Benny “Bee” Brankovic (b. 1974), is a legendary figure in the Danish / European underground scene. Originating from the graffiti culture in Silkeborg and Copenhagen, Benny was already making his mark on the city streets long before graffiti gained mainstream popularity. Having painted alongside some of the most iconic and influential European graffiti artists, he is considered to be, what we call, an O.G. of the Danish subculture scene.
In 1999, Benny, along with his two childhood friends Rasmus Jacobsen and Jesper Holm, founded the esteemed lifestyle brand Le Fix, driven by their passion for art, tattoos, and fashion. Today, nearly a quarter of a century since its inception, Le Fix is still highly relevant, and an established name within the culture, art, and fashion scene. Yet it has managed, as one of the few, to maintain the respect from the underground, while keeping their integrity. To name a few of their achievements they have done collaborations with Disney, created record covers, won international film awards, organized graffiti exhibitions, and played soccer with FCK.
Today, Benny spends much of his time on his passion for painting. Not so much with a can these days, even though he’s still active. Instead his main tool is a paintbrush.
Benny has emerged as a captivating figure within the realm of contemporary art. His oeuvre boasts a refreshingly raw aesthetic characterized by a morphic and explosively vibrant idiom that leaves viewers enthralled. With each artwork, Brankovic unveils a profound connection to the graffiti world, evoking an unmistakable and unparalleled aesthetic expression that defines his artistic practice.
Upon delving deeper into the mesmerizing creations of Brankovic, one cannot help but discern the artist’s profound roots in the graffiti milieu. His designs bear the undeniable influence of his skateboarding and hip-hop culture background, a testament to his multifaceted creative journey. Moreover, Brankovic’s thought-provoking installation art projects serve as powerful interventions, challenging the conventional boundaries of artistic expression.
Benny Brankovic’s artistic journey transcends traditional artistic realms, seamlessly blending elements of street art, design, and installation. With his magnetic presence and unyielding creativity, Brankovic propels the contemporary art scene forward, captivating audiences and leaving an indelible impression on both the physical and cultural landscapes he touches.
Hi Benny! It’s a pleasure to sit down with you! First question that I always ask. How does a regular day look like for you in Copenhagen?
My day typically starts quite similarly, by waking up a bit tired as I usually never sleep more than 6-7 hours a night. Then I walk my 2 dogs in a very slow tempo. I simply love this way of waking up and to have a small laugh of the honest dogs.
After that, my days are always varied, as I’m involved in numerous diverse projects, pulling me in different directions. I might be designing new collections, working on new paintings, installations, or even writing. So, it all depends on which project is closest to the deadline at any given time.
I’m thinking of splitting the interview up into 3 segments / chapters. Your early life. Le Fix. And your paintings. Alright. Let’s start at the beginning… Growing up, what kind of kid were you? What did you enjoy doing and how did you spend your time?
I was always very active and very curious. I started drawing at a very young age. I think my parents thought: please slow down, but I was always into something new.
Coming from a Serbian background. What has that meant to you, growing up in Denmark. And has it influenced the way you approach certain things?
In some ways it was a very different way of growing up. Back then, growing up in Denmark, and not being 100% Danish, was a bit more exotic than it is today. In other ways it was also easy with many Danish friends around me. But we always mixed both cultures in a very mellow way, which I adapted to.
When and how did you get introduced to the graffiti scene? And what was it about it that appealed to you?
Graffiti was something I started doing at the age of 12 – so we’re talking about something I have been doing since I was a kid. It was also my biggest addiction. For me, it began in 1986, when I started looking into this new movement of writing graffiti in Denmark/Europe, which was very inspired by New York, who pioneered the art-form that got us hooked. Which I still am today. And I have an idea that it will follow me forever.
What appealed to me about graffiti was the freedom to express exactly what I wanted without anyone dictating it. The rebellious nature of it truly captivated my attention.
It’s probably limited, what you can talk about here… But what are some of your fondest memories from that time? And what are some of the most important lessons you have learned, while being out on the streets?
