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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

An Element of Self: The Art of Benjamin Lincoln

Past, present. Fantasy, reality. Calm twilit landscapes, large fleshy yellow orbs. The world of contemporary art can be a confusing place, rife with contradictions. Often it seems it is the contradiction itself that makes the art; the artist of today often finds inspiration in contrast, in the creation of dualities. Benjamin Lincoln is one such artist.

“I’m not trying to create a painterly illusion of some other reality; rather, the quirks and eccentricities which exist within me are superimposed upon on the reality that exists externally. The abstractions and the realism of the landscape exist in tandem.”

The resolution of contradictions seems to come naturally to Lincoln; he is an artist inspired by science, a painter who creates realist renderings in oils as well as manipulates compositions through photography and digital editing.

“I’m interested in things that exist spatially in comparison to each other: before and after, foreground and background. Formally, I’ve always been drawn to that kind of contrast. But also metaphorically. It works on several levels.”

I am speaking with Lincoln at the opening of his show An Element of Truth. Around us the walls of the Harbor Art Gallery fairly glisten with the glaze of blues and greens, the smooth reds and translucent yellows shimmering on the canvases.

The Harbor Art Gallery hosts eight exhibits a year, two of which showcase student work. Over the past year, they have held openings for a diverse group of artists, including sculptors from New York and an installation artist from England. The openings provide an informal way to meet the artists and view their work.

Benjamin Lincoln is a local artist who has studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. His work has shown in many Boston area galleries and is held in various collections across the U.S. and in Europe. This is his first solo exhibition.

It is an impressive one. Lincoln’s paintings are large and full of a suffused light, reminiscent of the techniques of the Old Masters; one is tempted to whisper “oh la la, che bel chiaroscuro.”

“I paint very many thin layers of glaze,” says Lincoln, “This is a technique from the Renaissance.”

Don’t mistake Lincoln for a die-hard traditionalist, though. There is as much new order as old world about these pieces. Here, the figurative and the abstract equally command our view. Over naturalistic depictions of beaches and woodlands hover surreal, abstract conglomerations of yellow spheres floating on strands of what could perhaps be a kind of flying kelp. Such contradictions abound in Lincoln’s work. The effect is jarring, strange. What does it mean? Are these dream images, chimeras; is this an eerie reminder that all is not right in our natural wildlife sanctuaries? Enigmatic and suggestive, these paintings evoke a kind of romantic poetry; their true inspiration however lies much further afield.

“My first interest was science. I always thought I would be a physicist or a mathematician. Later, when my creative juices pulled me in another direction, I became interested in art. But it’s ironic that when I went to art school, I developed my interest in physics again. Quantum mechanics became very metaphysical for me; it did nothing less give me a place in the universe.

What intrigues me about quantum theory is…that it implies that reality is like a blank movie screen; it only gets defined when you project an image onto it. My work has followed a similar sensibility. What’s going on in the present paintings is that I am applying that idea to a landscape, in the sense that the landscape that I see contains an element of myself in it because I am part of what projects the reality of it. So, on top of the landscapes in the paintings, I am painting this language of abstract form that…is like a signature. The [abstract] images identify me in a subjective-aesthetic sense. By imposing one on top of the other, I am marking myself as part of the landscape.”

Needless to say, Lincoln’s work is bit hard to pin down and classify. That doesn’t seem to bother the artist too much, however; he is not a man concerned with ism-ing.

“I think a lot of artists fall into that trap; they spend so much time thinking about what ‘ism’ they are, and that can be a distraction from trying to make the work what it needs to be.”

It is the element of self that seems to be the key; a harmony of contradictions that finds its ground in, as Lincoln says, “a sense of solitude, sometimes bordering on isolation.”

“I grew up on Mt. Desert Island, Maine. It’s a world which exists with two very different social sets; the very rich who come for the summer and the local, average Joes. I’m sort of part of both worlds…caught between; there is a strong core of solitude that was present in me from the beginning. That is…an overriding emotion in my work. It’s not something threatening or lonely. It’s something quiet, tranquil. And I think that is evident in the work. There is a quiet, sit back and observe mentality in my paintings.”

Benjamin Lincoln’s exhibit of paintings, An Element of Truth, will be on view at the Harbor Art Gallery from March 6 to April 3.