Hailing from sunny Napier, Lex Benson-Cooper’s neo-expressionist paintings are mini worlds of suggested narrative. Lex pulls influence from a variety of sources including, and not limited to, novels, news, music, and anecdotes and stories from the company of others. Political and social commentary is translated with allegorical force onto the canvas. The topics he alludes to are rich and diverse including race relations in New Zealand and the muse in art. The treatment of these issues is never heavy or dark – a feeling of lightness and deftness pervades.
In Bluff Hill race relations are addressed with an optimistic eye on the process of going forward. An ambiguous triptych of imagery: the Maori flag, candle and man showering are arranged on an island close to a muddy shore. These are not prescriptive texts but surrealist illustrations with open-ended meanings. Going south refers to the metaphoric use of journeys in western culture to understand the structure of life, and the desire to escape the constraints of living in society. The ‘journey’ myth is as ancient as its Greek manifestation of the Ferryman who transported the living to the next world, and as modern as psychologists’ use of the journey as a metaphor for life. Naked in a boat by a half sunken tree the feeling is vaguely apocalyptic as if running away may not be the best idea.
Although his body of work is cohesive each piece feels self-contained with its own story and colour palette unique unto itself. Lex states his main influence is German Expressionism enjoying ‘their passion, their power of imagery and their modus operandi’. But there’s also influence of abstraction with backdrops reduced to glossy blocks of colour and an even, balanced composition that act as frames containing the exploits of the figures within them. Compelling aesthetic surfaces coupled with aesthetic ponderings, create compelling and arresting images.
Lex began his artistic career working in applied arts. For the past 18 years he has focused exclusively on painting, developing a following both locally and internationally. He recently featured in art writer Warwick Brown’s book Seen this Century: 100 contemporary New Zealand Artists.