I think that the graffiti culture got us together. Kind of like a new family of outlaw kids that had this creative universe for ourselves, while the society around us didn’t really understand what it was that we spent most of our time doing.
And of course most of us experienced getting caught by the police while trying to paint around the city. It taught us the art of navigating the night like unseen, invisible shadows, leaving behind a colorful fingerprint before disappearing into the darkness.
How about skating. Sometimes the skating and graffiti scene go hand in hand?
I never really got into the skate scene as an active user, but got hooked by the culture via the art and graphics, which turned into a visual direction – and my first understanding of how to make my artworks appear in some kind of universe as a product.
I’m curious. Who from the graffiti scene has ment the most to you? Is there anyone you would like to give a shoutout?
Definitely Sabe. He has always been a huge inspiration to me. He is both my mentor and one of my best friends for more than 36 years.
This I am super curious about. I know that you have a background as a tailor, as well as industrial design. And that you were actually the head-designer, for the iconic Danish skate brand ALIS. How did you get introduced to them? And what was that experience like?
Luckily, over time, I ended up doing a huge amount of skateboard graphics, while working as the head of design for both Street Machine and Alis, as you mentioned.
Alis was a very fun and free place for me to unfold all of my graffiti history background, and combine it with my design and production skills I got from the design school and working experience at J. Zartow. It was an integral part of my learning period, during which I collaborated on sample development with individuals from renowned high-end brands like Burberry, Paul Smith, and Marimekko. This experience instilled a great sense of confidence in me as I continued my path in the fashion industry, but still as the outlaw kid I always liked to be.
With these next two questions we will begin the segment, which is dedicated to Le Fix. So… When did you begin having an interest in fashion? And do you remember when you had your first Initial idea of starting a clothing brand?
Somehow I have never really been into fashion, which I understand might sound strange. But when we started Le Fix in 1999, it was meant to be an art group, where the idea was kind of: there is no idea, and there was no rules for what we where doing. It was about painting, creating installations, sewing rag dolls, and exploring various other media and ideas.
And by same randomness or even accident, we started painting original artworks on different garments, which were presented in homemade custom wood boxes for each piece of garment.
And while I was fooling around sewing a rag doll which ended up being “Kaj”, the character/logo we still use today – we met a Japanese clothing distributor in Copenhagen which invited us to come by their London office, to show some of our special one of a kind products we had been working on.
And they asked us if we would like to use their distribution company to sell our products in Japan, which turned our Le Fix project upside down, seeing that it was never started with the intention of being a brand.
Gotya. With those answers you kind of touched on some of the topics that we are gonna get to a little later in the interview… In the meantime I will try to stay on the timeline. So… At some point you start having conversations about starting a brand, with your two friends, Jesper Holm and Rasmus Bandholm Jakobsen. How did you guys first meet? And can you talk to me a little bit about what kind of conversations you had regarding Le Fix?
Jesper and Rasmus are my childhood friends. We know each other from the Graffiti scene, all the way back from 1987. We have always been doing different creative stuff together alongside graffiti.
After the meeting with the Japanese distributor in London, we decided to have a small meeting back home in Copenhagen, about what to do with this new offer and decided to make Le Fix into a brand with 2 collections a year.
I remember we talked about how it would normally take at least 3 years to form a brand business, but with Le Fix it would take at least 10 years.
The process of sourcing garment suppliers and factories can be very tedious, and a lot of people give up in the process. I can only imagine how it must have been back in 1999. How did you go about finding manufacturers? And what was that process like?
Back then we actually made every product by ourselves and that’s why it was possible for us to start without big bank loans, and instead create it in a very organic way.
Luckily I had worked with many different garment suppliers through my design and production jobs over the years, which made it easier for us when Le Fix grew too big in terms of home-made-production and instead into proper manufacturing production.
I know you mentioned this a little earlier, but maybe we can get a little more in depth about it here. What’s the story behind the name Le Fix? And How did the iconic “Kaj” logo come about?
It’s a bit of a long story, but I will try to tell it in a short version.
