Relentlessly independent in his forms, style, and method, Max Benjamin shares more with the European painters of the early 20th century – the modernist abstractionists who valued expressionism over illusionism – than with the then prevailing “mystic” painters of the Northwest region where he has made his home for more than sixty years. During his studies at the University of Washington School of Art in the 1950s, Benjamin was part of the second generation that learned from Paris-trained painters Ambrose Patterson and Walter F. Isaacs.
It is Isaacs’ abstracted landscape composition, with their swaths of color and emphasis upon two-dimensionality that may have had an early effect upon Benjamin, who then moved to Washington’s Guemes Island (northwest of Anacortes) in 1959, where he was further inspired by the terrain, water, weather, and flora of the remote island landscape.
Sublimated landscapes soon gave way to more abstract, monumental paintings comprised of non-referential colors, jagged lines, and a focus upon the surface of the canvas, where foreground and background carry equal weight. Like Kandinsky, Benjamin found inspiration in music, pure abstraction, and bold coloration for the dynamic compositions of his middle and later periods.
Art critics including Matthew Kangas and Ted Lindberg have described Benjamin’s paintings as having “an expressive force of considerable power” (Kangas, Bellevue Art Museum retrospective, 1984) and “visual power and density” (Lindberg, Charles H. Scott Gallery exhibition, Emily Carr College of Art and Design, 1986).
Throughout the various movements of Northwest art history, Max Benjamin has stayed true to his own personal mandate of painting inner sensations in his unique, expressionistic way, that stand the test of time and continually engage the mind and eye of the viewer.
Kathleen Moles, Curator