The history of Modernism is, in part, a story of art consuming art. And like that mythical self-devouring serpent Ouroboros, hunger is never satiated and the food is always available. Most artists are natural devourers of images. They show up on the sly, fused like Frankenstein into some newer visual amalgamation. A lot of us take pleasure in finding these pictographic reiterations. But it’s not like a "Where’s Waldo?" scenario; how god awful and trite that would be. It’s a deeper communication. Certain images are vessels of emotion, mood, meaning, and it can be refreshing to sample from those old sources.
Kristopher Benedict’s exhibition Remake takes this process head-on, though not every image is recognizable. He selects material from a variety of locales, none too daring or surprising: art history, Hollywood, Google images—the triumvirate of our contemporary Western canon? There is little that is blissful. Benedict goes for foreclosed and boarded up homes, a sick girl at home in bed, a lonely looking light house, and a few pictures of hermits with lanterns proceeding through a darkness that is probably foreboding. There are also some fine abstract compositions, a painting of someone doing yoga, an apartment on Beard St., and a pair of lovebirds snuggling up as they stroll down a wintry city street. So not all is dour. Benedict provides an ample amount of perfectly quotidian images to gaze upon too.
Most of the work is of a moderate size, however Mansion (2011) is one of the bigger pieces, roughly seven by six feet. Ironically it was enlarged from a thumbnail-sized photo. The painting features Nicolas Cage’s repossessed Hollywood home in choppy brush strokes that give the abode a fragmented, even broken character. It’s as if Benedict is instilling the painting with an air of instability and uncertainty, matching the psychological make-up of someone, even a famous someone, going through foreclosure.
Benedict paints brushy expressionistic strokes, alternately sprightly and restrained. His remake of Willard Leroy Metcalf’s The Convalescent (1904) into a painting he titled Sick Day (2011) purges the picture’s original serenity for painterly punch. The rhythm of the brushwork and the butting together of hunter green and lilac would seem to simulate, for me at least, waves of nausea. Yet the girl’s expression is calm. Whatever plagues her, she’s got it under control.
Perhaps the most immediately recognizable image Benedict goes after is Lovers in the Snow (2011), which depicts a lovey-dovey bohemian couple tangled in each others arms as they trudge down a street in Greenwich Village during a snowstorm. It might be Vanilla Sky, or Abre Los Ojos. It might be the album cover of Bob Dylan’s Freewheeling. Whichever iteration the viewer recognizes, it is an image worn into the collective psyche. Benedict wipes all the troubadour’s charm out of the scene, depicting the two figures in a flat light burgundy on top of the landscape rather than in it. They’re outside of, or even beyond the weather, which comes across in flurried slashes of diagonal blue and white. There’s no Dylan, no Cruz, no Ono, no Cruise, what remains is more universal than a personality: it’s a connection, a feeling of closeness and warmth. For all the reiterations in this exhibition, there isn’t a single copy. Benedict makes everything his own.
~Charles Schultz, a writer living in New York.
Images: Untitled (abstract landscape), 2011, oil on canvas; Sick Day, 2011, oil on canvas. Courtesy Sue Scott Gallery.