Yeah it sort of halves the panic when there’s two of you and there’s half the space to fill, and I think our paintings are pretty similar.

J- We’ve got similar tastes definitely

Is showcasing your work something you’re hoping to get out of this; having more people seeing your work?

D- Yeah I suppose so, and it’s been the first time I’ve really been able to paint exactly what I wanted to paint for a certain purpose as oppose to just painting whatever is around. So it’s been a nice learning experience. And obviously to sell all my paintings would be good haha.

J -Yeah yeah, to become rich and famous haha.

Okay so you’ve both chosen to specialise in portraiture, what is is about that particular art form that inspires you?

J – Ummm, well we’re both big into, big fans of Lucian Freud, a renowned portrait and figurative painter and I agree with him when he says that the human subject is the best subject matter, the most fascinating.

D – Every face is different has it’s own qualities and characteristics. You know some have really good aspects to paint and some have really bad aspects (laughter) but they’re all different challenges and very easy to do because you can just take a photo of someone, you can get so many people, and just paint them at home.

J – Yeah as two sort of emerging artists who don’t so it full time, just being able to grab a photo of someone, a friend or even for me something from social media is a lot easier.

D – And you start analysing peoples faces when you meet them and think ‘I’d like to paint you’.

Okay, would you rather paint from a photo or would you prefer to do it from a model.

J – Oh it’d be great to do it from a live model, I just errr??….

D – It’s a lot of pressure

J – It’s a lot of pressure yeah.

Have you done that before?

D – I’ve done live painting but only through art school and things like that, but otherwise I like to take my time.

J – I’ve only done that at life drawing classes but never had a private sitter.

D – I’ve done live painting where I was painting a photographer who was shooting me and would then take a picture of the painting, so it was very meta haha. But as soon as he was gone I threw it in the bin and painted it again!

J – it would be great if you had a sitter for a set amount of time, we did talk about doing that so maybe it will be something to do in the future.

So, you’ve both painted some big characters in Norwich which is kind your focus for this show, who has been your favourite to capture in Oils and why?

D – Mmmm, I painted my friend Jasper who I’ve known since we where like 10, and I’ve painted him before, he’s got quite a good face. I see him all the time so he’s quite enjoyable to paint because I already know his face really well. I don’t know if he’s got the most characterful face, Jasper’s quite characterful but it came out really easily, it all worked. Those are the ones who are most enjoyable to paint.

J – For me it’s been ummm this guy Trev. He comes into the shop I work at everyday just to chat before he goes off to get his free coffee somewhere else. He just does the rounds everyday and he’s a lovely character and he’s got a great face. He’s a bit of an older chap so he has a lot more interesting topography on his face. He had a lot of great stuff to work with and umm needless to say he didn’t seem too impressed with it when I showed him hahaha. He likes it but his first impressions where like ‘Nah thats not me’.

Will he be at the show?

J – Yeah, so we can all compare him to the picture haha

D – It’s always the worst when you paint someone and then you show them it and they’re kind of like ‘ohh…yeh’.

J – Especially girlfriends right?

D – Yeah yeah haha My girlfriend is the worst critic so i don’t paint her anymore (laughter).

So do you have a favourite feature that you like to paint the most?

D – Well eyes are good, they’re sort of, there’s a lot going on. I quite like the chin, between the lower lip and the chin. And hands, I hate painting them  but they look good, but they’re the most annoying thing get right.

J – I don’t think I have a favourite feature, my favourite bit of painting a person is like mapping out the structure, almost like the underpainting. I’m really interested in like the design of people, how they all slot together.

D – Yeah you do a full base layer, I can’t do anything like that.

So you have different techniques?

D –  Maybe its from you graphic art background that you make a painting that way.

J – Yeah I just have to have a systematic way of doing it otherwise I’m a bit overwhelmed by the task at hand. So if I know how to put stuff down step by step…

Yeah, in components. And you Dean, just go straight in?

D – Yeah I just start and try to fill in as fast as possible. I’ll do like a rough drawing and then its straight to paint. I don’t like the first starting bits and just try to get going as soon as possible.

So you both have quite different portraiture styles, I think. What do you think your individual influences are?

J – Well, err as an illustrator I come from a very kind of graphic angle and I have my old high school art tutor coming to the show and she saw some portraits I’d done years ago and she said ‘I’ve never seen such, like, a portrait made so graphic’. It was very bold and I think…..I’ve forgotten the question?! Oh our influences on our styles yeah.

