Karl Benjamin

May 30, 2012

Long before Karl Benjamin began his influential career as a California Hard Edge painter, he had aspirations of becoming a writer. As a student at the University of Redlands in 1946, fresh off a three-year tour as a naval officer in World War II, Benjamin was likely unaware of the boundless vocabulary of color – rather than words – he would construct over a 60-year painting career. He graduated three years later with teaching credentials and a degree in literature, philosophy, and history. Married with a family, Benjamin began teaching at an elementary school in Bloomington, California, where he was required to teach art for at least 45 minutes a week. Preferring to teach literature and writing, he ignored the arts 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. Some of his earliest paintings, including Yellow Landscape (1953), articulate his Abstract Expressionist influences, though Benjamin finds his own voice in undulating landscapes growing through an expansive palette of corresponding colors. In 1959 he was featured in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition “Four Abstract Classicists” along with Lorser Feitelson, John McLaughlin, and Frederick Hammersley, which later traveled to Great Britain under the name “West Coast Hard Edge.” He continued teaching at the elementary school level for thirty years until 1977, and two years later he was appointed Professor of Art at Pomona College. Throughout the remaining decades of the twentieth century, Benjamin achieved numerous honors and exhibitions, including two National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1983 and 1989. While many of Benjamin’s works seem to follow the symmetry and boldness of Op Art (1977’s #7), 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.”

Louis Stern Fine Arts. Karl Benjamin and the Evolution of Abstraction. West Hollywood: Louis Stern Fine Arts, 2011. Print.
Louis Stern Fine Arts. Karl Benjamin: Paintings from 1950-1965. West Hollywood: Louis Stern Fine Arts, 2004. Print.


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