Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Tintoretto of Kansas City

"The scheme of his bulging figures - usually worked out in advance through three-dimensional clay models - was based on the linea serpentinata, the twisting line, of sixteenth-century Mannerism. From Michelangelo, and from other Mannerist sources like Luca Cambiaso's block figures and El Greco's posturing saints, Benton assembled a kind of "kinetic" composition in which nothing is at rest, everything strains and heaves against everything else. This incessant surge and flow would have large effects on his pupil, Jackson Pollack, but in Benton's own paintings it mainly produced rhetoric. His ideas about "bulge and hollow", the rhythmical distortion of bone and muscular structure, made his human figures look strangely overdetermined, like lanky dummies with cartoon faces. Benton's trains lean forward like Walt Disney's as they steam along; the very clouds in his landscapes flex their biceps." Robert Hughes, American Visions, p. 444-5.

"He was trying to be, as it were, Tintoretto in Kansas. He was using 16th, 17th century strategies for a 20th century country, and using the dynamisms of high art in order to present a common message to common people. The distance was, I think, too great." Arthur Danto, Ken Burns Thomas Hart Benton.

"To me, there isn't any energy in those paintings of America today. It's a kind of cartoon version of what America was at that time. I remember something of what American city life was like in the Thirties, it bore absolutely no relation to Benton's vision of it." Hilton Kramer, Ken Burns Thomas Hart Benton

"Well, that's pure kitsch. Persephone is pure kitsch. I mean, it's like the girly pictures that used to appear in Esquire of an earlier period. That certainly has to be one of his very worst paintings." Hilton Kramer, Ken Burns Thomas Hart Benton.

"Persephone. Persephone is just a glorious and wonderful painting. She's one of the great works of American pornography. She invites you to have all sorts of emotions in front of her that you're not supposed to have in front of works of art, and that denies you the ability to fulfill. It's just a kind of great experience to walk into some stuffy old art gallery and all of a sudden come into contact with that lady. Besides which, there's this wonderful old lech peering around the corner at her." Karal Ann Marling, Ken Burns Thomas Hart Benton.

"I think his autobiography is a really splendidly written memoir, and what I particularly admire about it are these very short, tough sentences. I mean, every sentence is really like a kind of bullseye. I think that Benton really, you know, missed his vocation. He should have been a writer rather than a painter." Hilton Kramer, Ken Burns Thomas Hart Benton.

No comments: