Nick Benfey: Constellations
“…We have the impression that the stars in heaven come to live on earth, that the houses of men form earthly constellations.”
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, p. 55
In Constellations, Nick Benfey’s debut solo exhibition, the house at night is the most consistent theme. Parking lots, streetlights, and brightly lit windows recur, as do bedrooms and buildings floating in the sky. Benfey reflects on the neighborhoods and cities of his memory and current experience as if in a dream, condensing and displacing the landscapes of his life. The resulting paintings are a kind of record of a search for meaning, but Benfey operates more like a sleepwalker than a philosopher: there is a somnambulant instinct, but beyond that glimmer, there aren’t many conclusions to be drawn, except a feeling of radiance in dark places.
Benfey often uses a slightly raised, bird’s eye perspective. This gives a naive pleasure, like looking down on a town from an approaching plane. This pleasure, as is known to all who have experienced it, is characterized by deep satisfaction as well as acute longing: satisfaction because a daydreamer projects a world of perfection onto a faraway town; and longing because one desires to take part in that perfection, to traverse the winding roads and look more closely at the houses. It’s the happiness of gazing upon a model train set, reducing the world to toys and wanting to be among them.
There is an edge, however, to Benfey’s “toys.” Instead of a sublime or pastoral view of the natural world, malls and sprawling metropolises cover Benfey’s canvases. His way of processing the anthropocene is not to pretend it’s not there, but to look at it as if in a snow globe, embellishing it, as if he were telling a fairytale.