Color and form are the primary subject matter of Karl Benjamin’s artwork. Carefully yet intuitively composed geometric shapes with vividly painted surfaces flow across Benjamin’s canvas to delight the viewer’s eyes. Benjamin was one of the prominent Los Angeles-based abstract artists featured in the landmark exhibition Four Abstract Classicists held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 1959. Unlike Abstract Expressionists in New York and San Francisco, who created monumental canvases with paint drips and loose, sweeping brush strokes, Benjamin and many of his fellow abstract artists in Los Angeles emphasized the impersonality of the surface with flat and sharp-edged color applied to the canvas. The passages of solid color and the repetition of shapes explores spatial relations and creates a sense of movement. Called Hard-edge painting, this style flourished on the West Coast in the 1960s.
Benjamin got his degree in Education, and his inspiration to foreground color in his painting arose from his student’s crayon works while he was teaching at an elementary school. Before he got his Master’s degree in 1960, Benjamin had already been exhibiting artworks in public. Butterflies is one of his earlier works completed while he was still teaching. The title of this painting suggests to the viewer a parallel between Benjamin’s purely abstract forms and the recognizable natural form of a butterfly. The pale red and pink colored shapes can be read as wings and the darker hued shapes as mouthparts, trying to suck the yellow nectar (the orange-yellow circle) from a flower. The way the colors and the forms are emphasized by a black background furthermore suggests a sense of movementand adds to the sharpness of the paint’s edges.
Artist: Karl Benjamin
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 30 x 40 in. (76.2 x 101.6 cm)
Collection: The Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum for California Art
Copyright: © Benjamin Living Trust