Born 1971, Melbourne
Lives and works in Sydney
Represented by nanda\hobbs
27 February — 16 March 2020
I looked away from the artist and out the bay window of the grand Federation house. It was a postcard-perfect day in the coastal Sydney suburb, melancholic music filling the background to our conversation. It wasn’t an uplifting tune, but I like that sort of thing—somehow it seemed perfect. This was a strange moment. I had spent many years wanting to have a serious conversation about working with the man. Now here we are, sitting opposite each other on two black chairs with paintings and drawings scattered about our feet.
The room had a beautiful light, yet, it had an end of the road feel to it. The smoking black pistol on his sinewy forearm, amongst other inked moments, gave a clue to the artist's life of addiction, turmoil and loss. He told me of his existence in this boarding house, of his time in the hospital—a result of the ravages of heroin—and the beatings associated with that life. But most of all, he spoke of his deep love for the small landscapes on handmade paper that adorned the walls.
Looking into his eyes, there existed an unwavering longing to find the light—it drilled me to my core. At that moment, Jason Benjamin’s exhibition, a stripped-back letter in paint of love and hope, found a home.
There is a clarity to the artist’s intent entrenched throughout Comes the Pale Horse. Metaphor-rich as always with Benjamin, the paintings should not be viewed as lonely moments in the big sky country. Rather, they are homages to the spirituality that is inherent in our land. They hold much in common with the gold-encrusted religious icons of the middle ages, or indeed, with our own first peoples’ tjurunga stones. They are, in every sense, sacred objects that are seeking to explain our existence.
The artist, breathing deeply yet painfully, tells me of his meditative search for a way forward whilst he meticulously paints blades of grass on the sepia ground. In that room that the artist calls his galleon, Benjamin is adrift—aware of the outside world, but protected from it. It is here he can delve deep into his recovery, acknowledging the reasons why he must stay far from the darkness. I sense the great hope through his painting practice in the vast landscape of his mind.
I’ll let you into a secret about my world—the art world. It’s an opaque place. The dealer, curator, the historian, will often operate through the mythology that they create—truth and humanity are often stepped over.
“Can I say what has happened to you?” I ask.
“Ralph, I’ve got nothing left to hide. I have been making these intimate paintings for me.
I have a future—it is my way back to the world.
For me, they are the most precious things I have done so far. So yes, tell them everything.”
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