October 11, 2013

The Painter as Pitcher


A baseball pitcher is a good metaphor for a painter.  A pitcher stands alone on the mound, a painter stands alone in the studio.  A pitcher chooses from an arsenal of different pitches, altering the speed and location of each pitch to keep the batter off balance.  A painter chooses from an arsenal of different styles and techniques, smearing colors onto canvas to create images or evoke a mood in the viewer.  Both pitcher and painter rely heavily on their arm to do their job.

Leon Benn explores this metaphor, among other things, in Pitching Rotations, his first solo show at Carter & Citizen.  It is a small show, of small paintings, in a small gallery, but like a good pitcher, Benn is able to do a lot in a limited amount of space.

Leon Benn, Smokin' Samsung, 2013, oil and acrylic on linen, 34 x 39 inches

Leon Benn, Smokin' Samsung, detail

Leon Benn, Smokin' Samsung, detail

There are several references to the game of baseball in this show.  Some are more subtle than others and it was fun trying to spot them.  The most obvious of the bunch is found in Smokin' Samsung (2013), the first painting viewers see upon entering the gallery.  In it, Benn depicts a flat screen TV surrounded by empty soda cans and slices of pizza.  The TV is tuned into a baseball game and the image on the screen portrays a pitcher standing on a mound like a castaway on a small island.  The show's title, Pitching Rotations, is another baseball reference - a term used to describe the order of starting pitchers on a baseball team.  It is also descriptive of a pitcher's arm as it rotates at the shoulder to throw a ball.

Leon Benn, Supraspinatus, 2013, dye, plaster, and mixed media on linen, 22 x 19 inches

But the most subtle (and most intriguing) baseball reference in this show is hinted at in Supraspinatus (2013).  The painting is mainly abstract, but the title refers to one of the muscles that makes up a person's rotator cuff. (I googled it).  Injuries to the rotator cuff are frequently sustained in the act of throwing a baseball and very common among pitchers.  I'm no anatomy expert, but it seems probable that this muscle would play a significant roll in the act of painting as well.  The link between rotator cuff and pitching rotations seems intentional and, if so, is evidence that this is a show that will reward a careful viewer.

Leon Benn, Blue Bikini study, 2013, oil, collaged linen, and dye on linen, 17 x 15 inches

Leon Benn, The Stretch, 2013, acrylic, collage and mixed media on canvas, 24 x 28 inches

Not into baseball?  That's OK.  This show manages to cover a lot of other ground as well.  Benn paints in an expressionistic style that implies speed and spontaneity, but a closer look exposes him as a thoughtful and deliberate artist.  He utilizes repeating imagery, a controlled color palette reminiscent of Picasso's blue and rose periods, and cleverly-worded titles to link this show together into a cohesive whole.  Equal parts humor and melancholy, Pitching Rotations is a rich and rewarding first show.  Nice game Benn, and go Dodgers.

Pitching Rotations is on view at Carter and Citizen through October 12, 2013.

Leon Benn, Is Land, His Land, 2013, oil, acrylic, and collage on canvas, 28 x 24 inches


Leon Benn, Island, They Float, oil and mixed media on canvas, 28 x 24 inches


Leon Benn, Civil Interdependency, 2013, acrylic, collage and mixed media on canvas, 64 x 20 inches


(Image at top: Installation view of Pitching Rotation via Carter and Citizen)

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