Los Angeles

“Five Hard Edge Painters” and Karl Benjamin Retrospective

Laguna Beach Art Association Gallery

The hard edge exhibit features the paintings of Karl Benjamin, whose one-man retrospective is being shown concurrently, plus Florence Arnold, Max Bailey, Rod Briggs, and John McLaughlin in quite a well-rounded view of the differing abstract classicist approaches.

Clearly the most fundamental selections are those of McLaughlin. Basic rectangular units or vertical strips (rectangular units themselves) almost symmetrically divide up the large, simple canvases. Color is held down to monochromatic black and white with the occasional addition of a single hue. The resultant effect is one of purity and restraint. Briggs’ works, although not as consistent and finished, possess an additional visual titillation due to the incorporation of actual three dimensional textural areas—an Op gimmick successfully manipulated. The Thin Line Between is his best example of this technique. Variegated hard edged horizontal lines cut across this very horizontal painting but are engulfed in textured parallel-lined waves moving across on either side. Still strongly reminiscent of his earlier, looser-edged boat and sea scenes, but now strictly hard edge are the rather drab paintings of Max Bailey. By filling the forms in solidly with color where earlier the masonite backing showed through, Bailey has lost much of the personality without the redeeming substitution of the purity of sheer geometric, non-representational shapes. Decorative arrangements of rather complex shapes, somewhat a la Matisse, make up the paintings of Florence Arnold. Generally pleasantly analogously colored and nicely organized, they lack purpose and reason for being.

Karl Benjamin has maintained a steady output of abstract-classical paintings with gradual and consistent evolutions in style since 1958. Four basic phases are most apparent. 1958–60 is characterized by strident colors, clearly geometric forms, and occasional in-out optical illusions; 1960–62 shows a strong change to more greyed, muted colors with frequent white focal points and division of the canvas into angular lines and shapes; 1963 is notable for the introduction of circular forms, often combined against simpler angled planes; and the most recent endeavors appear to hearken back to the early vivid colors, often played against one another in equal intensity to produce a tension between negative and positive, but a general simplification of forms.

Charlene Steen