Although linked early in her career with references to digital image technologies, likely due to her paintings’ virtuosic contours, vertiginous cuts, and seemingly effortless spatial complexity, Trudy Benson rightly insists that her paintings call for a physical encounter. The new work underlines this physicality without succumbing to a doctrinaire literalism that would banish the imagination that is inherent to the art of painting. A new richness in color accompanies an almost monumental distinction between elements and an even more luxurious range of surface effects.
The paintings invite the viewer to disentangle their interwoven layers, which fuse and then recoil from one another, as if breathing. Tarrying among their jostling protrusions and tantalizing gaps, one realizes that through her wild inventions, Benson activates fundamental questions of pictorial construction: What is it to outline, what is it to fill in, what is a fragment, what is a whole, what is over, what is under, and, most profoundly, what effects do actions have? Benson thus demonstrates the inextricability and interdependence of form and content, two orders that our consumerist minds continuously and catastrophically separate.
In early stages left scrupulously visible, patchworks of sprayed rectangles or cascades of brusquely painted discs pay homage to abstraction of the last century. History is flattened in the rear-view mirror (closer than it appears?) but is never smugly dispatched as if we are in possession of some higher truth. Abstraction is known; it exists. Benson deploys its plastic components with the same measure of sentiment, analytical rigor, and irony with which cubism regards a newspaper, a guitar, or a pipe. Moreover, the apparent decadence of modernism’s popularization, the “kitsch” of album covers and interior decorations, is, in Benson’s hands, no travesty, but a source of imagery rich in human feeling.
Abstraction’s fate is to stand for abstraction and perhaps for art. Since the renaissance, a picture has been a theory, even when it purports not to be. But far from ivory-tower complacency, something that is “about painting” is about how we relate to the world, and this question has seldom been more urgent. Benson takes up this challenge with anything but a facile surrender to a-historicity. Modernism’s yearnings are still at work in the depths of her pictures, alongside the pleasurable intoxication that resists the martial drum-beat of truth and productivity.
Trudy Benson (b. 1985, Richmond, Virginia) lives in Brooklyn, New York. Closer Than They Appear is her first solo exhibition with Lyles & King. Previously she has had solo exhibitions with Ribordy Contemporary, Geneva, CH; Ceysson & Bénétiére, Paris, FR; Half Gallery, New York, US; and Lisa Cooley Gallery, New York, US. Recent group exhibitions include Bodaciousss at Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, US; Pro-Forma: Context and Meaning in Abstraction, Curated by Vittorio Colaizzi, Work Release Gallery, Norfolk, US; PaintersNYC at Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños, Oaxaca, MX; and Abstract America Today, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK.