Selected examples by historic California artists


Karl Benjamin (b. 1925)

Abstraction, 1955


Oil on canvas, 50 x 30 in., signed l.r.: "Benjamin 55"


In the mid twentieth century, American artists began rejecting three-dimensional subject matter and turned to abstraction.  Expressive abstraction was called Abstract Expressionism, and abstractions of hard-edged geometrical shapes were called Geometrical Abstraction.  In Los Angeles four artists independently came up with their own versions of Geometrical Abstraction, and when their work was shown together in 1959 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Curator Jules Langsneer gave them the name Abstract Classicists because most were also interested in the classical ideals of balance, control and harmony.  Karl Benjamin was the youngest of the group.  While earning his living as a teacher in grade school, he took up easel painting, and his work rapidly went from representational subjects to abstracts.  “In an early work, such as Abstraction of 1955, he arrived at his shapes like a Surrealist, employing Automatist techniques, letting his hand direct charcoal at will over a raw canvas.  Shapes formed, and when he was satisfied he put them into concrete form with a ruler and compass.  He speaks of kinetics, the inherent energy contained in lines and their relationship to each other.  Like other Geometric Abstractionists, his work is “classical” – colors harmonize and shapes are balanced.  ...  He frequently moved back and forth between canvases featuring curvilinear forms and those based on angular shapes … favoring stronger colors, such as red and black.”  (California Art: 450 Years, p. 403)

Exhibitions and Publications: exhibited Pasadena Art Institute, August, 1954; reproduced in color Nancy Moure, California Art: 450 Years of Painting & Other Media, Los Angeles: Dustin Publications, 1998, p. 402; exhibited in a show at 891 Gallery in San Francisco co-organized by Newspace Gallery and 891, c. 1995?; Exhibited: A Lasting Legacy: Recent Additions to the Collection, Orange County Museum of Art, February 5 – May 21, 2000.

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