As with his previous shows, Matthew Benedict tells a crooked tale with his latest Mystery Stories at Alexander and Bonin. Using an illustrative trompe l'oeil technique, his sculptures and paintings delve into apocryphal narratives that find their kin in maritime piracy and the masonic brotherhoods, with plenty of symbolism to go around.
Comprised of only seven paintings (most of them gouache on wood) in this edition, Benedict's brush unearths hidden histories of the familiar. He depicts somewhat banal scenes such as hunters readying their guns at a campfire or two relaxed performers sharing a night-cap and lounging behind stage, he with drink in hand at the keys of a piano and she reclining on top of it. A custodian mops the floor behind them next to a canvas whose backside is turned towards the viewer. There is a vagueness to what exactly is going on, and one senses that their is more than meets the eye.
Benedict's portrait Lost at Sea lets us in on the story of a lost merchant ship captained by Benjamin Spooner Briggs that was found drifting by its lonesome near the Straits of Gibraltar in December 1872, inexplicably abandoned by its crew. Perhaps as an extension of the mystery, The Gypsy shows us a beach on which a woman points a gun at three ragged men who appear to have been shipwrecked. In the background a tipping ship lies weather-beaten in the shallow waters, while in the bottom third of the painting, Benedict has painted a cream wall panel that acts a framing buffer to our world and his.
Typical of his work, the artist lets us in, but not really. And this is a good thing. We are fed fragments of stories, left to accept confusion, incompleteness, and lack of fulfillment, or alternatively, calmly choose to connect the dots as we see fit. We are forced into being storytellers also, depending on if we are romantics or not. Benedict, it appears, falls in the category of the former.
Images: Jazz Trio (Rum & Chartreuse), 2008; Lost at Sea (Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs, Master of the Mary-Celeste, 2008; The Gypsy, 2009. Courtesy Alexander and Bonin.