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.