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Karl Benjamin

 (1925 - 2012)
Karl Stanley Benjamin was active/lived in California, Illinois.  Karl Benjamin is known for modernist figure, hard edge, geometric imagery, teaching.

Karl Benjamin

Biography from the Archives of askART

Obituary. Los Angeles Times, July 26, 2012
By Suzanne Muchnic, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Karl Benjamin, a painter of dazzling geometric abstractions who established a national reputation in 1959 as one of four Los Angeles-based Abstract Classicists and created a highly acclaimed body of work that celebrates the glories of color in all its variations, has died.  He was 86.

Benjamin died Thursday of congestive heart failure at his home in Claremont, said his daughter Beth Marie Benjamin

Benjamin was a longtime resident of Claremont and a vital part of the college town's art community.  After retiring from a 20-year teaching career in public elementary and middle schools, he was a professor and artist-in-residence at Pomona College from 1979 to 1994 and taught at Claremont Graduate University.  Through most of those years he also pursued an abiding interest in orchestrating intricate arrangements of color on canvas.

Working with a full palette and a vocabulary of stripes, squares, triangles, circles, rings and irregular shapes, he created tightly balanced compositions that seem to shimmer, vibrate or explode in space.  His work fell out of fashion in the 1970s and '80s, but he made an astonishing comeback in later years when his paintings suddenly looked fresh and smart to younger artists, critics and curators.

"I can think of no other artist whose paintings exude the joy and pleasure of being an artist with more intensity than Karl Benjamin's, nor any other artist whose long teaching career has left no blemish of cynicism on his practice," critic Dave Hickey wrote in the catalog of a 2007 survey of Benjamin's paintings at Louis Stern Fine Arts.  "He is always the kid in the candy store, the kid with the rock in his pocket drawing it out, showing it to you and exclaiming 'Wow! Look at this.' "

Times art critic Christopher Knight praised the Claremont Museum of Art for making "just the right choice for its inaugural exhibition" in his review of a 42-year survey of the artist's work, also in 2007. "Benjamin emerges as a colorist of great wit and inventiveness," he wrote.

Born Dec. 29, 1925, in Chicago, Benjamin began his college education in 1943 at Northwestern University but dropped out the same year to enlist in the U.S. Navy.  At the end of his military service, in 1946, he moved to California and resumed his studies at what is now the University of Redlands.

Three years later, he received a bachelor's degree, married Beverly Jean Paschke and began teaching in an elementary school in the San Bernardino County town of Bloomington.  After two years he shifted to a teaching position in Chino's public schools.  He and his young family moved to Claremont in 1952.

Benjamin's art career began in 1951 when he was asked to add a component of art to his students' curriculum.  Initially working with crayons, he became intrigued with choosing colors and figuring out the effect of placing one hue next to another.  Color, in and of itself, soon became his subject matter.

At home, he began experimenting with oils and eventually took classes at Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University), earning a master's degree in 1960.  He received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983 and 1989.

In a 1986 essay Benjamin wrote: "I am an intuitive painter, despite the ordered appearance of my paintings, and am fascinated by the infinite range of expression inherent in color relationships." Although he often set up a systematic structure based on numerical progressions, modular constructions or random sequences, he came up with surprising results.

He showed his work in 1954 at the Pasadena Museum of Art and in 1958 at the Long Beach Museum of Art.  But he rose to fame in 1959-60 with "Four Abstract Classicists."  The landmark exhibition — also featuring the work of Lorser Feitelson, John McLaughlin and Frederick Hammersley — offered the L.A. artists' cool, hard-edge abstractions as an alternative to the East Coast's relatively emotional Abstract Expressionism.  After appearances in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the show traveled to London and Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Benjamin subsequently showed his work widely and was represented in major museum exhibitions such as "Geometric Abstractions in America" at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1962; the 30th and 35th editions of the "Biennial Exhibition of American Painting" at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 1967 and 1977; and "Painting and Sculpture in California: The Modern Era" at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., in 1976.

Cal State Northridge organized a traveling survey of his work in 1989, and Pomona College presented a retrospective in 1994, when he became a professor emeritus.  Benjamin also played a prominent role in "Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Mid-Century," a 2007-09 national traveling show organized by the Orange County Museum of Art.

His work is in many museum collections, including those of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Museum of American Art.

Biography from the Archives of askART
“Mr. [Karl] Benjamin shares the distinction with John McLaughlin of having been half of the 1959-60 exhibit, ‘Four Abstract Classicists’ organized by the Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Museums; this exhibit was also shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and at Queen’s College, Belfast, Ireland.

Other major exhibits in which he has participated have been ‘New Talent’ (1959), American Federation of Arts; ‘Kaleidoscope’ (1959-1961), Taos, New Mexico; ‘Geometric Abstraction in America’ (1962) Whitney Museum, Boston Institute of Contemporary Art; ‘Paintings of the Pacific’ (1961-1963), United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand; and ‘50 California Artists’ (1962), Whitney Museum of American Art and Walker Art Center.

He has had many one-man shows: besides his home gallery, Esther Robles in 1959, ’60, ’62, ’64, and ’65, he has shown at the Santa Barbara Museum (1962), The Art Center at La Jolla (1961), Scripps College (1960), Long Beach Museum (1958), Occidental College (1958), Pasadena Art Museum (1954), and the University of Redlands (1953, ’56 and ’62). 

A native Chicagoan, Mr. Benjamin attended Northwestern University and received his born A. from the University of Redlands. He holds his M. A. from the Claremont Graduate School. Married, the father of three children, he lives in Claremont.” (from October 1965 Laguna Beach Art Association catalogue.)

Source: Nancy Dustin Moure, "Publications in California Art No. 11 , Index to California Art Exhibited at the Laguna Beach Art Association, 1918-1972; 2015 edition"

Biography from the Archives of askART
Karl Stanley Benjamin (1925-2012) 

He studied at Northwestern University; University of Redlands, and Claremont Graduate School, California.  His early oil paintings engaged both figurative and realistic imagery, and later became more abstract.  After the mid-1950s, his paintings were more geometric with a hard-edged, abstract style.  Earlier paintings reference the artist's tendency toward flat shapes and pure hues, especially in paintings of flowers with flattened petals.

Other canvases of architectural subjects are depicted with transparent colors and surfaces. Paintings after 1959 are almost exclusively tightly structured, abstract oils.

Benjamin has exhibited at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  His work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Les Krantz, American Artists, Illustrated Survey of Leading Contemporary Artists

Biography from Louis Stern Fine Arts
KARL BENJAMIN (b. 1925-d. July 26, 2012)

"I am an intuitive painter, despite the ordered appearance of my paintings, and am fascinated by the infinite range of expression inherent in color relationships.  For the past fifteen or twenty years, I have been working with systems including relatively simple numerical progressions, modular constructions, and random sequences.  Images formed thusly emerged in very surprising and gratuitous ways, as opposed to being drawn or designed in what had become, for me, on hindsight, a rather self-conscious operation."  Karl Benjamin (from a 1968 interview)

Born in Chicago, Karl Benjamin began his undergraduate studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 1943.  Interrupted by service in the US Navy during WWII, Benjamin resumed his studies at Southern California's University of Redlands in 1946.  Graduating in 1949 with a BA degree in English literature, history and philosophy, Benjamin began his career as a teacher with no intention of becoming an artist.  However, his relocation to Claremont California in 1952, shortly after he had begun "playing" with paint in 1951, galvanized his sense of his career path. Though he continued to teach in public schools and, later to great acclaim, for Pomona College, the artist's work blossomed amid the extraordinarily lively art, design and architecture scene in Los Angeles in the mid twentieth Century.

Numerous gallery showings of his work during the 50's culminated in 1959 with his inclusion in Los Angeles County Museum of Art's ground-breaking exhibition Four Abstract Classicists: Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley and John McLaughlin.  The exhibition garnered national attention for the artist along with the creation of a moniker for Benjamin's meticulously orchestrated color and form, Hard Edge Painting.  Subsequently Benjamin's work was included in the exhibit Purist Painting traveling to Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse and the Columbus Museum of Art.  The Whitney Museum used his work in Geometric Abstraction in America.  Museum of Modern Art (NY) also featured the artist in their watershed exhibit The Responsive Eye.

Benjamin was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Grant for Visual Arts in both 1983 and 1989.  His work has been featured in numerous museum exhibition and is included in the public collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, Israel; Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Seattle Art Museum, WA; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY among others. Benjamin is currently a Professor Emeritus at Pomona College and lives in Claremont CA. Louis Stern Fine Arts is the exclusive representative of Karl Benjamin.

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About  Karl Benjamin

Born:  1925 - Chicago, Illinois
Died:   2012 - Claremont, California
Known for:  modernist figure, hard edge, geometric imagery, teaching