Trudy Benson- Moving Forward by Looking into The Past

Trudy Benson, Bashful, oil and acrylic on canvas, 66” x 88”, 2018
Image courtesy of the artist
Trudy Benson, Bashful, oil and acrylic on canvas, 66” x 88”, 2018 Image courtesy of the artist

“The grid declares the space of art to be once autonomous and autotelic.”[1]– Rosalind Krauss

Part of the job of an artist is to pay attention to both contemporary artists and know the history from which they have developed. This was the case of when I first became familiar with the work of Trudy Benson. I first became familiar with the work through some area in social media. I liked the images I saw and then I searched out the work to see them in their physical state. The result: they looked better in person than in reproduction. In real life they display an exuberance for the many characteristics of oil paint. Her paintings are made with a fetish-tic pleasure of examining the possibilities of what the materials can do and produce.  As a result, her paintings employ the characteristic of thick, thin, drips, gesture-like marks, etc.  which she employs to create a dynamic space. She relishes the range and possibilities of the medium of her mastery.

In addition to a careful and calculated approach to creating a painting she also has a keen sense of history and the milieu in which her work reflects upon. Specifically, one area her work stems is from a small group of artists that were a part of a movement that became important in the 1970’s called Abstract Illusionism. The Abstract Illusionism consisted of artist such as James Havard, Joe Doyle, Jack Reilly, George D. Green, and Michael B. Gallagher among others. These artists combined expressionistic application of abstract paintings with elements that contradicted the matter-of-fact approach to non-objective painting. They included various devices such as the element of drop shadows under a thickly areas of impasto to describe the mark as floating in an illusionistic field, they also included certain elements of perspectival space.  In essence the Abstract Illusionism artists retained a modernist approach to the canvas as a flat space but incorporated figurative elements of image making in their process.

As an artist Trudy is keenly aware of the historical reference and also positions herself in place to move out and grow from that history. The difference between Benson’s work and that of the Abstract Illusionism is that she does not use the painterly artifices to establish a sense of depth on the picture plane. Benson’s paintings do not use a figurative illusionistic depth to establish a shrewd of space.   She does however establish a physical shallow depth of field based on the fleshly thick and thin layers of paint and color.

Trudy Benson, soft view, oil and acrylic on canvas, 77” x 80”, 2015-16
Image courtesy of the artist

“Closer Than They Appear” is the title of a recent show she’s had with Lyles & King gallery. The term is the warning escribed on a rearview mirror on the passenger and driver’s side of a vehicle. The reason why objects may appear closer that they are is because of physics, which has to do with the diver’s eyes in relationship to the mirror and the manner in which light bounces off the flat surface. As a result, objects in the reflection may appear closer than they are. Driving a vehicle is not the process employed in the exhibition per se, but being in control of the properties of painting’s material is the task at hand when the artist began creating these new large-scale paintings. Also, another element of art history may be a part of her rear view: the grid, which she has incorporated as part of her motif in her recent work.

In her previous works the painted passages would be calculated with precision to look like or allude to the digital reference, in essence she created a painting after a digital image. Or another way of thinking about it is, she made a painting after she created a “drawing.” In recent work, she seems to have abandoned, for now at least, the aid of MS Paint and MacPaint software/drawing as a starting point, and delved directly into the making of these canvases with only a few variables in mind: the grid, color, and a spatial flip-flopping. Rather than working from a preconceived image, she seems to be working from a more intuitive space using the grid a motif.

In Rosalind Krauss’ influential essay “Grids” she indicates the shift between the 19th century efforts to modernism as a time of discovery where artists “landed in a place that was out of reach of everything that went before it. Which is to say, they landed in the present, and everything else was declared to be the past.”[2] In a conversation I had with the artist, Benson said “I did not want to continue to reference digital imaging techniques in the paintings.” In essence she wanted to invent a new motif for her work and started with the grid. Arriving at the place of working with the grid seems to be for the artists, a declaration that her post-digital paintings are now a thing in her own rearview mirror.

Trudy Benson, Black, White, Red, acrylic, enamel and oil on canvas, 61” x 66”, 2015
Image courtesy of the artist

In keeping with the notion of reflections this new body of work echo artists both past and present. The grid and planes of color brings to mind the work of Piet Mondrian, while the physical play of material and color references Hans Hoffman’s push and pull.  Other artist of the present day such as Stanley Whitney, and some of Gary Peterson paintings also come to mind.  Feasibly, the reflection of what is appearing is a knotted trope of the grid. Perhaps she is hammering out area of history that has preoccupied artists and painters through history.

Undoubtedly, as an artist develops their studio practice they are also managing their careers. As an artist who has accomplished a great deal and has had a great deal of success within the last 10 years it is refreshing to see her take a risk by not repeating herself with her work. Rather than creating more of what she has come to be known for (an artist within a particular generation in the digital age) she has pushed through to open up her visual vocabulary and changing her process slightly so to not yield the same. As an artist in a world that is driven by the market it is refreshing to see Ms Benson take a risk and further pursue her ambitions of painting by questioning a fundamental question; what makes art great?

[1] Krauss, Rosalind. “Grids.” October, vol. 9, 1979, pp. 51–64. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/778321.

[2] Ibid, pg 52