Driven to ab­strac­tion

Life Lines: New Works by Maxwell Ben­nett, Enzo Marra, and Karl Skaret

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Abatemarco I The New Mex­i­can

On a re­cent episode of the Na­tional Geo­graphic chan­nel’s TV se­ries Brain Games, host Ja­son Silva pre­sented a seg­ment in which diodes that track move­ment were af­fixed to spe­cific ar­eas of dancers’ bod­ies: their hands, knees, shoul­ders, and other ex­trem­i­ties. In the dark, all that could be seen were the lit-up diodes; the dancers’ phys­i­cal bod­ies were in­vis­i­ble. The diodes and the move­ments pro­vided a min­i­mal amount of in­for­ma­tion, but the hu­man brain, con­di­tioned over the course of our evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory, could fill in the miss­ing in­for­ma­tion. Not only can the mind track the move­ments as hu­man fig­ures in space, but some­times it could even de­tect the ac­tiv­i­ties of the dancers, based solely on the move­ments of the lit-up dots. The same process that al­lows for the hu­man brain to com­plete a pic­ture based on a min­i­mal amount of vis­ual cues al­lows one to read Santa Fe-based sculp­tor Maxwell Ben­nett’s fig­u­ra­tive works as bod­ies, rather than as a se­ries of loosely con­nected metal shapes. To give an ex­am­ple, Heart, made of forged steel and rough-hewn alabaster, has a hol­lowed-out sec­tion in the shape of a thigh and up­per calf, end­ing just below the knee. A torso, too, is only par­tially ren­dered, al­though Ben­nett started from a whole fig­ure mod­eled in clay. He took sec­tions away to cre­ate a mim­i­nal­ist sculp­ture that still reads as a com­plete fig­ure. “The hu­man fig­ure in art is some­thing that is eas­ily rec­og­niz­able,” he told

Pasatiempo. “I think peo­ple’s eyes and their minds, they go to it. If it was hard to see, I’d have to do more of the out­line, more of the fig­ure. This way, it’s sug­ges­tive and sub­tle.” Ben­nett is one of three artists rep­re­sented in the ex­hi­bi­tion Life Lines, on view at Ellsworth Gallery. The artists — Ben­nett and painters Enzo Marra and Karl Skaret — deal with the line con­cep­tu­ally and com­po­si­tion­ally within their work. For Ben­nett, the line is a trace el­e­ment, sug­ges­tive rather than ex­plicit, that is im­posed by the mind upon the forms. The alabaster ap­pears as heart-like shapes in the chest cav­i­ties of the fig­ures. “I wanted to in­cor­po­rate some­thing be­sides just the metal when I was work­ing on th­ese,” Ben­nett said. “I had the stone and a few chunks had fallen off in­side the stu­dio and they looked like or­gan-type things. I took those pieces and worked them just lit­tle bit. Leav­ing that raw stone has a nice ef­fect.” The ex­hi­bi­tion marks a re­turn to stu­dio prac­tice for Ben­nett, who has spent the past few years pri­mar­ily work­ing as a black­smith. The heart is the fo­cal point of Ben­nett’s sculp­tures. The dy­namic bod­ies burst forth, as though they are ex­plod­ing out­ward from the or­gans at their cen­ters. There are no faces and no heads, mak­ing each piece non-spe­cific. He deals with the body rather than with per­son­al­i­ties. Each fig­ure could be the same fig­ure in a dif­fer­ent pose. “I feel like giv­ing them faces would bring them in too much, make them too real.” Ben­nett lists Au­guste Rodin (1840-1917) as an in­flu­ence, but he tends to avoid look­ing too much at art his­tory for in­spi­ra­tion. “Not pur­pose­fully, but I’m not hugely in­ter­ested in it. I know a lot of artists will prob­a­bly hate that. A lot of peo­ple have dis­cussed that with me al­ready. We can learn about it and take some­thing away from it but at the same time, art is about mak­ing new things.” Like the alabaster el­e­ments, the steel he uses is left un­pol­ished and rough. Its patina is the nat­u­ral re­sult of the forg­ing process: dis­col­oration pro­vided by the heat. Enzo Marra’s fig­u­ra­tive paint­ings, too, have an un­re­fined ap­pear­ance; painterly brush strokes and a min­i­mal use of color pro­vide lit­tle in the way of de­tails of ex­pres­sion, as in Well Hung, for in­stance. In the paint­ing, two fig­ures are hang­ing a paint­ing, pre­sum­ably in a gallery set­ting. Marra, a Lon­don-based painter, creates a di­a­logue be­tween him­self as an artist and the works he takes as his sub­ject: peo­ple in gal­leries and mu­se­ums such as the Tate and the Getty Cen­ter. He paints ob­servers look­ing at art, and in some cases, in­cludes re­duc­tive takes on paint­ings by artists like Mark Rothko, whose com­po­si­tions hang in those places. Even the hu­man fig­ures he paints are, as in Ben­nett’s work, re­duc­tive. Con­ver­sa­tion, for in­stance, shows two seated fig­ures, sim­ply ren­dered in a se­ries of thick brush strokes and with­out any dis­tin­guish­ing de­tails. But, of the three, it’s Cana­dian-born artist Skaret who works most ab­stractly. A se­ries of par­al­lel, ver­ti­cal lines de­scend through his paint­ing Deep in the Black. The lines be­gin to con­verge to­ward the bot­tom of the com­po­si­tion, draw­ing the eye down­ward from the white up­per por­tion and into dark­ness. If you look closely, the dark ar­eas sug­gest a dis­tant for­est, glimpsed through long blades of grass. Rose Above reads as a land- or seascape where snaking ten­drils of mist and fog move to­ward the viewer from a sin­gle point in the dis­tance over dark and an­gry wa­ters. Life Lines is the first time Skaret has ex­hib­ited work in Santa Fe. A com­mon thread that ties th­ese artists’ pieces to­gether is a kind of rugged ir­reg­u­lar­ity. Skaret’s paint­ings ap­proach pure ab­strac­tion while still ref­er­enc­ing the land­scape — us­ing, like Marra, a painterly tech­nique that, rather than ob­scur­ing de­tails, sim­ply leaves de­tail out of the equa­tion. Ben­nett’s sculp­tures al­low for the medium to re­main in a semi-raw state, with­out sac­ri­fic­ing grace­ful form.

de­tails

Life Lines: New Works by Maxwell Ben­nett, Enzo Marra, and Karl Skaret Open­ing re­cep­tion 5 p.m. Fri­day, Jan. 29 (gallery talk 4 p.m.); ex­hibit through May 29 Ellsworth Gallery, 215 E. Palace Ave., 505-989-7900

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