Curator's radar: Stephen Benwell - Art Collector

Issue 63, January - March 2013

This profile appeared in the Curator's radar feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2013.

Stephen Benwell, Women of Troy 3, 2010. Oil on board, 30 x 40cm. Courtesy: the artist and Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide

Now spanning four decades, Stephen Benwell’s practice embraces ceramics, drawing, works on paper and painting. In recent years he has focused on a series of ceramic statues, originating with an investigation of 18th century figurines and later incorporating the poise and grandeur of Greco- Roman statuary enlivened by a painterly touch.

In July this year Victoria’s Heide Museum of Modern Art will present a retrospective of the artist’s work, curated by the museum’s director, Jason Smith. “I have been looking at Benwell’s work since 1982 – the year I saw the small pots he was commissioned to make for the opening of the National Gallery of Australia,” he says. “I have followed his work ever since and had the privilege of acquiring several works for the National Gallery of Victoria during my term as curator of contemporary art there.” (Smith left the NGV in 2007 after over a decade with the gallery.)

Apart from his enduring fascination with Benwell’s work, Smith says the inspiration for this show “was the sheer art historical necessity that it occur. We do not see enough major surveys in Australia of our leading craft practitioners.”

He adds: “Since the earliest phase of Benwell’s career his work has combined the studio-based craft traditions and practical resolutions of
the potter with the conceptual painterly and sculptural concerns of the contemporary artist.”

The Heide retrospective will assemble around 100 works from the early 1970s to the present day that exemplify Benwell’s development from early, seemingly archaic, eccentric forms, which meld references to the antique with the natural and animal, through the evolution of hand-built pots and their increasingly decorative surfaces, to the sculptural figures that have emerged strongly in the past decade.

“The narratives that circulate around his pots or that emanate from his poignant figure sculptures are reflections on landscape, time, masculinity, sexuality, history and the passage of time,” Smith explains. “A counterpointing narrative is Benwell’s unabashed celebration of colour, line, abstraction and patterning.”

Ashley Crawford

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