Blade, acrylic on wood, 28"x72", 2018, painted in collaboration with Charlie Burns, Yurok Ceremonial Dancer, from his original drawing, Blade, 1986
Exploration and Evidence:
Robert Benson's new work at Piante
Robert Benson's exhibition of new work opens this month at Piante. The show features carved wood sculptures and paintings that continue the artist's ongoing exploration of Native American forms, patterns, totems, and prayer objects.
"This exhibit explores themes that I've felt connected to throughout my life," Benson said. A Tsnungwe tribal elder, Benson's work is strongly influenced by his culture. "Totems like Black-tailed Buck, Woodpecker, Kingsnake, Blue Jay, and prayer objects like the Obsidian Blade and the Notched Regalia Feather are all very significant to me," Benson said. His interest in these elements goes well beyond the aesthetic. "My work is my means of access, a way to travel further into the ideas and mythologies that are important to me. These pieces are the evidence I return with, a glimpse that won't dissolve in time." Benson went on to explain that specific locations, what he describes as "places of power and wonder," also play an important role in his process and the resulting artwork.
Among the recurring forms in the show, and throughout Benson's more than 40 years of art making, is the ladder. "I'm drawn to the form's simultaneity," explained Benson, "its intrinsic utilitarian, aesthetic, and spiritual aspects. In my work, I reference the ladder as well as the trail up — paths to the high-country for hunting, enlightenment, or both — to explore notions of ascension."
Benson describes Blade, a 6-foot carved wood piece referencing a ceremonial obsidian blade form used in the White Deerskin Dance, as one of his favorite pieces in the show. It's a collaboration between Benson and Yurok ceremonial dancer and artist Charlie Burns. Burns had done a drawing of an obsidian blade in 1986. "I'd always admired that drawing," said Benson. "I carved the piece with his drawing in mind." As Benson carved, the idea came to him to try a three-dimensional version of Burn's drawing. Burns was game and the two worked together recreating the drawing on Benson's carved form.
One of the exhibition's most striking elements is a dramatically oversized burden basket.Traditionally, these conical, utilitarian baskets were used to carry everything from food to firewood. Benson's basket, designed to carry "metaphorical burdens," is hand-woven from hazel wood gathered and peeled over a two-year period.
Madrone #1, acrylic on wood, 9"x14", 2018