About Carol Benson
The containment of thought is the substance and essence of Carol Benson’s art. Her paintings are spare and inferential, suggesting rather than describing the concept. Silent and commanding, they invite contemplation from a distance. A closer look is rewarded with a feast of subtle nuances and gradations of color.
Benson is a thoroughly modern artist who gets under the skin of the feminine intellectual experience – and thence goes directly to the universal – by concentrating on ancient domestic themes that embody containment. She reduces her subjects, such as bowls or houses, to their most basic form. A long ellipse represents only the surface of a bowl’s contents, seen from an angle; the skeletal outline of walls and a roof is less a depiction of a building than a reverie on structure. Hers is an architecture of ideas rather than an art of representation.
Benson begins with a certain thought, and then works and reworks the image until it is filled with the record of how she arrived at its resolution. Her houses, transparent and mysterious, provide visual shelter even as they point up the illusory nature of security. During a session at the Santa Fe Art Institute, she began wrapping the houses in evanescent marks. Sometimes it seemed that she was protecting their fragility; in other compositions, two houses were wrapped together or in tandem to suggest intimacy. Houses continue to be objects of study. They may beckon from a distance, offering solitude. They might appear off balance, as if they were being juggled – a familiar feeling for anyone who manages to balance creative work and a life of the mind with family and community.
Two years ago, on a trip to Slovenia, she visited a crude building – almost a hut – that had been a hospital in World War I. Struck by the human history of the place, she returned to her studio with renewed enthusiasm for the limitless possibilities of expression inherent in the form of even the simplest habitation.
Benson also works with bowl imagery, either alone or combined with the houses. Elegant ovals, reminiscent of reflections glancing obliquely off liquid in round containers, are positioned at unexpected angles to invite speculation about what might lie beneath their calm exterior, or how a bowl’s contents might be dissociated from their context and be made to exist independently of the vessel that forms them.
Benson is fascinated by the dichotomy between privacy and exposure, surface and depth, appearance and content. She creates an intuitive architecture in each piece, in the manner of one who puts together a personal environment or prepares a dish from exotic ingredients. Working on zinc-coated galvanized steel, which supports a vigorously interactive process and furnishes a refractive quality beneath the paint, she constructs and deconstructs the image through a series of changes. Her process mimics the first-time exploration of new surroundings, room by room, doubling back, turning corners, finally arriving at an inevitable destination, a formal rightness, and a light and vibrant sense of familiarity.