Critics’ Picks

Carol Benson, Topkapi Blue, 2014, oil on canvas, 64 x 46 x 10”.

Portland

Michael Knutson and Carol Benson

Blackfish Gallery
420 NW 9th Ave
September 30 - November 1

Portland-based artists Michael Knutson and Carol Benson, both highly accomplished artists working in an abstract vein, happen to be married. Though each artist’s work is quite distinct, this two-person exhibition of recent paintings and wall reliefs highlights their complementary commitments to pattern, meticulous hand process, and eccentric optical phenomena. A former student of Al Held at Yale, Knutson has spent the last thirty years exploring forms of art-historical and vernacular patterning in oil paintings and watercolors that depict elastic spaces composed of warped and spiraling latticed ovals in an astonishing visual complexity. In works such as Four-layered Rotational Symmetry I (all works 2014), Knutson begins with pencil drawings, which are then scanned and digitally rotated to become the blueprint for a masterful color study. Like other works in the exhibition, this painting contrasts earthy hues with jewel-tone high notes reminiscent of South American abstract artists such as Antonio Llorens. As a systematic evolution of American Color Field abstraction, Knutson’s vivid works stretch and twist with a cosmic energy while maintaining a rigorous painterly formalism.

Working with cast-off canvas, wooden branches, oil paint, and other odd bits, Benson stitches and wires her works together into large, intertwined tangles that slump, slope, and protrude from the wall. Topkapi Blue is a tousled mass of thick tendrils painted in hues inspired by Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. Benson’s brushstrokes, palpable across the work’s twisting surfaces, possess the raw presence and energy found in the wall sculptures of feminist artists Harmony Hammond and Mary Heilmann. The supreme surfaces of Knutson’s pieces are amplified by Benson’s tactile odysseys, with works by both artists equally interspersed throughout the gallery—by turn contrasting and energizing each other’s methodologies.