D – It’s more from different artists that I like.

J – We both like Hockney and Freud.

D – Yeah I really like Hockney and quite a few artists and sometimes I’ll see something on Instagram and I think ‘I want to do something the way they’re done it’. Then I’ll try and it wont work haha

J – It’s a horrible thing Instagram these days, you see so many influences you get overwhelmed.

D – It is kind of overwhelming, I know a lot of artists who don’t go to exhibitions or shows, they don’t look at other artists and just focus on their own thing so they can just evolve themselves instead of getting influenced by everything else.

I think it’s hard not to

D – Yeah especially now

But, Dean you work on very large canvases, what do you like best about working on such a large scale?

D – Ummm I kind of have a size of face that I’ve figured out I can paint so if I want to paint a body, I suppose, if it’s bigger then I can keep that size of face. When I has at Art school one of my art teachers, I was painting a landscape, and he just said do it massive and everyone liked that it was really big, an impact piece. You can fit more on and be a bit looser

Would you say that’s your style then, big, bold?

D – Err Yeah. I prefer to do bigger canvasses than smaller ones definitely. I can only do them so big so I can fit them in my studio at home. They’re the exact size to get up my stairs and into my room. But I’m building my house at the minute and I’m building a large studio so I can do even bigger.

I was going to just get onto that actually, I was going to ask about your studios, do you have a studio that you rent or a room in your house?

D – I cant wait to build a big studio, it will be in my garden. Right now I’m in what was an office but now its full of my paintings and paint……paint everywhere.

J – I’ve just got a spare room, I used to share it with my girlfriend doing her music in there and since she’s been doing a bit better commercially she’s moved into the living room and left me all of the spare room. And that probably coincides with me getting an easel and standing up and painting properly. I was huddled over a desk in the corner before haha.

Would you look at renting a space or studio?

J – I can’t foresee myself affording one really, there’s so many people who’ve got studios spaces. I hate the idea of being really cold in the winter.

D – I like to paint when I want to and if its at home you can just go and do some painting as opposed to braving the cold and going to the studio. Maybe if you’re doing more installation stuff where you have to make things in a studio it would be more suitable. I’m quite happy at home at the moment.

So do you have any future projects in the pipeline or maybe where would you like to see your work heading?

J – Yeah, well haha. I’m still very much focused on this show so far. Because its my first go at exhibiting paintings umm… I’m very much waiting for the feedback to see how I feel from there. It’s an exploration for me at the moment. I don’t know quite well where you can go as an artist, I know how to be an illustrator and how to get work and thrive doing that, but as a painter I have no idea so I’m waiting for the world to tell me what to do in a way.

D – Im kind of in the same boat I think, be nice to keep getting reasons to paint I suppose. I mean, I’ll paint regardless but depending on how this goes, if this goes really well then I might try and do exhibitions more if it doesn’t then it might be another 6 years before I let anyone see anything (laughter).

J – I think for both of us, we’ll always have that itch to do art its just a matter of which form it takes next. I’ve done so many faces now I would like to dabble in landscape definitely.

What do you like to do when you’re not creating, painting, illustrating?

D – Err what else do I do? I go skateboarding, that’s really it, my life is work and then I get a few days that I can paint and a few evenings when I go skating, that’s generally it (laughter).

J – I just err play with my cats and err?

Support your girlfriend! Watch her playing gigs at NAC haha *

J – yeah I’ve been following her around the country last week. Yeah, umm it’s a big part of my life, the creative side and its hard to cut it off sometimes.

D – I find that painting is more of, sort of my leisure time. This how it seems to be. I really look forward to the day when I can just paint all day…..

J – And then have leisure time haha

D -Yeah

So Norwich has quite a big creative scene locally, is there anyone you like and would recommend?

D – I like Joel

J – Haha………I like Dean haha. I don’t know whats coming up, I haven’t been on the radar.

D – I feel like I’m out of the scene, I’m doing this to get into the scene.

J – I really like David Drake, the photographer, he’s got a show after ours on the next day. And umm another photographer Im a big fan of is my friend Jo Millington.

D – I don’t know many other painters, I like Ania Hobson, she’s from Suffolk however, she’s amazing.

J – Im always happy to see what Alice Lee and John Scarratt are up to, they’ve been here before us, good shows and lovely people.

Okay thanks guys, those are my questions. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

J – We hope you like our show, we did our best.



Joel’s girlfriend Maria is one half of Sink Ya Teeth. They’re brilliant, go check them out here

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