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Trudy Benson and the Nature of Paint

Walking the boroughs of New York is an experience unto itself. For those that live here it’s an everyday occurrence where one takes in a flood of encounters: business people, students, wealth, shopping districts, the homeless, bars, models – the city takes all kinds. Long ago, Baudelaire famously spoke of walks, or Flâneur, as a means toward discovery. He was an advocate for a kind of adventurous idling. He even once stated, “for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite.” Trudy Benson’s complex, larg-scale multi-media, abstract paintings capture a wealth of movement, in all of its ebb and flow. And with these works too, currently on view at Horton Gallery in New York through June 16, hybridity is a running theme.

Benson received her MFA from Pratt in 2010 and has since had solo exhibitions at Freight + Volume Gallery and Mike Weiss Gallery in New York, and is currently represented by Horton Gallery. Ultimately, she’s a formalist, in the best sense of the term. She loves to experiment, evidenced by her astute painting vocabulary including: impasto as crud, gradients, offset grids, dripping enamel, and neon sprayed paint. These works are tactile and ocular. Paint is sculpture. Composition is collage. And her paintings peak when they achieve a dynamic objecthood that turns force into effect.

Works like Paint set up the conditions for this kind of virtual/tactile viewing. This piece is reminiscent of multiple windows open on a screen. Each one acts as a framing device. Using a nearly square canvas, Benson leaves a bare, squared-off perimeter followed by a deep black rectangle with a yellow dripping drop shadow. Upon closer looking, we pick up a shallow grid formation, slightly hidden within the black rectangle. In the far right hand corner, a small black to white gradient rectangle opens up like a horizon. Flanking it on the other side is a salmon colored roller mark. In the center things start to get fun. This is where we see pronounced texture disparities. First, the white spray paint that diagonally zig-zags. Next, a blue gradient triangle playfully sits atop the smaller gradient rectangle. Then, two thick orange dripping dots near an arching impasto black form. And lastly a pale, Naples yellow straight-from-the tube squiggle pattern that traverses the entire piece. Benson manages to highlights elements of humor, irony and sincerity as these hybrid formal tendencies form an unlikely compendium.

Says Benson, “I paint both tactilely and visually, attempting to bring these different ways of perceiving into one painting. For me, painting has everything to do with the nature of paint at the surface as a viscose, sculptural material, color as a mutable component, and a contemporary painting vocabulary as inclusive of digital imaging techniques as well as historical painting tropes.”

30 x 26 inches
Courtesy of Horton Gallery

We don’t always quote Madonna but “we are living in a material world.” What gives Benson’s work agency is that she capitalizes on this notion; her paintings being autonomous, self-reflexive signs that point to themselves. Her piece, Obsidian is quite powerful. Of her paintings, it may be one of her most frontal and foreboding. She allows for some breathing room with a silver top and a pastel rainbowed bottom. The blue-violet-black center is ominous. And its thick, swirling black paint playfully moves the eye up, down, left and right.

Virtual imagery lacks tactile information – touch, texture, density – and so it lacks emotional reciprocity. And emotional reciprocity is essential. Ultimately we must understand how something feels in order to understand what something is. At the core of Benson’s work is the underlying sensation that certain experiences go beyond the kind of easy translation provided by technology. And that painting, when it’s good, requires your presence.




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