A significant figure in California modernist painting, Karl Benjamin (b. 1925) also has very strong ties to the Claremont Colleges. After serving in World War II and completing his education at the University of Redlands, Benjamin moved to Claremont in 1952. He spent several years as a teacher in the public schools before serving as Professor of Art at Pomona College and Claremont Graduate University from 1979 until his retirement in 1994. His artistic colleagues in Claremont included Millard Sheets, Paul Darrow, Susan Lautmann Hertel, James Hueter, and Jean Ames. As an artist Benjamin was largely self-taught, yet his style is keenly influenced by Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, and other Abstract Expressionist painters. His work is characterized by clearly defined areas of color arranged in complex, geometric shapes and patterns. In 1959, Los Angeles Times art critic Jules Langsner first used the term “Hard Edge School” to describe the work of Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, and others, all California artists using abstract, geometric forms. A loosely connected group, the “Hard Edge School” painters all acknowledged the aesthetic influence of Abstract Expressionism while demonstrating a refinement of Abstract Expressionism’s more overt expressions of emotion.
Benjamin’s work is in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, Israel; Oakland Museum; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Seattle Art Museum; and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is also the recipient of several prestigious grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. The works in Pitzer College’s collections span Benjamin’s career, and represent a significant holding of the artist’s work.
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