LUMBERTON — The cars at Bucky Benson’s home are parked outside the garage, which instead contains his creativity.
Among the feast of color and composition that tremble from the walls, a life-sized cow stands in the middle of the room and serves as the source of the most intrigue.
“I would paint on anything,” Benson says, peaking up from the cow’s belly.
The 8-foot-wide, 5-foot-tall, 125-pound Fiberglass replica is Benson’s latest canvas. Small patterns form animals and faces and decorate the cow’s hide.
Benson is not only excited by the chance to paint on the 3-D creature, but also to be a part of what it represents.
The cow is one of many that have been provided to artists who will participate in the CowParade, an art exhibit that raises money by auctioning off the works to benefit organizations like the UNC Children’s hospital.
“It’s exciting,” Benson said. “I can’t wait for the kids to see this, I think they’ll really enjoy it.”
The CowParade, which took place in Durham on Saturday, is billed as “the world’s largest public art event.” It has been featured across the globe in more than 75 cities worldwide, including New York, Tokyo and London. Unknown and famous artists alike have participated in the exhibit, including designers like Vivienne Westwood and Kate Spade, as well as the rock band Radiohead. Through the combined efforts of artists across the globe, the organization has raised more than $30 million for charities worldwide.
CowParade’s mission is what got Benson involved.
“My friend John Luster called me and asked if I had ever heard of this CowParade,” said Benson, who met Luster at an art exhibit in Wilmington.
Luster, a glass artist, saw an advertisement for the event and was intrigued because it benefited children.
“We submitted five designs,” Benson said. “John put the package together and put it in.”
A few weeks later, Benson went to Durham to pick up the cow.
According to the website, the organization uses the animal because “it provides a form with wide surfaces and intriguing features. The pleasing character of the cow and the unique flexibility of the canvas motivate the artist to think out of the box and explore the bounds of creativity,” a word Benson uses often to describe his work.
A quick climb up a ladder reveals that the ears of the cow have been made to resemble turtles. Benson motions to its neck, where he has begun painting eyes because he says it “looks like a Japanese warrior.”
Bebe Bollinger, his childhood friend who grew up across the street in Lumberton, along with Joe Feeko and Dani Soethout, has been enlisted to help. She’s mesmerized by what she calls his “great imagination.”
“He could just go on and on and on,” she said, applying a coat of black paint. “He sees something in everything.”
Recently, the project, which has taken three weeks to complete, had Bollinger and Benson up for 17 hours straight.
“You just lose track of time,” Benson said.
In fact, he has been losing track of time in his garage-studio since 2004, when he left his job as the president of his family’s business, Benson Construction Co.
“One day my dad asked me, he said, ‘Son, if you could be doing anything in the world, what would you be doing?’ I said, ‘I’d be working on my art.’ He said, ‘Take off.’
“So I took off about 15 minutes after that,” Benson adds with a laugh.
His wife, Sara, says he’s been making art of anything he could get his hands on ever since — urgently sketching napkins to memorialize the idea.
“It’s just nice. Not everyone gets to devote all their time to what they love to do,” she said.
And just how long will Benson let the hours pass while wielding a paintbrush?
Bollinger laughs at her response: “Until the cows come home.”