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Benson, Maris

Untitled Sculpture by Maris Benson

Untitled
2003
 
This sculpture can be found on the 1st floor in the main stairwell.
 
"My work isn't truly minimalist, but I embrace the same notions of simplicity. My primary concern is composition." ~Maris Benson
 
The Art of Repetition: Three Decades of Sculpture by Maris Benson
~Written by M. Elizabeth Boone, Associate Professor, Humboldt State University
 
Maris Benson perceived the power of repetition early in his career. Over more than three decades as a sculptor in Humboldt County, Benson has created works of art that explore the creative possibilities of repeated form and serial process. His work conveys a constancy of vision, one that stresses the primacy of abstraction, the visual expression of energy and its release, and an acute sensitivity to materials. Born in Latvia during World War II, Benson arrived with his mother, grandmother, and younger brother in Aberdeen, Washington in 1950. He studied art at the University of Washington, where he earned a B.F.A., then moved eastward to earn an M.F.A. at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Since 1970, Benson has taught sculpture at Humboldt State University. Twice a finalist for the prestigious Prix de Rome, Benson returned to Europe for the first time since childhood during a sabbatical leave in the early 1980s. Although primarily a worker in metal, he spent five months at Pietrasanta-workplace of Renaissance, Baroque, and modern sculptors Michelangelo Buonarotti, Gianlorenzo Bernini, and Henry Moore-demystifying the art of stone and internalizing the classicism of Italy. Since the early 1990s, he has traveled to Latvia five times in order to select students from the Art Academy in Riga for study in the United States. In his work over this period of more than thirty years, from his geometric treatment of volume in the 1970s to his serial exploration of plane in the 1980s and line in the 1990s, Benson has developed a distinctive body of sculpture.
 
All of Benson's work is untitled, freeing it from literal associations and allowing the viewer to focus on its pure visual form. In the 1970's, Benson was sometimes compared to the minimalists, artists like Donald Judd, Carl Andre, or Dan Flavin, who used industrial materials and simple geometric shapes as a way to pare their work down to elementary volumes and expose the essence of art's objectness. These artists, like Benson, questioned many of the traditional practices of sculpture, including the placement of work on a pedestal. Some of Benson's works lean casually against a wall, playfully denying a separation between the viewer and the art. The geometric patterns created from alternating sections of acrylic and machined aluminum, often extending to a length of six to seven feet, result from a carefully calculated balance of square and circular shapes, matte and reflective surfaces, concave and convex protrusions. When color is introduced, such as radiant orange or opalescent blue, the works acquire a jewel-like luminosity. Although some minimalist sculpture has been dismissed as an expression of technological domination and brute force, Benson's work displays a sensitivity and sensuality that belies such facile criticism. The rhythmic patterns of Benson's repeated forms transport the viewer, instead, to a transcendent realm of classical calm.
 
Benson's work in the 1980s underwent a dramatic transformation. Less overtly serial than the work from the previous decade, these pieces continue to display the sculptor's need to create tension and repose, to balance chaos with order, and to combine the human with the machined. Most of these works are assembled from sanded aluminum and clear plexiglass. Some are unpedestaled floor pieces, with dramatically cantilevered extensions held in place by transparent planes. Others sit atop geometric white bases, their curvilinear arcs of metal intersecting the tiled planes of glass. The surface of these pieces, as in the work from the previous decade, remains a principle concern. The trace of the artist's activity is clearly evident in the burnishing of the aluminum and elegantly contrasts with the pristine finish of the untouched translucent pane. These sculptures convey a beauty and complexity made possible by a process of extended and repeated experimentation.
 
Another change occurred in Benson's art during the 1990s. If the work from the 1980s displays a methodical exploration of planar space, these newer pieces reveal a shift in the artist's attention toward the most basic formal element, line. Line in these works takes many forms; thick cords arc gracefully over a geometric plane, sinuous strands coil around a geometric pillar, slender fibers twist into cable, and metal wires bunch together in a mass suggestive of human tresses. Benson refers to some of these sculptures as sentinels or guardians, and indeed their totemic character suggest a delicate balancing of mysterious, yet universal forces. The parts are cast separately, then assembled, and the traditional patina employed on their surface conveys the essence of their bronze medium. Repetitive, not in the literal sense of Benson's earliest work, these pieces manifest the artistic practice of selecting a formal quality of sculpture and subjecting it to repeated scrutiny Such inquiry demands the sculptor's continual return to basic forms-lines, plane, and geometric volume-in order to uncover the intrinsic properties of abstraction.