Image: Kajahl Benes, Let My People Go, 2012, oil on canvas, 78 x 72 inches
His Recent Works
On September 6, 2012, I had the opportunity to attend the exhibition of Kajahl Benes in the Cultural Arts Building on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He spoke to a group of faculty and students before heading into the gallery for a question and answer session.
During his presentation he covered his education. Benes graduated from San Francisco State University and during that period he study abroad at the Academia di Belle Arti Firenze, Italy in his senior year. He went on to get his MFA from Hunter College in the spring of 2012.
He was invited by the cultural art gallery curator Courtney Johnson to do a solo show. She had been following him on the art circuit. With his Let My People
Go, Oil on Canvas, 78x72 inches, 2012 visible when you first walk into the gallery. It opens up your imagination, the sheer size of the character—not to mention the all out bold colors—remind you of a superhero. It sets the stage for what is yet to come.
At an early age he incorporated cultural elements, hard edges and even alien-like figures in his work. Noticing the style he had of rhythm and movement, he decided to expand on and monopolize those key elements. However, he discovered while reading and researching current events along with historical events that he could capture a natural and powerful force in his painting. This driving force changed his perspective. He began to conceptualize his process.
The process included mixed medium, humor, imagery, controversy, and a sense of shock factor. His abstract figures place in Baroque style setting and color palette created the setting of the old world crashing into the new world.
At times Benes uses digital technology to his advantage, but his work takes on a new spiritual dimension. It is an imaginative, out-of-this-world, abstract and photo realistic perspective on canvas. When asked why he used oil on canvas when acrylic has made a huge impact on the art scene, he referenced back to the old masters. He devotes a tremendous amount of time in research and get to the roots of history.
When I inquired about a section on his painting, trying to get him to divulge his process, he smiled and said, “it was a secret.” After a few minutes I decided to take another try asking about his process and medium in Let My People Go. He laughed in appreciation of someone actually wanting to know in depth about his work. I decided to let him keep his secret.
Below I listed some of the titles present at the show. Benes not only creates drama in his painting, but also names his painting with the same flamboyant style. His larger than life approach has an expressive and extravagant way of pairing names to his figures.
Kylahpatr, The ablest queen of Far Antiquity
Viceroy and Bishop of the paleosiberian realm
Benin City Globtrotter
In Kajahl Benes artist statement, he writes:
Through the medium of paint I create alarm clocks for those who lie dormant within their created and inherited mental confines. My ambitious preparation for the afterlife is concerned with developing my own history and mythology in hopes that others can use my story as a checkpoint for the contextualization of humanity. The discombobulation of time, space and geographic location in my work creates a boundary dissolving force that questions my own knowledge and experience. Through this method of trans-historical hybridization, the viewer is forced to re-examine linear ways of looking at history. The melding of culture, aesthetics and environment work to trigger a breakage of rational thought construction that confronts both mainstream and alternative ideology. The use of canvas as an arena of connective thinking does not try to make sense of past histories and cultures, but it does question them and their relationship to me. Historical subjectivity exists, however there is really only one true story and we all share that story.
In the end, Benes’ show created a narrative story from another time period. His typical work ranges from sketchbook size to 78 x 72 inches. I appreciated his time and energy he showed while giving his presentation. I enjoyed looking at his artwork, and it seemed appropriate that UNCW held his first solo exhibit. I plan on following his progress and look forward to seeing his future painting.