Karl Benjamin makes art by the rules, his rules, but he can’t quite account for the intuitive insight that creeps into his paintings. Or for the magical relationships that are sparked by exactly the right colors and shapes.
So many visual wonders and contemplative delights have “come up” in Benjamin’s studio in Claremont, California, that the evolution of his work can be baffling. And he has bent the rules so many ways that any attempt to analyze his art in terms of a linear progression is destined to fail. But the artist, who is essentially self-taught, is acutely aware that his life in art began with two emphatically stated rules: “Fill up the space with pretty colors and don’t mess around."
Benjamin’s artistic voice was heard and seen as never before in 1959 and 1960, when “Four Abstract Classicists” brought international fame to him and fellow painters Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley and John McLaughlin. The exhibition opened on the West Coast, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum, and traveled to London and Belfast under a different title, “West Coast Hard Edge.” The exhibition established their reputations as innovators whose paintings differed sharply from works in the predominant gestural style of the East Coast and the figurative tradition of Southern California.
From the 1960s through the mid 1990s, Benjamin produced a large body of joyous, hard-edge abstractions often based on orderly arrangements and sometimes laid out on grids. But, as the artist says, they were born of intuition and fascination with color relationships. If all of his mature work were shuffled it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct the chronological sequence.