Max Benjamin:
A Decade

Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham
January 17 - March 29

IN A 1959 CATALOGUE ESSAY for an exhibition dealing with the Northwest Region and its Art, Portland Art Museum curator Rachael Griffin suggested that the formal concerns of non-objective painting had overtaken representational nature-painting in terms of serious critical relevance.


CLXXXIX (1989),
oil on canvas

Griffin cited as prime examples of her insights works by Seattle's William Ivey and Max Benjamin, Portland's Carl Morris and George Johanson, and Vancouver's Jack Shadbolt and J.A.S. Macdonald &emdash; none of whom were going along with the region's popular delusion of mythical and Asian artistic leanings. The youngest of these painters, Benjamin, was but at the beginning of a committed painterly career which has seen him through forty years of studio work, wrestling with nothing more than discursive self-dialogues of line, shape, surface and colour that can hover in nuclear sunbursts, flow like lava, or phosphoresce in black outer space.

Benjamin's compositions simultaneously suggest the sum total of his perceptual experience, the intense corporeality of his physical surroundings, light, the seasons, the cycles of life, death and renewal, the beating heart, mysterious motors, moods and always, time. The recent years chronicled in this exhibition, drawn from the artist's and private collections, display a lightening and brightening of colour: a movement away from constraint (there was a time when it seemed Benjamin would settle for nothing less than having the world begin and end in every statement) and toward genuine, unaffected freedom.

© Ted Lindberg