By Natalie Pestun
Jani Benjamin's first solo exhibition in New York City is about another world, and us as metropolitan people, don't quite understand - at first. A quick glance gives one an impression of color swatches on different size cardboards, but Jani's work is a reflection of what he has seen and felt through his travels in Aboriginal Australia. During the opening reception I saw sunsets and sunrises, dry grass and flowers in his work - entire landscapes in different moments of time. Observe Jani's naturally formulated pieces and dissect the work for yourself.
Since your travels 10 years ago, what led you to focus on a specific region? Did you find inspiration there or was it previously contrived?
Well the trip through Australia was a turning point. That's when I was really isolated from our society and exposed to some incredible aboriginal art. Their art was very strong. These were old wise men, living harmoniously with nature with a combined knowledge of 50,000 years. They communicated in a different way and understood the subtleties of nature. I also rode with a former mathematics professor and a Zambian to Perth, in Western Australia The professor knew more about our history than anyone I had ever met. When in Australia in 2004, I was deeply confronted about our culture and the war in Iraqand I was the target of hostility to those war crimes. It’s alienating. This combined with the sublime landscape was a catalyst for a serious inquiry into art. It's when my work started to mature.
Have you always focused your art on structured/deconstructed shapes and patterns? Or did you have a different art process prior to your travels?
Mostly, my work has been a venture to intuitively understand nature. This body of work is a synthesis of language between aboriginal inquiries and say The New York School painters. Growing up in Buffalo, I was exposed to one of the premier collections of modern art at the Albright-Knox. You work off history and these color field images, which tend to move were directly influenced by Blinky Palermo, Barnett Newman, and Navajo Tapestries. I was also interested in philosophy and science and many topics. My work has gone through phases, dealing with formal aspects, the folly of mass media, language, and the fragmentation our statistical technological world creates. With this last work I wanted to intuitively communicate a subliminal world I would dream periodically. The colors were sublime and otherworldly. I did not want to illustrate the idea or thought but have it evolve on its own to become its own entity.
Is there a message you want to portray to your audience?
I want to affect the audience. To get them to slow down. To challenge them to think. Herman Marcuse talked about how industrial society turns humanity into a one-dimensional unthinking mass. Plato talked about it with his cave allegory, and how if someone held up that societal mirror they would be a pariah. Truth is dangerous in a mass society. I'd like to remind people that once they stop supporting artists that society dies and we are very close to that moment. Though, when I step away from this, I smile, because I feel I'm on the right path. We are rare birds and we will sing.
Across The Nullarbor| March 13 – April 17, 2014
502 West 27th Street, NY, NY 10001
Gallery hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 2:00 – 8:00 pm