about the artist/portrait

“I have always been intrigued by reality and its many dimensions. Shapes influenced by bones carry many references. They offer the source of a life which had a story. Opening these references to story fuels my imagination to transform and construct the shapes into new possibilities of unfamiliar realities. They become abstract and real in the same moment for what they contain and what they have become.” — about recent work in Flugblätter, an exhibition in Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2018

Benje LaRico is an artist who lives and works in New York, NY. He received his BFA from Washington University and MFA from Bennington College in 1976. He attended the Whitney Independent Study Program (1972-73) and is recipient of the Rome Prize (1984) and an NEA Visual Artists’ Fellowship for painting (1989).

His artwork has been exhibited in national and international group shows, including Trisha Brown Dance Company Benefit Art Sale at Paula Cooper Gallery (1990) and Abstraction in Process at Artists Space (1987).

Text by Roberta Smith, from the essay Abstraction in Process, which accompanied the exhibition at Artists Space, NYC, 1987:

LaRico fabricates abstract paintings with materials that hail primarily from the building trades; using wood for his rectilinear or eccentrically-shaped supports, he proceeds to “decorate” these shapes with paint, with additional shapes cut from wood or assembled from sundry two-by-fours, solid or hollow dowels or irregular scraps, as well as pieces of colorful linoleum and wallpaper.

The results strike one less as paintings than as strange intractable models for paintings.  One gets the feeling that simply drawing or painting is not sufficiently physical for LaRico.  He seems to want nearly every mark to be a real thing, with the coarseness of his materials demanding an equally scaled-up and energetic use of paint, and with much of the actual marking being done with pieces of wood, a drill or a routing tool.  (Penny’s Stones is a good example of such mixed techniques.)

LaRico’s materials and his bluntly awkward, almost amateurish uses of them, give his work an aggressive banality and a grating dissonance. His constructions spurn standards of good taste, of fine art materials and balanced compositions. Yet they also demand to be seen in a largely immaterial, optical manner, leaving it up to the viewer to reconcile these differences.

Certain parts of LaRico’s reliefs announce themselves as excessively robust.  Such is the case with the central ovoid shape in Pawnbroker which is shaped from a series of butting two-by-four beams.  This element, the solar plexus of the relief, seems to exist as a kind of anchor for, and challenge to, the rest of the work; everything else must (and does) match its heavy-handed materiality with something different—a kind of high-spirited decorative energy brought on by bright colors and animated dotting.  (Although this too is quite physical, being accomplished with little circles of linoleum and painted chips of wood.  It’s just that these elements begin to look “normal” in relationship to the two-by-fours.)  A similar strategy seems to be at work in Prova, where four flipper-like flanges balance a wood mid-section so heavy that boats and roof beams come to mind, and give the assembled whole a buoyant, fish-like leap.

In a series of more recent works, LaRico has returned to a rectilinear format, presenting radically different treatments of the same biomorphic central shape.  In Goa IV, for example, his use of paint and rich dark colors gives the work a softened, suffused feeling; the shifts in materials are nearly camouflaged.  In Goa V, however, these shifts are exacerbated: nearly every element of the composition is physically and coloristically discrete, even estranged from the rest.  The composition is dominated by a rather jarring configuration made of two-by-fours placed on edge, plus three smallish hemispheres made of garish green foam.  Also present are pink dots made of painted wood, two protruding dowels and a couple of overlapping pieces of wallpaper.  This piece exemplifies most clearly LaRico’s desire to nudge our conceptions of good taste via an abstraction that is corrupted by the vernacular of everyday materials; we seem to be looking at a model of a golf course.

Works Cited: