Look Closer: Benjamin Britton at Marcia Wood

Benjamin Britton, Golden underwater superstunts to follow, 2013; oil on canvas over panel, 30 by 29 inches.
Benjamin Britton, Golden underwater superstunts to follow, 2013; oil on canvas over panel, 30 by 29 inches.

“Do you carry a gun when you walk around your neighborhood?”

Me: What? No. Absolutely not.

Student: Don’t you live in the ghetto?

Me: Negative, dude. I live in Castleberry Hill. It’s right next to the Georgia Dome.

Student: And you don’t think that’s the ghetto?

For the majority of my career as a high school English teacher, I’ve taught OTP and lived ITP. This has lead to a variety of misconceptions in terms of both where I live, and what that space is actually like. On numerous occasions over the past nine years, and in their own way, students have asked me why I chose a gentrified area over what they deem to be a more genteel area (the suburbs of Cobb County).

And while I have a deep affection for both, I’ve never been able to qualify their question with a definitive answer. Or rather, I’d never been able to provide a definitively succinct response until I saw Benjamin Britton’s exhibition “Your Apprehension is Noted” at the Marcia Wood Gallery, and read his statement on the website.

I’m interested in challenging spaces, maybe even chaotic ones, but their overall effect tends toward the romantic, celebratory, and almost always contains something of the natural world. The way the work is viewed plays on the shifting priorities of how we attend to sensorial experience in our lives; one thing may assert itself, a smell for example, only to be overcome by a sound, which is then backgrounded by color or motion. When I paint, I want this constant shifting of attention to form an overall condition within the space of the picture.

Benjamin Britton, Double horizon , 2014; oil on canvas over panel, 90 by 82 inches.
Benjamin Britton, Double horizon, 2014; oil on canvas over panel, 90 by 82 inches.

Castleberry Hill, for all intents and purposes, is a challenging, yet creatively diverse, environment. At times, it is most definitely chaotic, but that is exactly why Britton’s work, and his aptly titled exhibition, are so perfect for a neighborhood in which artists continually look beyond what merely is and envision what could be. Britton’s work embodies all that is the transformative state of Atlanta in 2014.

Between this writer’s personal favorites Burns to breathe (gotta have a better attitude) and Double Horizon and equally strong installments such as Golden underwater superstunts to follow and Best left up to the imagination, Britton establishes himself firmly as a contemporary illusionist.

Burns to breathe is a large-scale oil on canvas on panel that employs precise angles and vibrant graphic designs amid somber background hues. The even larger Double Horizon is a disarmingly captivating piece that balances a luminous lanternlike object at the painting’s center with darkened abstract waves and rays that drift to the corners of the canvas.

One can easily approach any one of his works and ascertain the shifting sensorial sensations Britton is striving for. At a cursory glance, much of his work appears to be abstract. But upon inspection, the work transforms. To be a bit more specific, his work moves. For example, Double Horizon is very much a fluid gesture that’s remarkably turbulent yet dissonantly pleasing all at once.

Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Britton earned his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York and his MFA from UCLA. Since last year, he’s been professing at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art in Athens.

“I play a kind of brinksmanship with chaos within the conventions of pictorial art. Often I’m creating a convoluted but navigable space where a viewer can enter, negotiate, and make discoveries,” he says.

If you haven’t had a chance to negotiate the illusionistic tendencies of Britton’s paintings and make your own discoveries, you have until October 18 (Saturday) to do so; and I highly recommend that you do.

No guns necessary; although your apprehension is noted.

Ryan Lund Neumann is a blogger, author, and teacher whose appreciation for plaid far outweighs fashion, sense, or any combination of the two.

Benjamin Britton, Burns to breathe (gotta have a better attitude), 2014; oil on canvas over panel, 40 by 38½ inches.
Benjamin Britton, Burns to breathe (gotta have a better attitude), 2014; oil on canvas over panel, 40 by 38½ inches.

 

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