February 23, 2014


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Lot 36: Karl Benjamin

Lot 36: Karl Benjamin


Oil on canvas

Signed, titled, and dated "#5, 1974/Karl Benjamin" on canvas stretcher verso; retains Brian Gross Fine Art label verso

Canvas: 51" x 68"; Frame: 52.25" x 69.25"

Provenance: Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco, California;
Private Collection, Las Vegas, Nevada (acquired directly from the above, 2005)

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000
Price Realized: $56,250
Inventory Id: 9035

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Louis Stern has confirmed the authenticity of this work. It will be included in the catalogue raisonné of the paintings, currently being compiled by Louis Stern Fine Arts and Beth R. Benjamin.

In 1951, Karl Benjamin was certainly unaware of the boundless vocabulary of color he would construct over a 60-year painting career. As a young elementary school teacher in Bloomington, California, he ignored the 45-minute per week art requirement until his principal intervened. Benjamin begrudgingly passed out crayons and paper and famously announced to the class, "Fill up the space with pretty colors and don't mess around." Inspired by his students' abstract creations as well as visits to local museums and galleries, two years later he started painting his own color experiments. From then on, while teaching elementary school in Claremont for thirty years, he steadily painted distinct compositions of subtly changing hues and interrelated shapes. Only three years after his first venture into painting, he achieved a solo exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1954, and five years later he was featured in "Four Abstract Classicists."

Some of his earliest paintings articulate his Abstract Expressionist influences, though after 1954, Benjamin's Hard Edge style had become more geometric, characterized by "an intensive exploration of color," as seen in Untitled (1957), a collection of layered trapezoidal figures that build in color and texture. Benjamin was known to work on several different paintings at a time, reusing specific shapes and colors. And while many of Benjamin's works, including #5 (1974) seem to follow the symmetry and boldness of Op Art, Benjamin in 1986 commented, "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."

Louis Stern Fine Arts. Karl Benjamin and the Evolution of Abstraction. West Hollywood: Louis Stern Fine Arts, 2011. Print.
Louis Stern Fine Arts. Karl Benjamin: Paintings from 1950-1965. West Hollywood: Louis Stern Fine Arts, 2004. Print.