When we were teenagers Jesper worked after school for a very active old woman called Else Marie, who had a little shop called FIX, where she repaired broken garments for customers. Both Rasmus and I used to hang out there while Jesper was at work, and we were very inspired by the energy and the “no fear” attitude, she had for starting crazy projects, like building a piano in between 2 walls, because she didn’t know where to stash it.
And because this was so inspiring to us, we decided to use the name FIX, as a tribute to her and thought by adding LE in front of FIX, we could make the name sound more French and exclusive, but I’m not sure if it worked out that way haha.
Regarding Kaj – he came Alive one day I was fooling around with sewing some rag dolls and suddenly Kaj was born, and I named him after a guy I used to have fights with when I was a kid.
After the Japanese market fell in love with Kaj, we decided to use him as our logo, which is the 1 we still use today.
What was the inspiration for the garments?
It was always connected to our Art & Graffiti vision. In the way of never fearing mistakes, and instead embrace them as unique, with a human touch. And through that spirit, it was a very essential way of attacking the garment.
Ok, so now Le Fix is up and running, and is now a legit brand. What year are we in now? And can you tell me a little bit about that experience and period in your life?
In Japan, it became quite big, pretty fast, and we ended up in some of the best possible shops. And because of that, the brand also got picked up in London, Europe and of course Denmark. 2003 was when we knew we had created a brand that got a wider appeal than we had ever planned.
During this period, my life was a bit chaotic. I felt a bit strange, being treated like a rock star when staying in Tokyo, yet attempting to maintain a more relaxed demeanor when back home in Copenhagen.
When people here in Europe started showing interest in Le Fix as well, I started being a bit self-destructive about it all because I always had a big fear of having success. I can’t really explain why it was so hard for me.
That’s super interesting… I know it’s hard, but can you try and explain why you think you had a hard time adapting to being succesful?
I think I had a hard time adapting to, and allowing myself to be successful, because success can be overwhelming. I had to learn to manage expectations associated with success, while also balancing the need to stay happy and humble with my work.
The experience was overwhelming, and I found it challenging to strike a balance between acknowledging and celebrating my success while also staying focused on my future.
At some point you start expanding. Opening a second store, as well as two tattoo shops and a gallery. Can you walk me through that time in your life, and that experience as well?
We actually chose to stop our distribution in Japan after we sat down and had a meeting about what to do next with Le Fix. We decided to go in a different direction with Le Fix, and that’s how Le Fix Tattoo started, when Rasmus opened a shop with Franz Jäeger in guldbergsgade and called it Le Fix Tattoo.
Meanwhile Jesper and I went into making art as our main focus. I was painting canvases and Jesper made custom frames for all the artworks. We also made a handful of big art installations and had several exhibitions under the name Le Fix.
I was doing some Le Fix clothing designs more like a side project and sold them in a handful of shops like Wood Wood and Norse Projects.
And when I saw the interest kept being there for the Le Fix Clothing Brand, I partnered up with Valdemar Kludt and Peter Johansen, whom I had known in the industry for a long time. They started as agents of the brand and later we got the idea of opening a multi-brand store, and ended up calling it Le Fix+. The Idea was to play with the name Le Fix plus other brands.
It became more structured and organized because we grew very fast and got about 20 employees in no time, which made us have responsibility for other people than ourselves.
For me, it was a new reflection of the success I feared. But I think because there were so many people involved now, it mattered to other people than just me, which probably kept the focus intact.
You also touched on this earlier. But can you elaborate a little bit. What was going through your mind when stores from other countries were ordering your brand?
I never really spent much time thinking about it because everything happened so fast and I had to focus more on design, production and campaigns. It was no longer just an art clothing project but a proper clothing company.
With that in mind. Do you remember what the turning point was? When did you start getting recognition from people outside of Denmark? And was it a specific collection?
It’s a bit hard to say, as it felt like we got recognition from outside of Denmark, before actually being recognised in Denmark. But when we started having a business in America, it kind of felt like we were giving back to the country we grew up looking up to. especially in terms of graffiti, music, and food. This essentially made us the first generation of brand kids. Suddenly, we were giving back our own version of what had been passed on to us.
