ARTIST TO WATCH: TRUDY BENSON
By Nicole Bray
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the studio of Trudy Benson, an artist I’ve long admired alongside her partner, Russell Tyler. Trudy’s magnetic, free-flowing, automatistic canvases are a treat to the eye, with vivid iridescent palettes that cheer up any remnants of 2020. Trudy has not one, but two solo shows opening in New York this fall.
My interview with Trudy is below…
Trudy Benson in her Brooklyn studio. Credit: Christopher Burke Studio. Image courtesy the artist.
Nicole Bray: Congratulations on your most recent shows, and your upcoming solo show at Miles McEnery and concurrent solo show at SUNNY NY. You’ve clearly been very busy over the past years, so how have you stayed creatively inspired during these surreal pandemic times?
Trudy Benson: Thank you. Yes, this month I will open two concurrent solo shows here in New York, both entitled WAVES. My solo exhibition at Miles McEnery Gallery will open on October 21 and run through November 27. The show will be at their 511 West 22nd Street location and will consist of all large scale paintings, including six 77 x 66 inch paintings. At SUNNY NY, the show will run from October 28 to December 11. SUNNY NY is a very young artist-run gallery in the East Village, so WAVES at SUNNY NY will have a bit of a different feel to the big Chelsea show. There will be seven paintings at SUNNY NY, as well as a site-specific wall painting/installation and five or six works on paper.
Regarding staying creatively inspired during pandemic times: there was definitely a window of time when I simply could not paint. When that passed, the studio was there waiting for me as an escape. I think that as artists, we have a slight advantage over some others, in that we are used to spending long hours holed up in the studio alone. When the world stopped and time seemed to stretch out eternally, I began to slow things down in the studio. As a result, the time in the work changed, and I felt that I could really take my time editing the work. The bug under the microscope feeling was gone. I am lucky enough to have a supportive partner who is also an artist, so we both found comfort in painting.
I’ve always been inspired by my surroundings, no matter what they are. It almost doesn’t matter where I am or how much I can consume. For example, the recent paintings included in WAVES, were initially partially inspired by my daily crossword puzzle habit. I sometimes take a photo with my phone of the finish screen that shows up on my iPad when I achieve a new time record. A weird screen interference started to show up, kind of a moiré pattern overlaid the very orthogonal check graphic. And so, the warped check airbrush layer was born. I am like a Shibu Inu in that I am happiest when I have something to solve. I think about the paintings in this way, also. I don’t plan them out from the beginning. Instead, each move is a response to the current state of the painting.
Minty Stack, 2021, acrylic and oil on canvas, 64 x 58 in. Image courtesy the artist. Work to be included in Miles McEnery exhibition.
Nicole Bray: Can you speak to how you view the processes of collage and paint interacting within the scope of your work? How is the color palette determined for each work?
Trudy Benson: I visualize the work as almost an illustration of a collage. I want the layers to feel tangible, to feel almost as though you could get into the painting and move things around with your hands. (Please don’t actually attempt this!) The different methods of paint application help to reinforce the virtual space in the work. The sprayed acrylic absorbs into the raw canvas, and the blurred edges help to push it into the background. Certain areas are built up more, whether in acrylic or oil paint, to push those layers forward in space.
Regarding color palette, I usually have a very vague idea of palette when I begin a painting, and then react to that as the painting progresses. Nothing is planned out beforehand. Most of the decision making happens on the canvas. I use color to create tension at the surface as well as optical effects.
Nicole Bray: How have the digital age and computer software influenced and inspired your practice?
Trudy Benson: I still think about the work in terms of layers. The shallow space the paintings inhabit definitely has its origin in digital imaging. My first attempt at an abstract composition was on my dad’s desktop computer at a Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. We also had an old Macintosh SE lying around at home with the MacPaint program installed on it. I remember the tool bar with fondness: suddenly I could conceive of using a spray can alongside a gradient and a paintbrush.
Earlier paintings were almost quoting this nostalgia. I think my recent paintings have reinforced their own materiality, while maintaining this entry into abstract composition. To see the works in person, there is so much more than the digital reference. The paintings are human-sized or larger for the most part, and completely hand-painted. I don’t use projectors or digital printing in my work. At this point, I think the digital age is more of a reference point for the work. At heart I am a painter, a grungy studio rat.
Tessellate, 2021, acrylic and oil on canvas, 64 x 58 in. Image courtesy the artist. Work to be included in Miles McEnery exhibition.
Nicole Bray: I read that you participated in the 2021 group exhibition Her Dark Materials, curated by Philly Adams at the Wolverton Works Virtual Art Museum, Buckinghamshire, UK. Can you tell us a bit about the process of participating in a virtual exhibition, compared and contrasted to your experiences with in-person shows?
Trudy Benson: Having exhibitions during a global pandemic has changed my relationship to the paintings a bit. I always felt that seeing the work in the gallery space really helped me to see the paintings in a new way. I’ve since had two solo exhibitions overseas that I never got to see.
Her Dark Materials was special in that the space was beautifully rendered virtually by an architect (I believe). There was a haunting video created to move the viewer through the exhibition. It is kind of magical!
It is a beautiful thing to still be able to “exhibit” paintings during a time when shipping could be shut down at any moment and we cannot physically gather or it is unsafe or unwise to travel. However, I fully believe that art ought to be experienced in person. Without going to the place the work is to be exhibited, the paintings almost don’t seem to be finished. There is a big difference to how a painting is perceived by the artist in the studio versus in a gallery space where installation and the venue is taken into consideration.
Nicole Bray: Would you be able to share any information with us about upcoming exhibitions or projects you’re excited for in the next year or two?
Trudy Benson: I will have six small paintings as part of a presentation with PLATFORM, David Zwirner’s online initiative, sometime in October. I also have a series of works on paper to be exhibited in my dear friend’s vitrine space in Brussels to open late October: Massif Central is run by the lovely Tessa Perutz.
I will have a couple of two-person exhibitions with my partner and fellow painter Russell Tyler: Mother Gallery in Hudson, NY early summer 2022; and Gaa Gallery in Cologne scheduled for late fall 2022.
[not yet titled], 2021, acrylic and oil on canvas, 66 x 61 in. Image courtesy the artist. Work to be included in SUNNY NY exhibition.
For inquiries about Trudy Benson’s work please contact email@example.com
artREAL contributor Nicole Bray is the founder of Mercer Contemporary and guides private and corporate clients through each step of acquiring, selling, managing, and displaying artwork. She received her Masters in Contemporary Art (Hons.) from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York. She was the recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Emerging Curator Fellowship 2015, and has worked at both an Auction House and for a distinguished private family. If you would like to contact Nicole, or if you are interested in starting your own collection, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.mercercontemporary.com.