“I begin with a formal sketch, I deconstruct it until it is destroyed….and then it appears…within the light.”
Mario Benjamin was born in Port au Prince, Haiti in 1964 and is a self-taught artist. Recognized as an excellent draftsman, he became a well-known photo-realist portrait painter early in his career. Benjamin then broke away from realism and turned toward the abstract. He added found objects, such as pieces of wood and cloth, to his pictures; cut up his canvases; and adopted dark colors and spare lines that contrast sharply with traditional Haitian painting.
The black tones and darkness of Benjamin’s recent productions reflect the artist’s fear of becoming stifled by a society and a reality that limits his reflections, his expressive needs and his individuality. The works show a will to convey the idea that things that appear to conform, or that assume the guise of acceptability, might in reality be very different. At the same time, Mario Benjamin’s life and works show that the untraditional and controversial can also be a source of beautiful and many-dimensional expression. Mario Benjamin works and lives in Port-au-Prince, and is one of the few Haitian artists to have contributed widely to major biennals and events in recent years.
Mario Benjamin works in a room open on the garden next to the house of his mother in Port-au-Prince. He is very attached to his environment and his island, Haiti, even if they have become to him synonymous with confinement, limited universe compared to the rest of the world. Breton and Malraux had ’cataloged Haitian art’ by reducing it to the naive painting, voodoo blacksmiths and first black republic history. Mario Benjamin could not be limited to these expressions so distant from his reality, even if he readily accepts the role played in his subconscious by some voodoo rituals.
He read very young art books from the family library (his father is an architect, his mother a theater young actress then pharmacist) and visited many American museums. It started in the early 80s by the hyperrealist painting, which he then sells easily, by happenings and alive theater still in vogue at the time.
His meeting with the respected African-American artist Lois Mailou Jones of the interwar period Harlem Renaissance movement, married to Haitian artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel, transformed this self-taught through her advice on colors and balance of the compositions. He acquires all the tools to explore its sensitivity outside the pre-established models of the ‘Haitian’ artist …
Even then, Mario Benjamin hiding behind a seemingly solid and sure of himself a troubled and anguished soul. He plays with provocations in extravagant outfits, avant-garde staging and experimentations. He reorganized the inside family home and its garden in imaginary universe of invented objects in animist temple. His own darkness appear gradually.In 1997, for an exhibition in Paris, ‘Art in the World’, he painted his first portrait of a long series, with violent brushstrokes on a deep black background. In many following portrait paintings, overflowing canvas brushing, faces with bulging eyes, marked by anguish, on solid bright color background, he is facing image of his delusions, give them live. From now on, he will search in his paintings to understand the essence of human in front of hopes and fears, in front of life and death. If he defends naming his paintings self-portraits, they are still terrifying mirror. His moments of crisis leading to incarceration in hospital, however painful and traumatic, have become a vital resourcing required in where he draws its truth, that mingled with irrational and delusions.
Mario Benjamin is also very sensitive to the essence of nature, its carnivorous tropical nature he left invade into outer space next to his workshop. He can not imagine it gardened, domesticated, cut off from any relationship with the mythical spirits, these monstrous beings that haunt the dark. A nature as ’Bomarzo’. He loves almost supernatural uncontrollable force of this wild nature that responds to other forces in the world.
Mario Benjamin is also attracted by installations. These, made in a lighter mood, more detached than painting, depict poetic materials (often of the elements found on the markets of Port-au-Prince as plastic canvas prints or irons cut) in about a related daily (carnival, vegetation or furtive images of a dream).We can say that it is through painting that Mario Benjamin is expressed fully. It is however not easy in the twentieth and twenty-first century to paint on canvas and frame. An act of painting he describes as a pain. This painting, which consumes him so much, that eats him so much. This painting allows him to express the unspeakable, leaving the curator or criticism without words and comments. The work is independent and complete, alone with the artist and the observer.
Curiously, it always starts with photographs of portraits of close friends as first elements of his paintings. One way to include his work in a fight between reality, representation, and himself. In a possible understanding of the world in which he lives. But after a spread color background spread out, fluorescent sometimes, yellow, red, green or black, a form of trance seizes him plunging into the volcanic twilights, looking to his own vision, his world. He throws big brush strokes traits that form the terrifiant face watching him.
It is this deep inner work that can be done through painting, alone in his lonely face to face, plunged into an afterlife, near trance and delirium. Mario Benjamin privacy is disturbing, manic-depressive, he has already taken himself to Christ or Baron Samedi. Demons-ogres that appear in his paintings are not unknown to us. They reappear in our childhood nightmares, fear of life, the disorder of death. What we accept only seldom watch. This is where the work of Mario Benjamin is unique and important…
artist Website : www.mariobenjamin.com
Sources : Galerie Monnin & Revue Noire By : Pascal Martin Saint Leon