Thursday, February 1st, 2007

Benjamin Edwards: We

Greenberg Van Doren Gallery
730 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street
New York City
212 445 0444

November 17, 2006 – January 12, 2007

Benjamin Edwards Softstream Meadows 2006 acrylic, oil and texture media on canvas, 44 by 60 inches Courtesy Greenberg van Doren Gallery
Benjamin Edwards, Softstream Meadows 2006 acrylic, oil and texture media on canvas, 44 by 60 inches Courtesy Greenberg van Doren Gallery

Benjamin Edwards’s architectural landscapes are at once painterly and constructed, present and absent of human activity. The painter’s third exhibition at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery is titled “We.” This title, though seemingly simple, derives from a sobering 1920s dystopian novel by Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin, which is just as ideologically-packed as Edwards’s paintings are visually.

Edwards’s previous exhibitions presented similarly process-intensive, large-scale paintings of one-point perspective landscapes, yet crammed with suburban and corporate architecture and interspersed with hovering icons, logos and text. These paintings are synthetic environments, the compositions of which originated in architecture computer software. They were intricately crafted with masking tape and acrylic paint to yield results that are hard edged.  These works were criticized for bearing more of a resemblance to graphic design than painting. “We” marks a return to a painterly use of oil in combination with acrylic elements found in Edwards’s more straightforward urban landscapes of the 1990s. Significantly, the human figure makes an appearance.

Entering the gallery, two atmospheric skyscapes pose the question: what does the world of the future look like to the 21st century eye? The World of Tomorrow (all paintings 2006), a medium-sized painting, captures a Kincadian glow comprised of Modernist-inspired structures in blocky acrylic beneath the thin, painterly atmosphere rendered in oils. The foggy, expansive light recalls the atmospheric effect of George Lucas’s pre-digital matte painted environments of the early 1980s cinema of Star War’s Cloud City.

A painting with a background similar to The World of Tomorrow is Hidden Village,measuring roughly by three and a half feet wide. A composition divided into a foreground of fractured corporate high rises and background of stacked suburban houses, Hidden Village is a one-point perspective skewed and off-center. Strings of text reading “Knights of Revolution,”  “Host” (backwards), and other illegibly fragmented characters bisect the horizon line.  The foreground’s sea of asphalt is filled with bright, bold colors and of a varied surface– textures added with modeling grit and crumbled refuse occupy the foreground. Nestled in this expanse are blocky forms that suggest the silhouettes of people. From a distance these forms coalesce and yet remain not immediately recognizable.

Edwards’s paintings require monumental size to create the vast scale indicated in his one-point perspective worlds. We is a nine foot long canvas painted entirely in oils. Like all of Edwards’s work in this exhibition, the images read at a distance (or in reproduction) as graphic images, yet up close dissolve into layers of transparencies, revealing thin brushstrokes. Symbols, text and shapes float close to the surface or the picture plane, threading through passages of figures and architecture.

Softstream Meadows, measuring three and a half by five feet, shows that use of the figures is most effective when the human presence is implied and not overstated, when the figures are integrated into and not overpowering the surrounding environment. A female figure, rendered in the style of blind contour, appears in the foreground amidst swirling symbols, architecture and broken planes. Segments of her legs, face and arms are painted while her clothing remains undefined. Behind her, figures depicted by silhouettes dissolve into the horizon. The people are as artificial as the environments– video game-derived characters– and have a ghastly, apparitional quality, appearing as mannequins in their cold depiction. The females depicted in this manner also possess an unsettling erotic aura, one that comments on the 21st century male gaze at the computer-generated Venus. These figures are rendered in thin layers of fluid oil paint. In this body of work, acrylic tends to describe the sharp edges of the man-made whereas oil is used transparently and luminously, suggesting an epidermis, a human skin. Here, Edwards’s use of brushstroke reveals the hand of the artist, adding a human presence in contradistinction to the geometric severity of his constructed world.