Can you tell me about your Japanese adventure?
Japan has been my greatest inspiration ever since I laid eyes on that beautiful country.
It was a very fun endeavor, bringing our chaotic lifestyle developed over the years in the Danish underground scene and seamlessly blending it with the highly traditional yet super modern and well-organized Japanese culture. It was fun to see how much sense this clash of two cultures actually made.
And can you also tell me a little bit about what happened when you called your Japanese distributor and asked if you could take a break?
He said yes for sure. And I thought everything was cool.
And about 1 year later, when I was ready to pick up the distribution again and called him back, he said: “who are you?“. I told him: “It’s me Benny, from Le Fix“. He responded by saying: “In Japan you don’t take breaks, so sorry I can’t help you, we got you into the best shops and magazines in Japan and then you take a break“.
Haha, It was a good lesson to learn. Understanding that a yes in Japan is not necessarily a yes. In this case it ment how stupid it is to take a break when everything is lined up for you.
You also talked a little bit about this earlier, but can you please elaborate on this as well.. After having been sold in 140 stores worldwide, including some huge retailers, you decided that you only wanted the brand to be sold, in your own stores. What was the reason for that?
It became very important for me to have a look in the mirror and have a sense of why we started doing all of this in the beginning of our journey. I decided to go back to our original platform, without any recipes or templates from the large players on the market – and instead go back to the roots of why we started this project called Le Fix.
Looking back at almost 25 years of Le Fix history. What has been some of your happiest moments? But also, some of the biggest obstacles?
Having been able to do exactly what feels right and to work on so many different creative projects, with so many inspiring people over the years has been amazing.
Obstacles along the way have mostly been about the culture from which I come from. It was a challenge to gain recognition and be taken seriously by the established design elite, but eventually, it did happen.
Do you have any regrets?
I don’t really think about regrets. There must probably be way so many that I stopped caring about it – haha
You also talked a little bit about this earlier Benny, but could you also elaborate on it… Today, you own and run Le Fix clothing, with Valdemar Kludt. Can you tell me a little bit about how you guys met? And are Jesper and Rasmus still a part of the brand?
Yes Today it’s only Valdemar and I running the Le Fix Clothing brand. Rasmus has his own tattoo studio called Le Fix Magic tattoo. And Le Fix Tattoo in Guldbergsgade is an independent shop, where Gitte is in charge. Jesper and I still make art-Installation-works together.
How did you end up being a retailer of so many dope brands, such as: C.P. Company, Barbour, Stone Island, Patagonia etc…
We created a Le Fix retail shop, which many international brands fell in love with, along with our culture around it, and because of that, many great brands wants to be part of it.
What does the future look like for Le Fix? Let’s start with a 20 year prediction.
Yes, that’s a question I would like to know to haha. I really think that keeping a brand going for so many years as we have, needs a look in the mirror every now and then, to kind of feel what the next move is to stay relevant, and not to get stuck in a comfort zone for too long. So I hope that the spirit will keep making Le Fix relevant for new generations to be part of.
I know that you’ve always tried to separate design and art from one another. But that must be challenging. My question is… Do the lines between design and art, ever get blurred? And if so. How do you deal with that challenge?
Yes, that’s a very good question. For many years I have been very focused on not mixing the two very different worlds together. I always think of design as an aesthetic thing of making things look good, while my art is an expression of emotions from within, not always striving for a beautiful outcome. This fundamental distinction is where my feelings reside, and it has been the significant gap between the two worlds that I’ve been actively involved in for over 30 years, engaging in both disciplines.
But what has definitely happened over the years, is a notable transformation has occurred, bridging the once significant gap between these two worlds. An invisible line has brought them closer, and I see this shift as an outside influence, which in my opinion is being forced by the design side. I refer to this stage as the “grey zone,” which is actually a very popular zone to be in. Still… I prefer not being there, and instead work with them separately, even though it’s out og my control how people view it. How they see it.
