Christopher Benson, Painter

Through a Glass Darkly: Artist’s Statement

All of my pictures are always about the same things: the surface, the gesture, the way the material of a given medium feels to handle and look at. On a deeper level they are also about connecting with other people and with whatever bigger thing is out there. 

Over the past decade or so, a field of medical science has been emerging that is beginning to explore the idea that consciousness may exist outside of us—that, rather than creating a mind in the hardware of our neural networks, we are more like a radio or television set that picks it up and transmits it, just as an individual wave expresses the energy of the vast sea of which it is merely a part.

Saint Paul, in one of his letters to the Corinthians, said of the hoped-for Christian experience of “knowing God”,  that we would only see [his] purpose clearly when we stood before that deity “face to face”— then added that “…for now, we see as through a glass darkly.”

But what if God doesn’t see us any more clearly than we see ourselves? Maybe what we are, in fact, are its eyes onto this strange universe we call home.

To me, all art has ever been is a way of having a conversation with something bigger than myself. It is an invariably limited, dimly imagined piece of something far larger than the bifurcated me and you of artist and viewer, through which we always have the fleeting chance to recognize that IT is in fact both of us at once. 

Artist’s Statement (Architectural Works)

My most recent painting, those made between 2012 to 2014, make up two distinct groups of pictures: one incorporating figures into interior and exterior architectural spaces, and the other of purely architectural landscapes. All the works here that were made before 2012 are similar enough to the more recent ones that the following explanations more or less apply to them as well.

The first group comes from subjects in Berkeley California – most of them either views of my wife Cybele in the house where she grew up, or else at our former home there. The rest are street scenes from neigborhoods in the various regions of the US where we have lived together, east, southwest and west, over the past twenty years. There is also a concentrated group of recent pictures all taken from a three-block section of a partially abandoned industrial/commercial district in the city of Roswell, New Mexico.

The architectural views are generally about light, color, and the formal abstractions the buildings create on the canvas and in the surface of the paint. They are consciously physical things – as much about the objectness of a painting as anything else. In the case of the Roswell pictures, I also mean to convey a direct, philosophically-uncluttered impression of the remnants of an industrial culture that defined America’s postwar identity that is now gradually fading away. I grew up in the closing decades of that era, and worked in my twenties and thirties as a cabinetmaker in urban factory neighborhoods much like the one I’ve painted in Roswell. Since then, I’ve spent the second half of my life in home-based studios painting pictures and working part time as a digital designer and publisher. I see the shift between those two lifestyles as an outgrowth of a much broader transformation in our society; but it’s not my intention for these pictures to offer any critique about it. They are just my observations of the now-fallow industrial landscape left in the wake of that change, and tinged by my recollections of that world I knew.

The figurative interiors similarly rely on space, form, light and color as the abstract constituents of otherwise representational scenes. They aim to capture something of what I know, and don’t know, about the people in my life, and especially about my wife – her internal complexities, the variety of her moods, where she comes from, what forces shaped her, and how she is ultimately isolated, as we all are, inside her own experience. These are not meant to be exact, literal representations — they are not likenesses as a portrait would be, but instead evoke some aspect of the mystery that attends every internal life.