Spanierman Gallery, LLC, is pleased to announce the opening on Thursday, June 10, 2010 of Works on Paper by Gershon Benjamin (1899-1985), an exhibition and sale including over sixty works created over the course of a long career by an artist who held to an approach of expressive simplicity.
As a young artist, Benjamin achieved success in Montreal, where his family had immigrated from Romania when he was two. However, most of his career unfolded after he moved in 1923 to New York City. There he found a job working nights in the art department of the New York Sun, which he would maintain for twenty-five years. Through Wallace Putnam, a colleague at the Sun, Benjamin became acquainted with Milton Avery. The immediate kinship felt by the two led to a true friendship that they sustained until Avery’s death in 1965. At the time they met, both Benjamin and Avery were moving away from the classical-academic tradition, in which both had been trained, and were exploring a range of modernist styles, especially those of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
In the 1930s Benjamin, along with Avery and a circle of artist-friends including Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, resisted the pressure to conform to the nationalism of American Regionalism. The close-knit group held to the belief that art, as a universal language, should convey feeling rather than doctrine. Similar to Avery in attitude, Benjamin became a proponent of brevity, the idea of using line, form, and color as succinctly as possible to eliminate inessentials and capture the salient aspects of a subject.
Responding to the life around him through his art, Benjamin worked whenever and wherever he could. This process is especially apparent in his works on paper that he could produce on the spot. He rendered nocturnal scenes of the city on his way to and from his job at the Sun. In his portraits, he created casual and personal characterizations, such as a wistful portrayal of his wife Zelda, executed before they were married, and images of Milton and Sally Avery, including one that expresses the couple’s harmonious union. In still lifes he matched subject and style, as may be seen in Weed Berries (1980), in which his spare arrangement suits his stark bouquet. In landscapes such as in Country Road #6, he used a stylized treatment, rendering tree trunks as dark lines and foliage as round green masses, so as to convey the civilized essence of such rural landscapes. Created in oil on paper, this image probably depicts the countryside near Benjamin’s summer home in Free Acres, New Jersey, a rustic community of artists, writers and musicians situated in the foothills of the Watchung Mountains. Among the works are also views in and near Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Benjamin vacationed a number of times, frequently in the company of Avery and other artist-friends. As a group, Benjamin’s landscapes and still lifes exemplify the “nuanced studies,” in which, as a critic wrote in 1934, “you will encounter the evasive, evocative personality of the true searcher after the emotional ‘mot juste.’”
Gershon Benjamin, Across the Hudson, 1968
In deriving intrinsic satisfaction from his art, Benjamin never sought to make a living from it or to compete for prominence with other artists. He thus remained little known until the gallery’s exhibition of his work in the spring of 2008 (Gershon Benjamin: His Art over Seven Decades), which was followed by a show featuring his Gloucester imagery, held later in the year at the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts (Gershon Benjamin and His Contemporaries). In the present exhibition, new discoveries from Benjamin’s estate reveal the sustenance he received from his art over the course of the seven decades. “In all these years,” he stated shortly before he died, “painting has never gotten boring for me. It is a perpetual excitement that grows stronger every day.”
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