Benson 'paints' photos with technology, one layer at a time

September 17, 1992|By Robert Haskins | Robert Haskins,Contributing Writer

Richard Benson, whose works are now on display in a major exhibit at the Kuhn Gallery at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, holds the unique distinction of being the first photographer ever to receive a fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation -- one of those prestigious, mysterious five-year grants awarded only to individuals who display the highest originality and creative potential.

Already esteemed as perhaps the most important printer of photography books in the world, the works in this retrospective attest that Richard Benson is a great artist in his own right, one who is obviously just beginning to realize the full measure of his artistic powers.

Imagery in these works is elegantly straightforward. Landscapes and enigmatic scenes from nature, icons of man-made architecture and machines in their ironic cohabitation with nature, gentle portraits -- several taken while their subjects are asleep -- are all recurrent themes.

What is truly extraordinary in these photographs, however, is their rich texture and wide range of tonality -- their interrelationships of light and shade in seemingly infinite gradations.

In both the intimacy of "Piano at Baldwin Avenue" (1969) and the expansive grandeur of "Brooklyn Bridge" (1981), Mr. Benson's dazzling technique and poetic sensibility make an unforgettable and lasting impression.

And yet, for all their beauty, even these works are surpassed by the artist's more recent work. Here, Mr. Benson uses a technique in which the photographs are printed on light-sensitized sheets of aluminum using acrylic paints instead of the standard photographic dyes.

To produce a single photograph, Mr. Benson exposes a plate as many as 30 times, building the content of the entire work color by color. Thus, the hue and intensity of each single color is independent of all the others.

Works like "Front End Loader" (1989) and "Yellow Tree" (1990), while certainly powerful in their visual content alone, gain immeasurably from the wide spectrum of color the technique affords. They are, in fact, paintings in which technology, not the brush, is the instrument of creation.

And in the most recent work of the exhibit, "Artificial Flowers" (1992), Mr. Benson treats the diverse surfaces of his objects -- for instance, vase, flowers and table -- with a subtlety and phantasm only hinted at in earlier works. Clearly, Richard Benson is headed for greatness.

Photo exhibit

What: Photographs by Richard Benson

Where: Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 5401 Wilkens Ave.

When: Opening reception today from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the artist in attendance; continuing through Dec. 20.

Hours: Mondays to Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Call: (410) 455-2270.

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