The gallery is pleased to announce the artwork of John Benton. Benton was drawn to the exploration of painting the “every day” early in his life after viewing the artwork of Fairfield Porter. While not initially knowing Porter’s work, the experience stuck with Benton. The concept of painting the world in which you live, was intriguing. Throughout his experience of growing up in the Midwest, the artist began to explore places, that easily passed without recognition. The artist’s process evolved into appreciating places often ignored by most people. To find the extraordinary within the ordinary became the theme of his artwork.
The concept of finding the extraordinary in the mundane, is a lesson in finding delight in the world around us regardless of our environment. We tend to focus on the craziness of our days, quickly rushing about, from home to work and back again. The honesty and authenticity of this artwork should not be lost in the meticulous detailed elements. It is through these details that we understand why these landscapes are so compelling. In the paintings, we see how the forms and color can be just as remarkable as those we see in a mountainous or seashore landscape. One of the themes found in this body of work is its panoramic quality. This panoramic quality gives the viewer many opportunities to connect and take in lovely moments. The landscapes feel uniquely midwestern with its trees, flat vistas, and farming communities that all lend to middle-America and its quiet small-town sensibility.
I remember going on a field trip when I was in high school to the Dayton Art Institute, the first large art museum I had ever been to. We spent several hours touring the museum and I remember being overwhelmed by all the paintings and painters. Having minimal art history at that point it was a visual blur of ideas, genres and styles and while I enjoyed the experience I didn’t have the skills to sort it all out or comprehend what it all meant. Towards the end of our visit we went into the gallery where the more contemporary paintings were, mostly Abstraction, Color Field and Pop art. My eyes were full of all the art that we had seen but in spite of being tired I found myself being drawn to a painting hanging off to one side of the gallery. It was Fairfield Porter’s “Self Portrait”. It’s a large painting of the artist standing in his studio surrounded by everyday stuff. He wears a blue shirt and tie, khaki pants and brown shoes. There is a chair, a table, a stove, a paint rag on the floor along with a jar of liquid. Overhead is a skylight and behind him you can see a sunlit landscape outside a huge window. Here was a plain spoken, everyday scene of an artist in his studio. It felt familiar and recognizable and reassuringly relatable. It made a big impression on me and even if I had no idea who Fairfield Porter was I knew that this painting was a doorway opening up to me and that painting could be something more than myths, history and religion. Painting could be about the everyday experiences of life.
Later on when I got to know more about Porter, his art and his writings, I read a quote by him about a painter that he greatly admired, Edouard Vuillard. Vuillard was famous for his paintings of the interior of his home, his portraits of his family and for the landscape of where he lived. They were simple paintings about his life and the place where he lived yet Porter summed it up this way “What Vuillard seemed to be doing was ordinary but the extraordinary is everywhere.”
Both artists painted what was around them, their friends and family, the places where they dwelled, the objects they lived with and the landscapes they saw. By looking at what was around them and then painting what they saw they recognized that their lives were the inspiration for their art. Trying to capture what they saw and making it into a painting turned the ordinary into something unique. We as viewers pay attention and then see the world through their eyes. The ordinary is extraordinary because an artist has shown you how to look at the world in a different way.
Since then I have looked at the world around me and tried to capture in my paintings a small part of what I saw and felt that day looking at that Fairfield Porter painting. Like Porter and Vuillard I am visually attracted to the everyday places that make up the world around me. For me that means, having grown up in Ohio, I am attuned to the landscape of the Midwest. Not necessarily the landmarks or scenic overlooks but the regular landscape between the two. The everyday glimpsed landscape that rushes by your car as you drive. I find something interesting in how these places don’t ask for our attention or recognition and how they exist unfocused as we pass by them. We drive by construction sites, quarries or pass under a bridge and don’t expect visual excitement or attraction in these places. However I have always found these places interesting because they don’t ask for our attention. Through the years I have looked at these neglected places and tried to understand what makes them so interesting to me. Often times I don’t know the answer but the act of looking and painting them leads me to an appreciation of their existence. In the end I feel that I somehow reach a place where I do see and appreciate them in spite of their plainness. Hopefully you as the viewer will be intrigued by the work enough to truly look at them and somehow see what I see when I look at these places, that somehow I have taken the ordinary and made it into something more, the extraordinary.
John Benton received his BFA from Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio where he studied with Ernest Koerlin, Kimmerly Kiser, Ray Must and David Leach and his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he studied with Neil Welliver and Rudy Burkhardt. He is currently a member of First Street Gallery in New York.
He has been included in a number of museum shows including the Butler Institute of American Art, the Artist Choice Museum, the Hoyt Art Center and the Taubman Museum of Art and recently had his first solo museum exhibition at the Springfield Museum of Art, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Springfield, Ohio. He has been invited to participate in over fifty group exhibitions including Bowery, Blue Mountain and Prince Street Gallery in New York as well as various venues in the East and Midwest. He was invited to participate in the “In, On, Of Paper” a Zeuxis Paint Group invitational exhibition at “There” Gallery in New York as well as participate in their “Artists Conversations” series. John also had the privilege of being included in a panel discussion at Landmark Gallery titled “Four Generations of Figurative Painters: Alice Neel, Larry Day, George Hildrew and John Benton”. His paintings have been recognized with a number of awards and he has been featured in magazines, catalogs and a number of periodicals. His work is can be found in both public and private collections.
John Benton is primarily a landscape painter working both on site as well as in the studio. Particularly the unassuming landscapes anonymously found just about anywhere. He currently lives in Chicago but often paints the sites of where he grew up in Ohio.