Karen Rosenberg, “Art in Review: Trudy Benson,” The New York Times, May 9, 2013
Thomas Micchelli, “Running the Gamut: Trudy Benson’s Flamboyant Restraint,”Hyperallergic, May 4, 2013
Horton Gallery is pleased to present PAINT, its first solo exhibition by Brooklyn-based artist Trudy Benson. The exhibition’s title references the physicality of the material as well as the early MS Windows graphic program.
Trudy Benson’s paintings directly evolve out of her relationship with rudimentary graphic programs such as Microsoft Paint and Brushes. Her original influence is founded in memories of exploring MacPaint on an old Mac SE as a child. The paintings found in PAINT blend perfectly Benson’s affinity to abstract painting and modern technology while also exploring a dialogue with classical painting motifs such as the venus pudica. There is an interesting hybrid of influence layered within these paintings, which at first glance can appear as a simple collage of abstract information. The artist’s shapes and strokes of the paintbrush adhere to no sense of gravity and a viewer will not find any horizon line to help position him or herself within the work. The longer an individual stands before one of Trudy Benson’s works the more the canvas reveals itself to the viewer a realm which exists uniquely between the digital and physical worlds.
Benson’s paintings like a computer screen contain a strange sense of flattened, shallow space. Yet, her heavy application of paint and materials places a viewer in a visual playground of real and illusionary space, which is not contained in the digital counterpart. The artist’s exploration of space in painting continues with her adaptation of the city’s technique of cleaning up graffiti in neighborhoods, where large paint rollers are used to “paint out” the graffiti. The graffiti removal technique functions similarly to the notion of a ‘portable hole,’ a visual trope that Benson is also engaging in this new body of work. Benson utilizes the masking of an under painting, or censuring like in the venus pudica, to draw more attention and inquiry to what is hidden beneath the newest layer of paint. To unlock this exhibition it is key to make note of the artist’s use of “reductive techniques, which contain an additive value.” There is no edit > undo for Trudy Benson’s paintings. Every layer and texture of the canvas is embraced; each painting rendering an honest tangible representation of it’s own history.
Trudy Benson (b. 1985 Richmond, VA) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She received an MFA from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY and a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA. The artist has been featured in exhibitions at Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA; Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation, Jersey City, NJ; and Oakland University Art Gallery, Rochester, MI, among others. She was recently named as one of “8 Great Brooklyn Artists Under 30” by L Magazine and her work has been discussed in Modern Painters, Village Voice, ARTNews, and Huffington Post, among others.
Abstract Illusionism was a term coined by Barbara Rose in her 1967 essay for Artforum. It was the late 60s and painting was changing. It would take another decade for this work to find its fruition. When it did, it was almost categorically dismissed and many of the artists associated with it, abandoned it. Roy Lichtenstein’s abstractions and the recently re-discovered Al Held stand out as luminaries for this kind of painting that was also home for lesser known painters like Jack Lembeck and Michael Gallagher. Then in 1978, Marcia Tucker curated her famous “Bad” Painting show at the New Museum, while conceptual art made its footprint in academic and gallery circles alike. Soon it would be the early 80s. New York was nearly bankrupt. The subways, park benches and crumbling city were covered in a new graffiti called Wild Style. By the late 80s New York was booming and it tried to clean its act up. Roughly 30 years later certain tendencies come back around. Obviously, painting underwent some changes, but Rose’ and Tucker’s thesis never really had their day in the sun in a serious manner. Those seeds have found their way into the hands of a new generation with different aims and sensibilities. It’s a generation that is creating a new painting. Leading the pack is Trudy Benson.
