Billing himself as the “new old master”, Benjamin Smith is holding an exhibition in his hometown of Horsham.
Through intensive training and immersion in the techniques of the great painters of the 17th and 18th centuries, he sets out to capture the essence of old-master paintings and translate it into new contemporary visions. Horsham Museum and Art Gallery showcases Benjamin’s in Silence and Slow Time – the Fine Art of Benjamin Smith.
“It’s a really exciting time to be a realist artist and I’m delighted to have this opportunity to exhibit in my home town of Horsham,” Benjamin said.
“In the major institutions throughout the country there is a veritable revival in works of figurative and representational art.
“I see my work as part of a changing scene in which representational art has made a return. I’ve always had a fascination with the skill and discipline of the great masters of the past. It is so sad to me that their skills were marginalised following WWI when the art world began to look increasingly towards expressionism, abstraction and conceptual art. Those forms of art contributed a great deal to our culture but it has come at a cost.
“I liken the situation to music. It is as though with the birth of, say, jazz or rock ’n’ roll the world turned its back on the music of Bach and Beethoven.
“It would be tragedy of enormous magnitude if these different kinds of music could not co-exist, if classical music were no longer taught in mainstream schools. And yet for many years that is what happened with art.
“For me, natural ability is important but it can only get you so far. To a point, yes, we are all born with some level of creativity but it’s about honing that skill. People tend to assume artists can just do it; that they emerge fully formed and producing decent work. It’s true that once in several generations you might get a Michelangelo but even he needed years of study to reach his pinnacle.
“The greatest artists were always learning and improving their technical skills and that is not something artists today should ever be ashamed of.
“Unfortunately, though, the ancestral skills which were handed down from master to pupil through the generations were wilfully forgotten.
“I see myself as part of a new generation of artists who are consciously rediscovering these difficult technical skills. However, for me it’s not about looking backwards. It’s important to me that my images should be contemporary. It’s about achieving something new with ancient skills.”
Among the works on display in Silence and Slow is a powerful portrait of Homer, the great classical author.
In Ben’s hand the portrait resonates power, importance and status, giving meaning and depth to the impact he had on world culture.
“And yet it has been created with nothing more than a pencil and paper.”
Ben draws on the rich tradition of art academies where artists perfected their skills through drawing and painting casts, busts and life models, where the diversity in human form enabled artists to hone their skills. The exhibition has a number of such works on display including a bust of Constanza, and life drawings.
“In virtually all mainstream art schools, the tradition of drawing and painting from life has died out. However, a small number of institutions, known as ateliers, in Europe and the United States are seeking to connect with a classical lineage stretching back to the academies of 19th Century Europe and produce a new generation of old masters.”
Silence and Slow Time – the Fine Art of Benjamin Smith opens at Horsham Museum on January 21 and runs until March 24.
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