This exhibition will be hung on August 23rd and hangs until September 16th.
Ben Fenske (b. 1978) continues to deliver top notch works – this year he’s turned his attention toward home and hearth – painting more interiors and still lives, and a few gorgeous fully finished landscapes in and around his home in Greve, in the Chianti region of Italy.
“Poppies I” recalls the best of the still lifes we have seen in the last 150 years – with an evocative red color set against the neutral khaki tones and blues. One might be induced to recall the colorful, brushy still lifes of the famous impressionists: Van Gogh, Cezanne, Bonnard, or Renoir. “Poppies I” is a slightly more formal painting of poppies on a book and is a great foil to “Poppies II” another iteration. This second painting is an almost cubist breakdown of the original composition. One senses Fenske’s complete love and lust for the color and the specific shapes of THESE flowers, as he allows the subject to dictate his marks. “Poppies II” is bordering on true abstraction, yet somehow very true to nature. This is a Grenning Gallery sweet spot, and exactly what we are fascinated with at this stage in the development of the classical realist movement. We look for paintings that capture the true FEELING of the subject, rather than crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s of every descriptive detail. The ultimate irony is that the ability to paint accurately is the STARTING point for an artist to then break down, back away from formal repetition of nature and then to see them manipulate their medium to serve the emotional purpose of the painting. A painter like Fenske is so confident and accomplished in his facility he is willing to let go of all of the marks that are not necessary. This precise elimination of unnecessary strokes leaves us with a series of deeply poetic impressionist paintings of his actual life.
“Clouds Building” is a large-scale painting celebrating the view of the lush valley he calls home. Dots of paint, depict flowers in the foreground. Beneath the slope of the first hillside, a verdant area rests in a dense shadow. The cause is from the thick, heavy, grey cloud above, which intersects the center of the painting’s topmost edge. Fenske has masterfully defined the distance between cloud and ground, placing the viewer, at ease, on top of the Tuscan hillside.
“Lilacs, Pecorino, and Wine” is a wonderfully balanced and original still life, created on his dining table. The elements of simple, yet satisfying life are presented in this contemporary painting which somehow lacks all stuffiness that one might expect when we envision a “still life”. It encompasses all the basic necessities of a humble lifestyle in the Italian countryside. Flowers, espresso, wine, cheese, fresh veggies, and drinking vessels lay at rest atop a rustic wood table, glowing with natural light.
In “Sunlit Interior” we have a bright and colorful painting of his empty kitchen. And of course, the cover of the postcard depicts the same room but occupied by a young woman, and that’s simply called “Kitchen”. He continues this series with two canvases of similar compositions: “Kitchen Interior” and “Afternoon in the Kitchen”. Both illustrate the same corner of the room, floodlit by the wide open window, which creates a hued atmosphere of blues or seafoam. Outlines are prominent in “Kitchen Interior” and appear to soften in “Afternoon in the Kitchen”; Perhaps a nod to the incorporation of the delicate female form.
It was Ben Fenske who invited his fellow Russian painters to come paint in Sag Harbor in 2016. His efforts to organize a reciprocating invitation to the one he took to paint in Russia, actually spearheaded the foundation of the very successful Russian American Painting Alliance. There will be Another show of this group on October 20th, 2018.
As Fenske approaches the end of his thirties, his career is continuing to catch the eye of important institutions, having been selected to show at the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of the BP Portrait Award contest. He was also hand picked to paint in Russia by their government in the hometown of Levitan, one of Fenske’s major influences. Fenske has also been the subject of many articles indicating that he is one of the most interesting painters to watch in this upcoming generation.