Shapes of Things
April 4 – May 3, 2015
107 Norfolk Street
New York, New York 10002
|Installation View:Trudy Benson, Shapes of Things, Lisa Cooley, New York, 2015|
Installation View:Trudy Benson, Shapes of Things, Lisa Cooley, New York, 2015
Trudy Benson,Tan Gram, 2015, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 66 x 61 inches
Trudy Benson, Tan Gram (detail), 2015, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 66 x 61 inches
Trudy Benson, New Shapes, 2015, Acrylic, enamel, and oil on canvas, 80 x 77 inches
Lisa Cooley presents Shapes of Things, Trudy Benson’s first solo show with the gallery, featuring new paintings made with oil, enamel, and acrylic on canvas.
The banana phone is ringing. Trudy Benson’s abstract paintings vibrate with an audible buzz, full of electricity and action. Benson examines surfaces, depths, literalism, and lyricism, as her works oscillate between high formal contrasts—image and object, figure and ground, thickness and thinness. Her skill as a painter lies in her ability to balance these juxtapositions and to reconfigure them from one painting to the next, while maintaining a deep commitment to a singular aesthetic vision.
While Benson’s previous works have explored connections between screen-based image making and painterly handicraft, her new works concentrate on drawing. She has also been known for complicated, spectral color choices, and here, she takes the same risks with line and surface that she used to take with color. Accordingly, the palette of these works is more focused, allowing the profound weirdness of her compositional choices to take prominence. Her idiosyncratic, non-hierarchical structures fluctuate with potential readings from viewing to viewing.
For instance, Benson’s Re: Composition, one of the largest paintings in the show, consists of a diaphanous layer of airbrushed doodles topped with an opaque, geometric, white and black pattern. Thick red, yellow, green, and blue shapes, as well as a scaffold of black and white extruded paint rest on the painting’s surface. Each layer competes for attention in the same way a camera searches for focus within a field of vision. The layers in each painting can’t be viewed at once because no single layer dominates. Thus, the visual experience of Re: Composition remains underdetermined, lacking a clear beginning or ending. Benson’s works are not about going from point A to point B; rather, they feed back on themselves in an intricate loop of time and viewing experience.
Benson accomplishes this displacement by taking advantage of paint’s various states of matter—solid (extruded), liquid (rolled or brushed), and gas (sprayed). Each phase carries a unique set of physical and temporal characteristics and provides a distinct set of visual effects that further the artist’s creation of painterly loops and knots. Her sprayed paint goes on quickly and absorbs into the surface, creating depth and atmospheric perspective. Her extruded paint, deliberate and slow in its shallow relief, contrasts with the spontaneity of her airbrushed marks. Her rolled or brushed oil paint lies between these two, neither thick nor thin, but fluid—a property that Benson regularly highlights by letting the paint drip down the canvas in colored rivulets. In Banana Phone, sprayed umber sits in the middle ground and pushes the brushed gray and banana yellow away from each other, even though the two layers obviously exist in the same physical plane. In Tan Gram, both the grayish-white shapes and several purple-gray fields of rolled paint seem out of place, like squares at the wrong party.
Likewise, Benson deliberately confuses figure and ground in representational terms. Banana Phone evokes an object, a white arc-like blip possibly gripped by fingers outlined in black extruded paint. Benson’s figure-play further confuses her painterly space, while also claiming additional territory for her investigation into drawing. These flat-footed shapes are bold and a bit silly, apparitions on the edge of fully revealing themselves. In this space between figuration and abstraction, Benson raises important new stakes for her painting, finding right in wrong—or at least in awkwardness and cockeyed quasi-representationalism. In Benson’s expert hands, no matter how shaky the ground, the pictures never risk falling apart.
In celebration of the exhibition, Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan will DJ a special event at the gallery on April 15th, from 9pm until midnight. McCaughan's solo debut Non-Believers is out May 5th on Merge Records and features cover artwork by Benson. Benson also directed the upcoming video for the Non-Believers track "Wet Leaves."
Trudy Benson was born in Richmond, Virginia, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received her Masters of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute, New York. This will be her fourth solo exhibition in New York.
*All images are: Courtesy of the artist and Lisa Cooley, New York.