Ben Charles Weiner, in producing his stunningly realistic oil paintings, harnesses the subjective nature of perception in order to render everyday objects unfamiliar and strange. By photographing everyday objects and luxurious ephemera at close range, then using the resulting image as his subject, Weiner creates works that pose a confusion of object, subject and medium. Although his technique is photorealism, the pearls, make-up, perfume and paint depicted are rendered at such proximity that they appear as alien landscapes and ominous seas. These fantastic terrains are undeniably disturbing and disorientating as the viewer searches the canvas for a recognizable subject matter, yet they remain enticing in their opulence and beauty. His works paradoxically serve as both accurate representation and unidentifiable abstraction, unsettling the often unquestioned nature of realism, beauty and truth. Weiner’s paintings transcend mere representation; the dramatic lighting and rich hues, combined with the inaccessibility of his sublime surfaces, produce an uncanny effect indicative - yet simultaneously critical - of a society inundated by images, governed by popular culture and the media.
"My paintings of pearls and hair gel merge varied notions of art as creation with biological and mythological concepts of creation. Visually, the pearls seem to emerge from the hair gel, suggesting biological processes such as cellular division, or the primordial soup that preceded life on earth. The all-over, abstract qualities of the hair gel recall the abstract expressionists’ concepts of the sublime art object and art as a transcendent act of creation. Additionally, the pearl itself is a naturally produced object of profound beauty. I use it to symbolize my understanding of creation as a feminine power, intrinsically linked to beauty (as in Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus). Finally, the pearls are an ode to Audrey Flack, one of my early artistic influences."
With this work, for example, Weiner considers Picasso’s idea that art is a lie that makes one realize the truth. The artist sees science as a meditation on painting’s status as a hybrid technical and conceptual enterprise. Pearls, while colorful and decorative, suggest a strand of DNA, while hair gel resembles primordial ooze. Weiner’s work is a meditation on the concern of painting existing as neither truth nor fiction, but somewhere in between.
As the artist has stated, "My paintings depict materials used to create illusions in art and everyday life, such as oil paint on a palette; hair gel and jewels, which glamorize one’s appearance; and beeswax, which is used in sculpture. I light these materials in ways that activate their visually hypnotic properties: their sheen, lively texture, vibrant color, luminosity and transparency. Then I photograph this event up close using a macro (magnifying) lens. Based on these photos, I paint large-scale compositions in oil. While rendered photo-realistically, my paintings appear fantastic and abstract. I play with the ambiguous status of my paintings by giving them either completely objective, or incongruous but evocative, titles. Thus, by selectively imposing my authorship over the ready-made illusionistic properties of my subjects, I explore the complex relationship between our imaginations and the external cues that activate them."
In a Duchampian manner, Weiner intimates the readymade qualities of perceived fabrication; be it an arresting work of art or youthful visage. His painted matter swirls, drips, and fuses into psychedelic anatomies and topographies on a monumental scale, as if memorializing the uniquely human urge to prolong our physicality, mortality, and image. Weiner further exemplifies this social compulsion through his own meticulous handicraft, as he strives to create a near-mechanically perfect image. By addressing the threat of technology to the human touch, Weiner pairs the anxiety and celebration of the post-industrial era to create works that are similarly binary.
Benjamin Charles Weiner (b. 1980, Burlington, VT) received his BA from Wesleyan University (CT). He also studied under Mexican muralist José Lazcarro at Universidad de las Americas (Mexico) and has worked closely with artists Jeff Koons, Kim Sooja and Amy Yoes as an assistant. He has exhibited his work widely across the United States and in Mexico with solo shows in Los Angeles, New York and Puebla, and group exhibitions in Chicago, New York, Miami, New Haven, Ridgefield, Los Angeles and Riverside. His paintings can be found in the Sammlung/Collection (Germany), the Progressive Collection (OH), and the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation Collection (CA). The artist lives and works in New York City.