Menzies Art Brands



Jason Benjamin visited Sicily in 2002 following the death of his father-in-law whose dream it had been to travel there the artist and his extended family saw this wish through and rented a villa in the hills behind Catania. Benjamins time there was pivotal in shifting his thinking from the selfish, goal-driven mentality which dominated his painting towards a more appreciative, family-focussed attitude. He described this shift in his thinking as a release.1

Il Cucco (The Cuckoo) is a large, meticulously restored farmhouse on an orange estate near the city of Catania on the east coast of Sicily. The farmhouse is situated on land owned by the Ruffo family, who had been the custodians for more than 500 years. The picturesque setting of the farmhouse would have provided Benjamin with myriad opportunities to capture the beautiful but earthquake-damaged landscape of the local area. Il Cucco is surrounded by peacocks, date palms and orange orchards, and nearby are ancient ruins including remnants of ancestral farmhouses, Bronze Age burial caves and an ancient Greek water cistern. It is not difficult to see how the areas ancient culture and unique countryside could inspire a series of paintings.

Benjamin began painting the Sicily works in 2004 whilst living in New York however felt that the compositions were not working. He continued work on the series upon his return to Australia and found the change of scene prompted some serious introspection - I suppose the relentlessness of being back at workforced me to step back all of a sudden and say to myself: What are you doing here? What are you really painting?'2 The artist realised that up until then he had been painting experiences without thinking about them. Up until this time, Benjamin had painted what he saw however, his work lacked the thoughts and feelings that were within him. Recalling his experience in Sicily, he states: Just living and breathing all of this in, Id experienced things that were nowin me. And its from there that I painted. Everything that had come before my whole process suddenly seemed a lot less considered.3

The current work, She's Always Watching (Il Cucco, Sicily), is immediately recognisable as European the palette and composition of these works is distinctly different to the artists Australian landscapes which display a muted palette of blues, greens and golds. A group of Cypress trees is the focal point of this composition, with a small farmhouse beyond a field of wildflowers. Benjamin has successfully captured the Mediterranean setting sun which throws a warmth over the scene a distinctly different light to the harsh, Australian sun. Benjamin describes the manner in which Matisse would paint a certain place which the viewer could immediately recognise, without even having had been there Somehow he distilled the essence of the air, the climate, just enough of a suggestion for you to know even which plants grow therehe reduced it down to the qualities that were so unmistakable that even someone who hasnt been can feel it as he did.4 It is clear that Jason Benjamins painting has the power to transpose this sense of place and familiarity the Sicily paintings provide the viewer with a sense of being there, in the landscape.

She's Always Watching (Il Cucco, Sicily) has all the characteristics of Benjamins best work, a richly diverse palette and extraordinary detail which captures the unique beauty and history of that ancient place.

Caroline Jones MA (Art Admin.)

1. Jason Benjamin, interviewed by Jack Marx in Marx, J., & McGregor, K., Jason Benjamin: what binds us, McMillan, 2007, p.44
2. Ibid
3. Ibid
4. Ibid, p.45

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