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Trudy Benson

Half Gallery
43 East 78th Street
May 18, 2016–June 18, 2016

Trudy Benson, Inbetweens, 2016, acrylic and oil on canvas, 43 x 47".

Trudy Benson’s paintings owe a debt to the more baroque proponents of Abstract Illusionism. Think of painters such as Jack Lembeck or Michael Gallagher, artists who ignored the irony of Roy Lichtenstein’s flat renderings of AbEx brushstrokes and went on to depict them as trompe l’oeil forms floating in space, with drop shadows—perverse art-historical gestures that attempted to resuscitate midcentury grandiosity in a jazzy new guise but instead managed only to influence 1980s commercial design and early forms of computerized image craft.

It’s within this matrix—let’s call it “The Forever Now,” after the minisurvey of “atemporal” contemporary painting that took place at MoMA in 2014–15—where one can find the aesthetic precedents of Benson’s work. Her latest paintings in “Spooky Action at a Distance” traffic in restraint and solemnity—indeed, sincerity—that dampen fashionable cleverness and allow the viewer to enjoy these works for their sheer retinal voluptuousness.

The show’s title is borrowed from the language of quantum physics, a term that more generally means that a thing can be transformed or moved without straightforward contact. It also refers to the layering technique the artist employs. Benson builds up several heterogeneous skins of paint using different tools such as an airbrush and an industrial roller. Each coat of paint is applied only after the prior one has dried. Consider Inbetweens, 2016, where Benson uses black-on-white scumbling, which we see in a number of other pieces. She treats each paint layer discretely—creating an environment that Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop users will recognize—which allows for distinct visual shifts from one element to the next that optically pop. These paintings, though operating on a very timely continuum of abstractionist facture, occupy a space all their own.

Nathaniel Lee