Just In: Karl Benjamin Painting
Born in Chicago, Benjamin (1925–2012) was an abstract painter, best known for his boldly colored geometric compositions. He began studying at Northwestern University, but his studies were interrupted by his service in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War. He moved to California after the war and completed his degree in English literature, history, and philosophy at University of Redlands in 1949. While teaching fifth and sixth grade, Benjamin was required to teach art along with the traditional curriculum. It was at this point that he discovered his love of colorful, abstract art. Benjamin moved to Claremont, California in 1952 where, galvanized by his experiments with paint, he set out to become an artist.
Benjamin’s early work, which comprised landscapes, still lifes and street scenes, was typified by a cubist style, which grew increasingly abstract as the 1950s progressed. His paintings traversed the boundary between spontaneity and order and he employed systems to create his imagery. Benjamin explained, “I am an intuitive painter, despite the ordered appearance of my paintings… I have been working with systems including relatively simple numerical progressions, modular constructions and random sequences. Images formed thusly emerged in very surprising and gratuitous ways.”
Created in 1957, Seascape is a classic example of Benjamin’s style. The composition is defined on three sides by a jagged blue border, which inscribes a series of pink, blue, and olive green triangles. These latter shapes are suggestive of landforms and the white and pale blue background can be read as an expanse of sky above this seascape. Treading the boundary between figuration and abstraction, Benjamin’s choice of rhythmic lines and subdued tones endows the painting with a visual coherence and contemplative air. The hard edges and angular forms of his paintings bear comparison to other abstract painters working in Los Angeles at the time. In 1959, the curator Jules Langsner included Benjamin in the seminal exhibition ”Four Abstract Classicists” at LACMA, alongside John McLaughlin, Lorser Feitelson, and Frederick Hammersley, which established Benjamin’s reputation as one of the west coast’s foremost artists.
Benjamin’s work can be found in numerous prominent collections including Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA); and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Oil on Canvas
Canvas: 26″ x 44″; Frame: 28.25″ x 46.25″
Initialed and dated lower right; retains partial Esther-Robles Gallery label verso
October 22, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction
“Biography.” The Estate of Karl Benjamin. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2017.
Peabody, R., Bradnock, L., Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles Art, 1945-1980. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. 2011. 43.