Los Angeles

Karl Benjamin

Esther Robles Gallery

In this show of mostly 1961 and 1962 oil paintings, Benjamin takes another crack at eventually covering all of the possibilities of so-called “abstract classicism.” In his last show here, the paintings used a regular horizontal-vertical grid made up of bright, sharply contrasting colors that flickered outward from the picture plane. In the show previous to that, there were interlocking, geometric forms composing a generally shallow space with pleasant colors. He now allows sharp-edged, irregular shapes to hang, spill and float in a deep, almost surreal space. These shapes all have carefully controlled, razor-sharp, built-up edges that tend to catch light and create a sort of optical ambiguity—a recessive, green trapezoid tries to move forward out of the painting as the light reflects on its upper edge. The colors in these pictures have grown more subdued. The tones are deeper and the values fairly close together—far more gently harmonious than the earlier, 1961, paintings and those of his last show.

What Benjamin is doing here is to create an extremely shallow relief effect that plays the sculptural, or real, qualities of the space against the color illusions. The problem, though, with these picture is that they tend to emphasize technical virtuosity at the expense of invention. The attempt at developing expressive action in the pictures is evident, but this quality rarely reaches beyond the conventional.

Donald Factor