It took Christopher Benson 25 years to graduate from art school. After leaving in 1982, he returned to the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004 and completed the final year of his program to receive a BFA in painting.
Over the years, he’s had time to hone his skills. Besides producing a handsome body of portraits and landscapes, at the beginning of the year Benson opened The Fisher Press in Santa Fe, a small outfit that, using archival digital printing technology, specializes in limited-edition books and folios. He’s also a writer and promises the eventual publication of a collection of critical essays (“Mostly about painting,” he tells me).
To top it off, Benson decided to use the front part of the print shop to start a gallery.
The Fisher Press gallery is a not-for-profit that features curated exhibitions, which, according to the latest press release, will range “from old school to avant-garde.” Last weekend marked the opening of a two-person show including Benson’s work as well as the work of Santa Fe local Thayer Carter.
Benson hopes his gallery will help fill a void in Santa Fe. While he acknowledges the local gallery scene has matured from a strictly tourist market of provincial works, he still sees room for improvement. Specifically, he cites a tendency for galleries to specialize in only one style of artwork, not to mention their dearth of conceptual work.
I’m always excited to hear about a new space, but my feelings are tempered by a sense that the market wants what it wants, and there isn’t much one can do about it. Besides, I’ve heard the laments before: Projects in their infancy are too full of potential, too easily hyped to be clearly defined. The organizers are characteristically optimistic, but the audience can only speculate about the results.
That being said, Benson has a lot of exciting things to say, and I look forward to seeing his plans come to fruition. In the meantime, the space is clean, comfortable and in a novel location west of the glut of downtown galleries. As for the latest show, the artists stick much closer to the old-school than the avant-garde.
Benson’s work reminds me of a lot of things, but mostly it reminds me of Edward Hopper. Like Hopper, Benson paints brightly colored scenes of people and places, and he’s always aware of the sun and its ensuing shadows. Even when he depicts an interior, there is typically a window or a door that splashes light inward.
The subject matter is also reminiscent of Hopper, depicting housing exteriors and backyards with those freshly mowed lawns that are so distinctly American. The work conveys a feeling of rest, as though the subjects are on vacation. The figures appear leisurely and happy, but the paintings don’t devolve into sappiness. They are skillful matter-of-fact pictures that reflect the comfort of being with loved ones.
Carter’s landscapes also have some strong roots in art history, but they are a little harder to pinpoint. This is partly because he moves around so much, switching from oils to watercolor to woodblock printing at will. Impressively, he is proficient in all of them without being repetitive. In fact, his prints, which incorporate a highly stylized black-on-white technique, have a kinship with crude forms of folk art. And they look nothing like his paintings, which are large, minutely detailed, realist images of New Mexican rock formations. The main connection seems to be the artist’s fondness of texture, either on the corrugated roofs of buildings or the nooks and crannies carved into rock.
Together, the pair puts on a strong showing of traditional styles with enough variety to keep it interesting. Even if it isn’t earth-shattering, The Fisher Press’ show proves that the earth can be a lovely place.