Ok Benny. This is the beginning of the segment dedicated to your paintings. I think it would be cool if we started from the beginning. So when did you start practicing the more traditional art of painting, with a brush on a canvas, instead of a can on a wall? And what was that transition like?
I started painting with brushes on canvas just after I started painting Graffiti. It was a very natural transition. The fun part is, that I never wanted to blend these two art-forms together. Just like Design and Art… This Interview is starting to tell me a recurring pattern that seems to be in everything I do – haha
With that in mind. How did you get introduced to brushes? And what made you prefer them over cans?
From a very early age I looked at the big fine-art artists and rented books about them at the library because I was so curious about art and how to create it.
But I never chose one thing over the other. I use, and will hopefully always use both brushes and cans. I couldn’t imagine life without any of them.
Horses and vases, are recurring motifs in your paintings. Can you tell me about that? What do they represent? What’s the story behind them?
I always end up in different universes by kind of accident. The Horses came from me, always being told that horses are some of the most difficult animals to draw/paint, and I therefore thought, let me create my own versions and control them as I want them to look like – And I always try to shape stuff into an abstract form. Which is also kind of the same story with my vases. I have always seen different artists taking this classic object and turning it into their very own style, and I’m sure I picked that up subconsciously.
I usually say that my works are made how I imagine potato chip factories develop new strange flavors to their products. They throw random spices in there and then try to figure out which taste they just made: Hmmm this taste like Cinnamon and Sugar Potatoes chips – haha
Same thing goes for the human characters. Who are they?
I started making the characters in the same deformed and free way as my graffiti letters have been made over many years. Normally I don’t really go into describing it because it might sound a bit too abstract.
Lately I have tried to blend in the characters to be part of both the horses and the background merged in an abstract way.
Can you walk me through your creative process. From beginning, to end result?
I usually sketch some loose drawings to figure out the shapes as the most essential, and then I sketch the most important lines on the canvas or paper. I’m currently painting with 2 very different techniques. I switch between oil pastels or enamel paint. With oil pastels I have to respect which color goes first and how I paint it, that is a very controlled way of painting, which is new for me but also makes it very interesting to me.
The enamel paintings are very different. I use a very old technique I made more than 15 years ago. I drip the paint from a screwdriver and on to the canvas. It’s inspired by Jackson Pollock, but twisted into figurative. This technique is a bit harder to get control of, so it ends up being like a fight between me and the uncontrolled power.
Can you also tell me about your approach to color? And use of symbolism?
Colors have always been my favorite thing. It’s a very exciting process, with a mix between know-how and accident, which can be the most beautiful symphony. I like very strong contrasting colors, which definitely comes from my graffiti background.
I work with many religious elements of color, but not as reference to any specific religion – more in the way of believing in something that feels right.
What do you hope that we, the observers take with us, after viewing some of your paintings?
I like having the observer taking control of their feelings more than I like to force it. I see it as sending out my thoughts and feelings. How it gets digested and reflected is less important to me, as long as I know I have been honest about it.
How do you deal with creative blocks?
Oh it’s never funny when looking into your sketches and thinking, why? That’s where I usually take a small break and dig into other stuff like installations or design, just to get my brain restarted and inspired from other angles.
What’s your general take on the art scene?
I try to always be an outsider. No matter which scene I’m entering. I never involve myself too deeply in either fashion or art societies. I like tapping in and saying hi, and then tap out and go home to my group of loved ones from many different levels of life. That includes status and success.
This is where I feel most comfortable and get recharged for new things and adventures.
Any future projects you would like to mention?
I have some big international things that I’m working on with my dear art and design colleague, Signe Emma. Unfortunately they’re still secret, but without a doubt the biggest I’ve been involved in. You can call it a cliffhanger.
Ok Benny. It’s been a long one, and I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first is. What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?
Black Cat, White Cat
I really like it when a movie made with an honest budget with the best story and acting wins over high budgets just because it’s much better.
The second is. What song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now?
I listen a lot to Nick Cave at the moment, Where the Wild Roses grow.