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The University of Southampton
Winchester School of Art

Anthony Benjamin: Currents – presenting works from the 1960s/’70s and 2000s

People at the exhibition

‘With a Nomad’s Heart…’

The Winchester Gallery is proud to present the first selected retrospective in over 15 years of work by the late British artist Anthony Benjamin, FRSA (1931 – 2002). We are especially pleased to host this exhibition at Winchester School of Art (WSA) where Benjamin taught in the mid- to late 1960s.

Bringing together artworks from Benjamin’s printmaking, painting, and sculptural practice from the late 1960s / early 1970s and the late 1990s / early 2000s, Anthony Benjamin: Currents explores his engagement with art’s potential for vibrancy. With a nomadic heart that beat to the countercultural currents of his time, Benjamin’s career as an artist was as varied as his travels which took him to work in London, Paris, Italy, Canada, the USA, and Morocco. As an artist with a hybrid art practice, Benjamin did not develop a signature style. Of more importance to him was his commitment to creating art of singular energy, seeking to stimulate the viewer’s senses and fire the imagination.

Currents presents together for the first time Anthony Benjamin’s vivid and dancing abstract paintings of his final few years with his award-winning electric-coloured screen prints series of 1972, ‘Roxy Bias Suite’. Produced with Kevin Harris at the Calvert Studios, this series was inspired by intense conversations Benjamin had about the creative process, art, and electronic music with his friend and student at WSA, Brian Eno.

Anthony Benjamin had been selected by Roy Ascott to teach on the groundbreaking The Groundcourse at Ealing Art College by 1962. Following this, Benjamin taught at Ipswich where he first met and taught Brian Eno in 1963. By the mid-1960s, Benjamin was teaching at Winchester School of Art where he had Eno join him as a student. They developed a friendship and correspondence that continued beyond that time. Some of Eno’s correspondence to Benjamin from these periods forms part of the archival material on display in Anthony Benjamin: Currents.

However, Benjamin’s return to using intense, fresh colours in his final paintings was inspired by the reaction Benjamin and his partner, artist Nancy Patterson, had when encountering resonant instruments such as the gimbre and oud of Gnawa trance music in their travels to Morocco. The sights, sounds and colours of Marrakesh intensified Benjamin’s passion for capturing and creating vibrant experiences through his art. If one were acquainted only with Anthony Benjamin’s early work, such colourful emphasis in his artwork might come as a surprise.

Having studied drawing with Fernand Léger in Paris in 1951 early in his career, Benjamin then was associated for a time in the 1950s with the St Ives School - painting domestic scenes and portraits in earthy tones, somber and pensive in ambience. Benjamin also spent time in 1957 learning at SW Hayter’s Atelier 17, once more in Paris, exploring new developments in printmaking. His resulting print series of dark, velvety palette An Homage to Night Fishing, using a Sidney Graham poem as inspiration, was later shown and written about by Chris Stevens and acquired for the Tate Britain collection.

By the early 1960s, however, Benjamin had worked in Italy on a government scholarship, developing artwork that showed, as Nancy Patterson expressed it, “his severance with social realism and traditional modes of expression” (Correspondence, Nancy Patterson to August Jordan Davis, December 2017). These paintings, some of which are on show in Currents, represent “the start of an investigation of the flattening of perspective and arranging patterns of colour on the canvas to evoke particular visual and emotional responses in the viewer” (Patterson to Davis, December 2017), which is a current running throughout his life’s work. From that point, Benjamin turned towards the exuberant palette that enlivens the works presented in this new selected retrospective.

This exhibition aims to make current an understanding of Benjamin’s career that doesn’t rely on an over-emphasis of his very early work, like the St Ives connection, work that doesn’t prepare you for his mature artistic practice. The vibrancy coursing through Benjamin’s sculptural, painting and printmaking practice selected for Currents offers unexpected brilliancy if you only know these earlier works. His return to intense colour explorations in the final paintings, after his monochromatic works of the early 1990s (what Nancy Patterson calls his “long obsession with ‘pure drawing’ in pencil and graphite… large works he referred to as ‘Painting in Pencil’”), offers us an insight into the way certain preoccupations continued to gain and regain currency throughout his life’s practice.

As Patterson has observed:

“When a print from the ‘Roxy Suite’ is placed in proximity to the paintings he produced 25 years later, the relationship is immediately apparent… both are the result of a similar creative process. While all these works retain a glowing freshness and energy, they were all carried out with the same exacting precision he had learned as a young apprentice engineering draughtsman at Bell Punch Factory in Hayes, Middlesex in the late 1940s.”
(Private written reflections Patterson shared with Davis)

Describing the 1972 screen prints series ‘Roxy Bias Suite’, Nancy Patterson has written:

“The set of six ‘Roxy Bias’ prints, each one bearing the name of an electronic music function – Butterfly Echo, Erase Function, Ringing Filter, Inverse Echo, Multi-Mode Jitter, ‘O’ Factor – was dazzling and visually interactive, one with the other, as well as with their immediate surroundings. They were also very successful – both aesthetically, and commercially. They are in the Tate Collection and many other Public and Institutional Collections and won prizes in the San Paulo Biennale and in Canada, as well as being selected by many private and corporate collectors.”
(Private written reflections Patterson shared with Davis)

Anthony Benjamin: Currents brings these works publically into proximity for the first time. We are very pleased that to mark this occasion and the remarkable artwork of Anthony Benjamin, Brian Eno has worked with images from Benjamin’s vibrant art to produce a new piece using the technology he has developed for his on-going series 77 MILLION PAINTINGS. It is a software programme, which, as Brian Eno explains: “shuffles image-layers over one another to create new combinations and hence new pictures.” (From correspondence Eno with Currents co-curator Stephanie Sinclair, January 2018) In his installations to date, Eno has used images that he had drawn himself, but for this new piece he is using images of Benjamin’s works selected for Currents. The number of unique images created by these combinations of layers in the projection exceeds many millions.

Such a wealth of images seems a fitting tribute to an artist such as Anthony Benjamin engaged as he was with art’s unending possibilities. Anthony Benjamin: Currents is a celebration of an artist who found joy in creating, always exploring the currents of his times through his endless experimenting with art.

-- Dr August Jordan Davis, January 2018

Anthony Benjamin: Currents is co-curated by Director of The Winchester Gallery, Dr August Jordan Davis, by Anthony Benjamin’s partner - the artist Nancy Patterson, and by independent curator and art historian Stephanie Sinclair, Owner of Abbesses Arts Agency.

We would like to thank the colleagues at Winchester School of Art who worked on all the aspects this exhibition with us. Additionally, we would like to thank Brian Eno, Kevin and Ina Harris, and the support of the Anthony Benjamin Trust, as well as photographers whose work features and whose copyright appertains, including Dave Clark, Adrian Flowers, Martin Koretz, Anthony McCall, Lewis Morley, Nancy Patterson, and Stephanie Sinclair.

Anthony Benjamin: Currents – presenting works from the 1960s/’70s and 2000s
The Winchester Gallery
2 February – 23 March 2018
Open Mondays – Fridays, 10am to 4pm and Saturdays, 11am to 3pm

Private View 1 February 2018 – 5pm to 7pm
The Winchester Gallery, Ground Floor of Westside Building, Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, Park Avenue, Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 8DL

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