Through quilts, we can tell stories. Stories that are passed down through generations, often revealing secrets, traditions, and messages to family and succeeding generations, and as works of art or utility, they serve as functional and decorative objects. So yes, quilts tell tales, whether figuratively, mythologically, or simply as family heirlooms. Around the world, quilting carries unique meaning and cultural significance, but universally, quilts chronicle history. 

The cryptology of quilting and its embedded languages can even document heavy metal music, an outsider culture full of its own codes, ethics and lexicon. Now San Francisco-based artist Ben Venom, an artist with his own unique take on the quilt as artform, has just opened a new show, All This Mayhem, at the Midland Arts Centre in Birmingham, England, the birthplace of the godfathers of heavy metal, Black Sabbath, in what seems to be a perfect marriage. Shown in conjunction with Black Sabbath – 50 Years at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, this special show by Venom contextualizes how heavy metal culture permeates a particular folklore. Venom has long created stories about fringe and outsider society in his quilts, placing countercultures into a historical art form, transfiguring notions of folk tales. 

BenVenom 20

Venom's work in All This Mayhem, ranging from his quilts to custom-designed jackets, jerseys and patches, demonstrates how heavy metal culture has been mythologized in our world, where, as Venom told us in his Radio Juxtapoz podcast episode above, fringe cultures can communicate with each other. Reclaimed fabrics and emblems are repurposed in symbolic gesture, to effectively humanize what is widely considered dark, anti-authoritarian expression. As the MAC notes, "At the heart of Venom’s work is his use of re-purposed materials to create textile-based pieces, contrasting the often menacing and iconic counterculture components of gangs, punk/metal music, and the occult with the comforts of domesticity.

BenVenom 11

As we continue searching for a wider narrative of modern times, with new myths being created in hyperspeed, it is refreshingly informative to witness Venom approaching his craft with ancient, labor-intensive methods. That heavy metal culture is being carefully patchworked to form a special meaning that can be passed down to newer generations. Just like the music. Just like 50 years of Black Sabbath. A secret collective history, just the way the fringes of culture like it. 

Ben Venom: All This Mayhem in on view through September 8, 2019 at Midland Arts Centre, Birmingham, England