Friday, May 1, 2015

Exhibition Review: TRUDY BENSON "Shapes Of Things" LISA COOLEY

Trudy Benson, Re: Composition, 2014
Acrylic and oil on canvas, 77 x 80 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Lisa Cooley, New York.

Exhibition review

April 4 - May 3, 2015
New York

Trudy Benson’s “Shapes of Things” promises to be one of this year’s ten best shows of new paintings.  The exhibition of nine works on canvas, six medium-to-large (the largest is 76 by 108 inches) and three small, at Lisa Cooley gallery, shows Benson moving in a new direction with profundity and skill.

Benson’s earlier canvases featured an accumulation of wide, obstructive planes, often with figural geometric objects anchoring the centers. These works dealt in super-saturated color, borrowing garish 1980s graphic motifs, specifically early MacPaint software effects.

The new paintings are more airy, open, and provocatively incomplete. Painted elements build up into layers of screens. The initial impression is of black and white paintings with one color added. Upon further inspection other colors may appear in scattered pockets.

Because of the openness of Benson’s intersecting systems, the buff color of the raw canvas becomes an important part of the palette. As one title reveals, the works are “Tan Grams”, a reference both to the color and to the tangram, a Chinese puzzle whose flat, moveable geometric pieces are evoked by Benson’s forms. Beyond the black, white, and tan, Benson’s colors are mostly intense: the unnatural green in “Thoth” could come from an overeager environmental group’s logo. The use of primary colors and graphic motifs give “Re: Composition” a strong affinity with Mondrian or MirĂ³.

The airbrushed doodles of the initial, background layer of the paintings, in black or sienna, are another new element. These spindly jottings, sometimes looking like single-cell organisms or chain mail, are blurred at their edges, almost bleeding into the canvas. While reminiscent of Michael Williams’ graphomanic airbrushing, Benson’s underlayer marks are urgent and insistent, as though they have some news to impart. The airbrushed passages feel like the riskiest part of the works because they are so nakedly present. 

Over these, with plenty of space peeking through, are larger stenciled shapes, parts of which are masked off and rolled over. Linear slabs of paint are laid on so thickly that furry peaks stand up in them like frosting. Over the rolled passages, piped lines are extruded directly from the paint tube, into drawings that form frameworks or diagrammatic figures. In “Thoth” the lines create a cartoon beast who may be the Egyptian god of writing, a man with the head of an ibis.

Benson’s complex imagery feels sincere, as if there is a real need for these paintings to exist. The new work may demonstrate a greater sense of art historical consciousness, yet Benson’s paintings refuse to take themselves too seriously. In “Banana Phone,” a flat, white shape is banana-like, and airbrushed coils could be the phone cord. “New Shapes”, with its widely looping black and white paint, salmon slabs that look like pool noodles, and a two-tone setting sun, humorously recalls the graphics of the popular 1980s television show, “Miami Vice.”

New Yorkers are lucky to have Trudy Benson working and showing in our midst.

--Jeff Frederick

Trudy Benson, New Shapes, 2015
acrylic, enamel, and oil on canvas, 80 x 77 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Lisa Cooley, New York

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