Benson’s peers like Keltie Ferris, Rebecca Morris and Wendy White pay tribute to a variety of external image sources – graffiti, Adobe Photoshop, early video games, MS Paint and a host of artificial and doctored 3d images. More than any other generation, this one has had to contend with the technological age. The challenge put forth for the contemporary painter is to either keep the new image culture at bay, or embrace it. After abstraction dispensed with formal content in Minimalism, the only conceptual wall remaining between it and representation was pictorial depth. The self-proclaimed formalist Greenberg championed flatness in abstract painting. Now with our new technologies, it’s clear that flatness is just another visual idea, much like perspective. And the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. This is the starting point for Trudy Benson’s work. Her recent solo exhibition at Horton Gallery entitled PAINT consisted of primarily large, squarish works which often seem to project in front of, or away from the canvas, as opposed to receding in space in a traditional manner. Yet, for being ostensibly physical works of enamel, flashe, oil and sprayed paint, her works bear no sense of real weight. Lacking a centralized quality, they also eschew the viewer’s attempt to locate themselves within the work.
The brainchild of Bad Painting, Wild Style and Abstract Illusionism, Benson loves to experiment, evidenced by her astute painting vocabulary including: impasto as crud, gradients, offset grids, dripping enamel and neon sprayed paint. Perhaps a nice moniker for this new work is New Image Abstraction. Abstraction isn’t new and neither are the materials. Her images are. Her works are tactile and ocular. Paint is sculpture. Composition is collage. And each piece achieves a dynamic objecthood that turns force into effect.
Benson titled her solo exhibit at Horton in 2013, PAINT. The early Microsoft program had a series of “brushes” along with tools to create forms – all of them rudimentary. Her painting also entitled “Paint” creates the conditions for how we are to view the rest of the exhibit. These conditions being that there is no resting place for the eye, what is tactile is also flat, and that the artist’s hand is removed from otherwise forceful mark-making. “Paint” is reminiscent of multiple windows open on a screen. Each one acts as a framing device with varied sensations of tactility. In this work, Benson leaves a bare, squared-off perimeter followed by a deep black rectangle with a yellow dripping drop shadow. Behind this, is a shallow grid formation slightly hidden within the black rectangle. In the far right hand corner, she makes a small black to white gradient. Bounding 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.
One of the more humorous works on view is “OO” (2013). She leaves the bottom half of this work bare, using the canvas as just another surface texture. The top half is composed of a large black U shape. On top of the black, a thin, ghostly white spray-painted zipping line moves up and down. Next, Benson makes some formally ingenious moves. Cakey, mud brown rollers create stucco-like areas; while a thickly applied jagged, yet crisp black band splits the work in the middle. Two oval shaped taped forms sit atop the entire work in the upper half of the painting like a pair of eyes. Not quite googly eyes; they are incredibly dense, opaque, yet smooth. Lastly, tight neon-orange squiggly lines scatter around the surface to create a pattern.
Her use of roller marks is noteworthy. New York has changed since Wild Style for sure. It has tried to remove the last vestiges of urban culture. Most recently, the city has approved graffiti in certain gentrified neighborhoods like Bushwick. What has manifested is a sanitized surrogate for what is naturally an anti-authoritarian gesture. When the city has to “paint out” the actual graffiti it does so with a roller and a tint slightly off from the original. In like fashion, Benson’s work also points to what’s being erased and simultaneously creates a “hole” in the painting.
After sustained looking at PAINT, I came to realize that Benson’s space is malleable. All of the typical ways we approach a painting surface are discarded. And like all good paintings, they defy language. In this way they cull from internet culture. The modern person browses the internet like an aimless child – multiple windows open, never really resting anywhere and occasionally reading text. In this respect her piece, “Touchpad Painting” (2012) is an icon that references our contemporary use of technology and our most modern devices. Using acrylic, enamel, spray paint & oil on canvas it is the least predictable of her works on view. Visually it feels superimposed as the viewer struggles to make sense of its making. In other works, Benson manages to reference the landscape with 1980s nostalgia in works like “Moon Over Miami. Its peach meets cyan combination creates a vibrant, yet artificial sense of nature.
One of most promising elements of Benson’s work is her tendency to mix humor, irony and sincerity. The works in PAINT capitalize on virtual imagery while referencing the history of abstract painting – the zip, the grid, the drip, the gesture. Yet, here, they are replayed against one another. What makes Bensons works significant is that each historical precedent, each mark floats in some timeless, intangible space. This is new painting.