Arthur Benjamins “Swede” 40″ x 48″
“…I have remained self-taught, allowing me unfettered and raw access to self-discovery and directions in which to travel.”
I always say painting is my healthiest obsession. It’s not about shows or sales or proselytizing. I must make these images.
Perhaps because I’m working from a state some would dismiss as symptomatic of OCD, I feel an affinity to other artists who are similarly driven. That drive is is evident in the paintings of Dutch-born artist Arthur Benjamins, and not only because of his ongoing body of work featuring race cars. The same acceleration appears in his more abstract pieces, where he is exploring Neoplasticism, one of Modern art’s most refined efforts to achieve formal beauty.
Arthur Benjamins “Trinity” 36″ x 16″
Starting in 1917 in the Netherlands, the design movement also referred to as De Stilj aimed at the universal by using strong lines and primary colors. Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) is perhaps the best known artist associated with De Stilj’s philosophical approach to art.
Influence: Piet Mondrian “Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow,” 1930
I was surprised when I learned of Arthur Benjamin’s variety of styles, as I had only been familiar with his racing images. But I understand the commonality. I can see the connection between the sleek, clean lines and boldness of high performance vehicles, and Neoplasticism’s channeling of expression into geometric purity. There is a point in the artistic process where artists, no matter what is being rendered-a Formula One speedster, a nude, a bowl of fruit, whatever-somewhere in our minds we are translating it a pictorial mass of colors and shapes. How much more challenging it is to invest the same intrigue found in recognizable imagery into an arrangement of formally arranged planes.
I was also surprised when Arthur told me about what happened when he tried to share his explorations with some representatives of the arts establishment who specialize in the very field Arthur is contributing to. It is another proof that art elitists are very poor at recognizing developments which are happening before their own eyes.
I asked Arthur Benjamins to share his stories about his artistic discoveries and ideas. In this new Remodern era, it is illuminating to see how an artist takes bold steps in pursuit of his vision, and works to share his discoveries beyond the typical art bubble.
Arthur Benjamins “Grand Prix Homage”
Question: How did you discover you were an artist?
Arthur Bejamins: There are many artists who can rightfully claim that they were child proteges – championed by strangers, friends or family members alike. The ones who could paint life like figures before they could even crawl – the precociousness that always runs parallel with the many whose names are still on our lips and in our history books today. Well, those early skills passed me by.
I went to the Hebrew School in Bulawayo, Rhodesia in 1959, where I lived soon after my family swapped continents. I cultivated a balance between life or death in the sandpit, or the dangerously high ‘Jungle Jim’ from which there were enough possibilities for any 6 years old to fall out of, or the figure-of-eight, concrete cycle path around the play ground, on which you could get a tricycle to lift its inside wheel if you went fast enough.
In between generating life threatening situations, several teachers noticed that I had a propensity to build tall structures out of large wooden building blocks. Subsequentially, my parents were told that I could ‘build something out of nothing’. That was the inauspicious start to it all.
As the years progressed, our parents told us of my paternal family members who achieved various degrees of artistic note and successes during their life in 19th – and 20th century Rotterdam, Holland – where I was born in 1953.
I was never a child art prodigy. I started late, possibly around my mid teens and the people around me treated my aspirations with head-patting indulgent kindness. I never developed a self-identity until much later.
Knowing that a part of my father’s family were successful artists, was certainly an ever-present spark, but my schools’ art classes never lit that blue touchpaper. Looking back at it now, those teachers were incapable of nurturing any potential talent.
As a consequence, I have remained self-taught, allowing me unfettered and raw access to self-discovery and directions in which to travel.
In the late 1960s, my artistic skills were still very much under developed. I had become aware of the British cartoonist, Carl Giles and who I wished to emulate. Around that time I also became passionately interested in motor racing
After a relative short while, it dawned on me that I’d never become a racing driver, but in 1968 a Dutch artist, Jack de Rijk was featured on Dutch TV. He had suddenly achieved fame and fortune by painting motor racing scenes. It appeared he was ‘discovered’ by a Ford executive, who bought all of his exhibited works at a Hilton Hotel and commissioned him a great many more.
Combining my motor racing passion with painting – I had suddenly found my true vocation in life.
I remain more than honored when I meet, or hear from other automotive artists who tell me that my presence at various British racing car shows, spurred THEM into traveling down the same route as I did. It completes the circle but I am sad that Jack de Rijk passed away in 2005 before I could tell him what an unbelievable influence he had always been to me. However, I truly believe that he knows.
Q: What do you hope to convey through your work?
AB: I must add to say that any artist who says that he/she has never been influenced by the works of others, is lying. So, too, are the ones claiming they’re not seeking an audience. We sell our souls to the ones who have polarized ideas and passions, conversely hoping they’ll listen.
Once artists come to realize that a large proportion of the world sees them as ready entertainment – as monkeys in cages, ready to be poked with sharp sticks – a very large burden will fall off their shoulders.
