In her childhood, Sadie Benning was a precocious eighties YouTuber experimenting with home-made video diaries from the sanctity of her bedroom, exploring the inner roads to her true self. These early works challenged themes such as sexuality and the reality of being a transgender adolescent.
Since then, Benning has gravitated towards a complex art hybrid in the form of relief paintings and photographs- collage composition expanding into themes of culture, capitalism and gender identities.
In her first UK exhibition at Camden Arts Centre, the New York based artist displayed recent works from 2018. The paintings are spread out between the first and second galleries of the centre’s first floor, alternating between small and medium size scaled canvases.
Each painting is spaced apart the white distance in between forcing the viewers to remove themselves before exploring the next piece.
Curiosity tugs at the observer to step closer towards the paintings. The texture is just as intriguing and disconcerting as its content. The smooth surfaces invite the eyes to look further behind the images and distract away from interpretation and focus on the abstraction of the work. The result is pleasant and satisfying.
Although I later understand that Benning’s principal intention is to mesh elements, which she doesn’t fully grasp, she does however make use of uncommon materials namely collages, aqua-resin, enamel paint, casein, and digital images, beautifully.
Some of the pieces such as Hotel Fashion and Bridal are cutouts painted in different colours to the background and re-placed as if part of a puzzle. The tone is vibrant and the composition within each frame never dull. The shapes are randomly placed or perfectly aligned.
The individuals and the places appear familiar. We might not know exactly where we have met or seen these people and settings but they have crossed our path somehow. This is the kind of feeling which emanates after completing the exhibition.
Benning delivers her pieces with a personal quality, not one of an artist but of a human being, as if she had guarded these works for numerous years, waiting to unveil and share memories with us.
We neither fully grasp the meaning of each element. If they were to be extracted and set before our eyes one by one, they would probably mean nothing.
We gradually become immersed in layers of resin. Confined in a small wooden frame are stripes, blots, and zig-zags and Benning’s invisible presence appeases the anxious nature of a vintage influenced photography, covering it with softness and innocence.
The artist brings us back to childhood. An epoch which she still seems to be ingrained in. The dated photographs and raw outlines contribute to this nostalgic landscape. Trapped between layers of resin, the artist awaits the viewers to meet her there, in a world she is still trying to figure out for herself.
Sleep Rock: Sadie Benning at Camden Arts Centre (19 April – 24 June 2018)