San Francisco

Karl Benjamin

William Sawyer Gallery

The title Variability and Repetition of Variable Forms would almost seem more appropriate for another show in town, the paintings of Karl Benjamin at the Sawyer Gallery. He has gridded his canvases with twelve six-inch horizontal and vertical blocks and founded the smaller square diagonal grid on the tensions of the other; he has used twelve colors (except one in which the greens and blues are left out to allow the violets to dominate). The first impression is that the grid is an unrelieved waffling of the square, but you soon realize that your own eye is completing the left-out divisions, and in some cases that a few of the divisions are read in by an optical urgency to complete. In only one painting is there an actual hub. The others have disguised centers despite a four-way repetition of multilateral symmetry. This is not apparent except on studied analysis, since one’s eye centers on many places, and corrects at any focus for a different gestalt. And whereas one appears to be involved in an asymmetrical visual motion, one eye is caught up in an ineluctable centrifuge. Benjamin made crayon plans with numbered squares and instructions to himself that read, for example, “Move up one interval each row,” and another, “Odds and evens clockwise.” The craft is machinelike, without mistakes or unevenness. The natural lightness of the yellows and oranges gives the only tonal variations in the paintings, and are thus the only inference of negative-positive differences. All other spatial implications are thwarted. The paintings are purely abstract and entirely preconceived. The variations from one painting to another are easy enough to read when together, but I suspect I couldn’t remember the differences without comparative referents. Most would probably be willing to throw away some of the craft and play the game theory for greater variety. The abdication from all symbol leads to another level of symbolism anyway; these could stand for quality control, for example.

The Sawyer Gallery has a new location with roomy quarters in a residential part of town. This move achieves more space and a respite from the gift crowd on Union Street.

Knute Stiles