About Benjamin Saulnier
Paint and fabric confront the entire history of painting and it’s materiality. With painting, and abstract art in particular, it is hard to deny the macho, masculine fueled history as in the same way, it is hard not to associate fabrics and yarns with crafting which is generally associated with femininity and women. Though history has been flooded with ideas of what men should be doing in art and what a woman’s role in the art world is, we find ourselves at a point in history in which we need not classify materials to a specific gender. The work presented is an attempt to castrate and detestosteronize the world of abstract grid painting while at the same time allowing for soft sculptures to take a turn towards androgyny rather than remain a practice associated mostly with women.
Having been born in a small town in New Jersey in the early 1990s, I have often heard growing up phrases such as “boys don’t do that” or “that is a girls toy.” I find myself mystified that nearly twenty-five years later, as a society in the new century, we still find the need to separate boy items from girl items. I am interested in working in and providing to a more androgynous world in which material is not associated with gender. I am more interested in how we as artists use material rather than how we, as men and women, use material.
At the core of my creative inquiry are several grid paintings with fabric elements all created in 2014. Atmospheric yet rendered in a rich array of colors, they are derived from notions of masculinity and femininity and the roles these traits play in gender. I explore the idea of nature versus nurture in my process of making the works, meaning that some elements are controlled while others rely upon the preexisting conditions in which I was confronted with. The grid layouts are established from following the already existing creases in the canvases, which were a result of being folded by the manufacturer.
While not necessarily apparent to the viewer, I formulate a mathematical equation to determine color placements along the grid. Some formulas range from a simple process of multiplication charts, while others explore a more intricate diagonal and reverse addition of colors. This forms a structural guideline for the image at large. The blunt, harsh grid lines are contrasted with the soft romantic, gestural landscapes within the grid spaces, capturing the human hand. Fabric sculptures are made to dialogue with the paintings but vary according to each piece. In some works, swatches of fabric are placed upon the grid to cover the spaces or sometimes compliment the chosen colors, while in other pieces, wall hangings are installed next to the painting in order to both confront and question the use of one object to the other.
General historical trajectory of painting (and art practice in general) is dominated by men. Times certainly have changed, as we find statistically there are more women in art school, more women in museums, the female presence in galleries as not just receptionists, but owners. Female artists have infiltrated the system and have adopted typically masculine practices for their own, redefining gender in art. Although there is a strong female presence in the art world today, it does not seem to have stopped stereotypes. While artists such as Charline Von Heyl, Jaqueline Humphries and Amy Sillman all work in abstraction, the role of gender and sexual orientation in the art world still seems to continue; this is a dialogue in which I want to participate.
Sexual orientation creates a vessel in which others will look at art, if only to put it through a specific context to be judged by. While I do not necessarily agree that this is either necessary nor pertinent to most works made, it seems to be a way we find easiest to look at art. This universalization of dialogue about gender, orientation and what they bring to art are ever-changing and the conversation will never cease
so long as well still bind ourselves to labels and believe that such categories come with qualifications.