The world no longer sees artists as a barometer of social issues – that has been passed on to the vapid, empty-headed, transient ‘personalities’, who are wheeled out to pass judgment on all subjects known to man.
I have painted several hard-hitting images pertaining to my view on one focused part of a socio political issue in the UK. 99% of the people I showed it to, missed the point completely, their explanations ranged from the absurd to the ridiculous. of . The strength of my message was high, yet it failed to hit its intended mark. Had it hit center mass, the guaranteed fall-out may have been of insufficient quality to warrant non figurative countering.
I don’t think that anyone could view my work as a carrier of any social message or comment. In fact I’m not interested in making any comments or statements on that plateau. I’m not interested in teaching, preaching, changing or bettering the world in any way through my art – but merely for the viewer to like, hate, buy, all three – or come away with even more curiosity than with which they arrived.
Arthur Benjamins “9-11”
Q: Your works underwent a significant change in style. Was this deliberate choice, or something that just evolved? Are you committed to one style, or do you vary?
AB: My very first works were truly inspired by Jack de Rijk and the only differences were that his depictions were barely representational of the reference material he was using. He certainly bypassed the true technical aspect of the cars, something I found imperative. My technical and mechanical prowess and ability to use perspective very well, all worked in my favor, and although there were some who alleged a similarity with our works, as time went on, those voices dwindled to nothing. Even now I get very irked when I see technical incorrectness for which there is no excuse. These days the procurement of correct reference material is almost 100% guaranteed.
In 1974, I took my graphic style to the UK, where I lived for the next 40 years. Imperceptibly I began to change from my graphic style, into a more photo realistic style – something that had not yet been used in automotive art – certainly not motor racing, of which there already were several established artists. Another Jack de Rijk aspect that I bought along as well – was the use of bright and colorful enamel paints – something that I continued using till about 2013 – when I began to use the quicker drying acrylic paints, which has different properties that I had to learn to use to my full advantage.
Arthur Benjamins “Jaguar 1-2″ 30″ x 40”
Around 2000, I moved away from my trademark photo realism. The jolt was sudden and it had been some years in the coming. I wished to return to my graphic style which I did with a temporary, in-between style, which I named, “Refractive Realism”. Since 2015, I have settled for a more graphic style and which leans heavily on my first. Life can go full circle, although I do realize that more changes may announce themselves at any time.
Q: How do you create your paintings now? How does this compare to your methods in the past?
AB: The only luxury I permit myself is the use of acrylic paint, because it dries very quickly, allowing quicker follow-ups of layers. Whereby my previous use of enamel paints required two coats – with seemingly eons long drying times. My move away from enamel paints is mainly due to the USA legislation pertaining to the chemical properties of those paints and that I cannot buy in enough quantity in the colors that I seek.
I do require reference material for much of my work and in order for these references to be laid down in scale, I cannot rely on ad hoc working techniques but must rely on countless calculations instead. Apart from my Science-Fantasy work, all my other technically based work was augmented by the exact correct references.
A very large aspect of my works is something that many viewers allow themselves to be perturbed about. Apart from automotive and aviation art, I have also embraced other genres and in other styles, like my “Desert Series”, “Abstract Iconography”, portraiture and my recent re-visitation of Neoplasticism, which had laid dormant since 1944. Many people are uncomfortable with artists whose oeuvre follows varying paths.
Apart from the existing Neoplasticism, the other styles have no bearing on any previous ones, nor can they be attributed to any. In itself, this can cause a meltdown among the many hidebound ‘experts’ who feel that all art must be able to be labeled to their satisfaction in order for it to really ‘belong’ in society.
Arthur Benjamins “Ekphrasis” 45″ x 45″ (diagonals)
Q: You recently had some interactions with the Dutch Gemeente Museum in The Hague. What was that experience like?
AB: In 2017, the above museum was in the limelight with an obligatory Mondrian retrospective. A friend of mine emailed me a TV interview with the museum’s most enthusiastic Manager, Benno Tempel, showing much zest for Mondrian’s works and his lasting influence on world art, a sentiment with which I fully agreed.
Keeping in mind their well-documented stance on anything outside their immediate and normal remit, I emailed them an introduction to myself, my work and my intentions in proudly accepting the baton of Neoplasticism.
Not that there was anyone already in the running from whom to accept it, I voiced my decision to have taken the baton, 70 years after it was left behind and to run with it in my own unique style of which the Old Man would definitely have approved – especially in the same country 5500 miles away in which his name and movement rose to the top and where I, another Dutchman, had the fullest intention achieving the same.
I also cordially invited them to comment on my Neoplasticism, should they so wish. I also remained very clear that I was not seeking any form of approval from them, whether clear or begrudgingly.
I need not have feared – within 24 hours I received a reply from their curator, Hans Janssen. Not that I was expecting that my approach would have them dancing in the streets, the broad gist of his answer did leave me somewhat open mouthed.
