LAMA BLOG

Karl Benjamin and Frederick Hammersley

February 14, 2014

The upcoming February 23, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction features paintings by each member of the 1959 “Four Abstract Classicists” exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum at Exposition Park (now LACMA). To commemorate the groundbreaking exhibition, LACMA is currently presenting their impressive collection of Hard Edge paintings under the same name, “Four Abstract Classicists.” Today we present two of the youngest Abstract Classicists at the time of the first show, Karl Benjamin and Frederick Hammersley. Both painters arrived at the threshold of a new art movement through contrasting pathways, but their resulting works have become some of the most celebrated paintings of the era.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled (1957), Karl Benjamin

Karl Benjamin

In 1951, Karl Benjamin was certainly unaware of the boundless vocabulary of color he would construct over a 60-year painting career. As a young elementary school teacher in Bloomington, California, he ignored the 45-minute per week art requirement until his principal intervened. Benjamin begrudgingly passed out crayons and paper and famously announced to the class, “Fill up the space with pretty colors and don’t mess around.” Inspired by his students’ abstract creations as well as visits to local museums and galleries, two years later he started painting his own color experiments. From then on, while teaching elementary school in Claremont for thirty years, he steadily painted distinct compositions of subtly changing hues and interrelated shapes. Only three years after his first venture into painting, he achieved a solo exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1954, and five years later he was featured in “Four Abstract Classicists.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

#5 (1974), Karl Benjamin

Some of his earliest paintings articulate his Abstract Expressionist influences, though after 1954, Benjamin’s Hard Edge style had become more geometric, characterized by “an intensive exploration of color,” as seen in Untitled (1957), a collection of layered trapezoidal figures that build in color and texture. Benjamin was known to work on several different paintings at a time, reusing specific shapes and colors. And while many of Benjamin’s works, including #5 (1974) seem to follow the symmetry and boldness of Op Art, Benjamin in 1986 commented, “I am an intuitive painter, despite the ordered appearance of my paintings, and am fascinated by the infinite range of expression inherent in color relationships.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Chinese Toys (1954-56), Frederick Hammersley

Frederick Hammersley

Before “Four Abstract Classicists,” Frederick Hammersley (1919-2009) served in World War II and attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. While teaching at Pomona College and the Pasadena Art Museum in the 1950s, he painted using his “hunch” method, an unconscious approach that involved building upon a chosen shape through instinctively matched colors. This intuitive method, like many of his fellow Hard Edge painters, distinguishes his approach from pure Geometric Abstraction. “You put down a shape and it just lies there, and then you make a movement and it just comes alive,” said Hammersley in describing his perception of the relationship between color, shape, and perspective. “I’ve never quite understood that, but it’s just marvelous. The shapes have attitudes, and the painting just clicks; it’s unbelievable.” From a period prior to his distinctly Hard Edge paintings of the 60s, Chinese Toys (1954-56) utilizes this hunch method with an extensive vocabulary of colors and shapes, resulting in an abstract landscape.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Detail of signature, Chinese Toys (1954-56), Frederick Hammersley

Lot Information:

Lot 35
Karl Benjamin
Untitled
1957
Oil on canvas
Initialed and dated “KB ’57” lower right; retains Louis Stern Fine Arts label verso; retains Brian Gross Fine Art label verso
Canvas: 20″ x 40″; Frame: 20.125″ x 40.125″
Louis Stern has confirmed the authenticity of this work, and it will be included in the catalogue raisonné of the paintings by Karl Benjamin, currently in preparation.

Provenance: Louis Stern Fine Arts, Los Angeles California; Private Collection, Las Vegas, Nevada (acquired directly from the above, c. 2003)

Exhibited: “Karl Benjamin: Paintings from 1950-1965,” Louis Stern Fine Arts, Los Angeles, January 10-April 10, 2004

Illustrated: Karl Benjamin: Paintings from 1950-1965. Exhibition Catalogue. Los Angeles: Louis Stern Fine Arts, 2004. p 21.

Estimate: $30,000 – $50,000

Lot 36
Karl Benjamin
#5
1974
Oil on canvas
Signed, titled, and dated “#5, 1974/Karl Benjamin” on canvas stretcher verso; retains Brian Gross Fine Art label verso
Canvas: 51″ x 68″; Frame: 52.25″ x 69.25″
Louis Stern has confirmed the authenticity of this work, and it will be included in the catalogue raisonné of the paintings by Karl Benjamin, currently in preparation.

Provenance: Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco, California; Private Collection, Las Vegas, Nevada (acquired directly from the above, 2005)

Estimate: $40,000 – $60,000

Lot 40
Frederick Hammersley
Chinese Toys
1954-1956
Oil on canvas
Signed in pencil “F. Hammersley” on lower canvas stretcher verso; dated in pencil “15 July 54-5…60″ verso; retains Louis Stern Fine Arts, Aaron Payne Fine Art, and Charlotte Jackson Fine Art labels verso
Canvas: 20″ x 24″; Frame: 25.125″ x 29.25”
Together with exhibition catalogue

Provenance: Private Collection, New York, New York; Private Collection, Las Vegas, Nevada (acquired directly from the above, c. 2003)

Exhibited: “Gallery Selections,” Aaron Payne Fine Art, Brooklyn, Winter 2002-03

Illustrated: Gallery Selections. Exhibition Catalogue. Brooklyn: Aaron Payne Fine Art, 2002. (cover).

Estimate: $30,000 – $50,000

For more information, or details on how to bid, please contact a LAMA representative.

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