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Anthony Benjamin


Benjamin moved to St. Ives, using a legacy from his Mother, to buy a small cottage that had belonged to the sculptor, Sven Berlin. St. Ives had been dominated by the influence of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth but by 1956 the "Middle Generation" of Peter LanyonPatrick HeronBryan Wynter and Terry Frost were becoming well established in Britain and were soon to be known in New York City. He accepted Peter Lanyon's suggestion to join the Newlyn Society of Artists and had his first one-man exhibition there in 1958. His work, inspired by the Cornish light, land and seascape led him to a new understanding of tone and temper. Henry Moore encouraged him, Francis Bacon gave him canvasses, and working within this rich atmosphere, Benjamin produced work which became more expansive and colourful, and gradually more abstract in concept sliding into Abstract Expressionism.

Benjamin, became friends with the eloquent Scots Poet, Sidney Graham, who lived in the Coastguard Cottage at Gurnard's Head. When in 1959 he was awarded a coveted French Government Bourse to study etching at S W Hayter's, renown Atelier 17 in Paris, (where some revolutionary new techniques of plate making and colour printing were being explored) he took with him a copy of the recently published collection of Graham's poems titled The Night Fishing. This work became the inspiration for a suite of etchings which Anthony named An Homage to the Night Fishing. These fresh, colourful etchings have the energy of Tachist paintings. The Bourse Committee, very impressed with the work, extended Anthony's study time by a month, so he could finish his work. Some test proofs were printed at the time, but the plates were not editioned somehow they were misplaced during a studio move and not found again until the late 1990s when Anthony's nephew and printer, Simon Marsh discovered them, still wrapped in a French newspaper. Partial editions were then printed. They were shown in an Exhibition curated by Chris Stephens, about Sidney Graham and his artist friends. The suite of innovative prints is now in the Tate Britain Collection.

Anthony was awarded an Italian Travel Study Scholarship in 1960. He was profoundly moved by the art of the Early Renaissance that he saw in the museums, palaces and cathedrals. He was struck by the use of repeated flat geometrical shapes in many works, particularly by the strong impact and visual rhythm set up by the rows of saint's halos in Duccio's 'Madonna in Majesty' in the Siena Duomo. When he returned to London in mid-1961 this rediscovery of defined, flat shapes, shallow but articulate space and much more vibrant colour informed his new painting. Full of renewed energy as a result of his Italian experiences, he painted prolifically and exhibited widely. He had several one-man shows at the Grabowski Gallery in South Kensington, as well as at St. Catherine's College in Oxford and Belfast University.

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Further Reading 

  • Stephens, Chris (2002). Anthony Benjamin (1931-2002). London: Hope Sufferance Press. ISBN 0-9538182-1-7

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