They referred to a book which they published during their retrospective – and which seemed to be the most definitive publication ever printed on the subject of Neoplasticism and Mondrian. It was in there – so they hinted – would be the ‘Holy Grail’ of the perpetuation of Neoplasticism.
He audaciously closed his Ex Cathedra monologue that the museum only wished to deal with artists who showed distinct promise and talent – and that I certainly didn’t possess any of the aforementioned.
I answered them a few days later begging to differ on a few points. I urged them to reconsider their denial in Mondrian’s somewhat religious background not having openly driven him – but did have an influence nevertheless.
My following issue was that they (The museum) themselves didn’t have any clue – nor could they have – as to what constituted a ‘legitimate’ furtherance of Neoplasticism. I posed the further question that even Mondrian may not have known himself, and continued by saying that if that same question was laid at my own feet, I may not have been able to answer it – nor would I have been willing to try.
I finally referred to their book and that I was in possession of it. Alongside that – a whole slew of highly respected and well documented publications from over the many years and of which I was of the utmost certainty that even the museum would not have owned them.
It must have been this and my reply which must have made them (shamefacedly) realize that I wasn’t the nonentity they felt they were dealing with.
Again I invited them to reply in good time but so far only received an indignant silence.
The fact that they were so keen to supply an answer came as a surprise to me. The gist of it, didn’t. It merely underscored the typical belief that ownership of something automatically guarantees a deep knowledge of it, while in truth, the possessors bluster and hide behind their continuing ignorance.
It is exactly this prevailing, holier-than-thou attitude which feeds and propels the alienation of a growing part of the general public who have grown up sincerely believing that museums and auction houses are in a position to authoritatively comment on all aspects of art. Many go through life never seeing or accepting the facts, and the situation perpetuates itself with every never-querying generation.
The ‘World Of Art’s’ bullshit factor has reached stratospheric levels. Up until the freedom afforded to us of internet en social media, 20th century artists discussed whether or not ones work fitted inside the emerging framework of a genre or particular movement to which they had affiliated themselves. Aided and abetted by two world wars, this movement underwent a rapid overturn which rolled the dice outside their own elements of self interest. With the temporary self-exile of many European artists to the USA, the merging influences began to brew up.
This BS factor began to rest with galleries and failed artists who, with repeated pompous verbosity and limpet like tenaciousness would come to set the pace and meter for all artists’ career because they dare set sail in their fiefdom. With their effusive coterie willing spokes people happily doing their masters’ bidding – woe the artists who found themselves outside of the Greenberg-esque following, or who would fall by the wayside as the years progressed.
Those self-appointed ‘movers & shakers’ controlled the galleries and museums, who, over the years began to manage their own edict of fashionable dross. The remainder of those few ‘art critics’ are playing down their own role in the arts’ current deconstruction, leading you to believe that much of the ‘established’ art has been awarded a reverence by the educated middle class. This is all hot air. It is like an over inflated balloon which needs to be stabbed with a very sharp knife.
Q: What are you currently working on?
AB: My latest project was providing the artwork for the Daytona Museum Hall Of Speed Of America, which annually inducts between 6 and 8 people who over the years have been highly influential in the filed of motor racing, aviation and power boating. My artwork was extensively used for on the publicity posters, guides, champagne bottles for this prestigious, two-day event at the Daytona International Speedway.
My wife and I were invited to this event and met the many people who were the past and present inductees, like legends as Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon and many more.
I have a very special Canadian client with a personal car collection of around 36 vehicles, including various Ford GT40s – including the 2018 model – and which I shall be commissioned to paint when it arrives. She has bought 10 of my originals in about two years and shows no sign of slowing down.
A British client of mine who I last spoke about 25 years ago, recently contacted me out of the blue and commissioned me to paint a range of helmeted drivers.
Directly after my annual Barrett-Jackson exhibition in January 2019, I will begin the remainder of the 10-week Arizona Fine Art Expo at which I will show an entire new range of my “Desert Series” – a growing body of works which illustrate desert life and colors in a completely different manner. This Expo deals predominantly with typical Southwestern art – something I eschew as it’s being done to death for many years now.
I remain involved in the “American Healing Art Foundation”, by teaching veterans my art at the Arizona Fine Art Expo. Also, teaching young children the basics of Neoplasticism at various Phoenix libraries. The list grows.
Yes, it has taken much effort to get to the point where I am today. It would be great if the levels of reward run parallel with the effort that one puts into it, but I keep in mind that the journey is probably as interesting and rewarding as the goal one sets.
In July 1894, one of my Granduncles arrived through Ellis island and made a name for himself in the USA in the form of two patents on the cutting and shaping of precious stones.
In the 20th century, and several decades apart, two Dutch artists, Willem de Kooning and Piet Mondrian also arrived in the USA and made tremendous and permanent waves in the world of art.
It is my fullest intentions to follow in their footsteps.
Arthur Benjamins (r) with racing legend Mario Andretti
Visit the Arthur Benjamins website: 1 Pilgrim Studio