The late artist, Bob Casky, once created a Confessional for
artists. In it he sat to hear their sins and dispense a kind of
absolution or advice. If his booth still existed, I would go to
confession. I would hope there is a special category for a sin
committed in ignorance.
The late Allen Stone was a collector in dealers’ disguise. He had an
unerring eye for undiscovered quality, and he was a self-confessed “art
junkie.” Craving the thrill and rush of triuly original art, he
befriended artists as they found their way up the cluttered
stairway of his way-too-uptown gallery on Manhattan's E. 82nd street.
If their art gave him that rush, he bought their work in quantity and kept it. His Rye residence's
interior was overwhelming, a hoarders wet dream. My first impression
in 1980 was as if some giant up-ended a major museum and shook it so
that all the treasures magically settled upright in piles in a dozen
rooms. Then someone cleared paths thru it to the kitchen,
bathrooms, stairways and bedrooms. Absolutely overwhelming not
only in quantity, but quality and breadth of styles, periods, cultures,
I don't remember everything but I must have seen works by Barton Benes
for I was shocked and, initially embarrassed when I recently saw
reproductions of many of his book works. My works look like
copies of his. Stunned, I rushed to research, hoping I had made
mine before he had made his, but alas, not so. He started
his in the late 1960s and 70s. I made my first piece similar to
his in 1995. Allan Stone had several of Benes' book
sculptures. I realize and accept that I must have been
influenced by having seen Bene's book artworks in Allan’s glorious pile.
I don't work systematically. I respond to impulses deep in my
psyche, following where they lead me. I don’t cultivate a style,
feeling that “style” will reveal itself if I work honestly. No
artist creates in a vacuum. Everything is connected to something
else and something earlier. I am interested in things outside of
art. Life first, then art. Art motivates my interests and
leads me down paths of awareness to fields to explore.
Techniques, images, themes, and ideas swirl around me as I go. Often I am oblivious until they bubble up into awareness. Like most artists I am influenced by many things including the works of
In 1994 I accepted a commission to create an interactive sculpture about
the law. The bulk of that
monumental sculpture was comprised of books soaked, dried epoxied and
screwed to a wooden armature. As I completed that artwork, I continued to chain, bind, nail and screw open and closed
books to wooden panels and sometimes burn pages deep in to them and
coat the result with clear epoxy. I felt my book pieces grew organically out
of that work flow. Around that time I also made works I
called Intellectual Tools.
Many of these were juxtapositions of a book and a tool handle.
I believe Barton Benes’ powerful book imagery floated to my 1990s
consciousness and I didn’t recognize the source.
If Barton Benes were alive, I would write
him to say how much I admire his work and apologize for inadvertently
Picasso said, “Good artists borrow. Great artists
steal.” Unfortunately, I don’t feel I stole. I only
borrowed. Benes retains possession.
Barton Benes, Untitled, circa 1972-74,
mixed media book construction, 7 x 6 3/4 x 8 in.
The following is some info from Allan Stone Projects, 535 W 22nd Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY, 10011
Barton Benes (1942 - 2012)
Although known for his work that dealt with the AIDS epidemic, Benes
was a prolific artist who continuously worked with everyday objects.
The meaning of books and how we perceive them was a favorite subject.
Using the book as a symbol for knowledge, Benes conceals the
information inherent to the object's purpose either as cheeky
irreverence or as a commentary on American cultural values. For
instance, a book on corporate financial policy becomes a purse, a book
covered with nails relates to African fetish objects and a copy of Sold
American, a book on consumer behavior, is punctured with holes.
Benes’ fascination with the fetishism of objects relates to the work of
artists such as Paul Thek and Mike Kelley, using the detritus of
American society to reveal the dark underbelly of untenable ideals.
Many of Benes’ sculptures act as cultural memento mori, manipulated
with a sardonic sense of humor. As a collector of African art, cabinet
of curiosities and other artifacts, Benes found beauty and meaning in
relics of human life and culture, which was endemic to his art.
Barton Benes was born in Westwood, NJ, in 1942. After graduating from
Pratt University in the early 1960s, Benes spent over 40 years in New
York’s West Village, where he lived and worked in a studio at Westbeth
Artists Community. Living as an HIV-positive man, Benes became a social
advocate for those suffering from the illness, and served on the board
of VISUAL-Aids, an awareness and prevention organization for the
disease. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including a 1978
Ariana Foundation Award for Art in Mixed Media, a 1983 Rutgers
University Vorhees Grant for Printmaking, and a 1988 Pollock-Krasner
Foundation Grant. His work has been exhibited at the Centre Pompidou,
Paris, the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, the New York Public
Library, the Boras Konstmuseum, Sweden, the Cleveland Museum of Art,
the Katonah Museum of Art, NY, and the North Dakota Museum of Art among
others. His work is in the permanent collections of The Art Institute
of Chicago, The Smithsonian, The U.S. Mint and the North Dakota Museum