I've heard you talk about the length of time it takes you to complete a painting. Is it always the same?
Usually they have to go through some really unpredictable stages. Typically a painting will start and feel like it's moving in a linear fashion, but then it ends up feeling completely dysfunctional—or actually too functional—and usually needs to have something traumatizing happen to it. So I end up getting ensnared. I feel like that's ultimately my process: It's sort of like having to weasel my way out.
What constitutes a "traumatizing" act?
Usually it means doing something to the painting that runs the risk of possibly destroying it or ruining it. Like, Oh God, you shouldn't do that! But usually it ends up being fairly liberating in some weird way. That big one over there was a whole other painting at one time that I eventually got just disgusted with. Now it's been…traumatized! It's upside down, it's had all this stuff smeared on it. I try to set up those conditions where there's, like, a certain amount of total disregard for the logic of the painting.
The cultural theorist Paul Virilio talks about the architecture of disaster, as well as about speed and the breaking of cultural surfaces. I feel like your paintings break the surface in a two-dimensional way.
Well, usually it comes down to a type of figure-ground thing. One recent painting ended up being a kind of underground chamber. There was a kind of organic-looking thing in the corner that started out as the idea of an ornamental, architectural gargoyle, or a hunchback. I was thinking about the Hunchback of Notre Dame, sitting out on some ledge. One thing led to another, and it ended up being a reference to Gothic stuff or some of this crystalline Minimalism we're dealing with now. If I'm going to end up standing for anything down the line, it would be wanting to give more permission for a single painting to inhabit clashing tendencies, let's say. And hopefully not in a collaged way. I don't like the idea of collaging, like David Salle, whom I respect. That's more about letting things coexist independently. I like the idea that maybe the painting is fractured, but essentially uniform.
What are you reading these days? Do you read?
[Laughs] I'm actually not a very good reader in the city. I used to read books when I'd go away to the country. But I do read stuff now and then. The one thing I like more than good or bad art reviews are really bad restaurant reviews. Those are my absolute favorite. When you just feel like this idiot waiter at this trendy place doesn't realize they're fucking over this food critic. Isn't that a really amusing thing to ponder? 'Cause when I go to a restaurant, nobody gives a shit, of course, and I can't have any revenge if something really wrong happens. And, um, interviews. I'm anxious to read the Chris Martin interview in the magazine The Journal, No. 27, with my buddy Joe Bradley. Joe organized the show I'm in at Zach Feuer, so I'm really excited about that.
The fabulous made-up title of this show says it all, as in "I am Chaoticus." For the last two decades Steve DiBenedetto has been pushing the optical properties of brushed paint not to their physical breaking point but to the point of cognitive warpage, the place where you don't know what you're looking at but love looking anyway. His paint handling has only grown bolder and more original. Meanwhile the imagery has been simplified and made more geometric: Giant organic skyscrapers look part Ork, part cyborg, and part mutant.Download PDF (2.2 MB)
Best known for his symbolic paintings--encrusted surfaces jam-packed with lattices, neural networks, cracked TV screens, helicopters, Ferris wheels, and octopi pushing against the painting's physical edges--Steve DiBenedetto first gained larger attention when his work was included in the eight-artist survey, "Remote Viewing: Invented Worlds in Recent Painting and Drawing," at the Whitney Museum of American Art (2005). In that exhibition, DiBenedetto's invented world was infused with elements derived from science fiction, the speculations of the ethno-botanist, Terence McKenna, and the visionary German architect and painter, Bruno Taut; and from surrealism, particularly Max Ernst and Oscar Dominguez. In their density of detail and horror vacui, the paintings seem to channel the wired, fanatically detail supernatural scenes of the Victorian painter, Richard Dadd, and JG Ballard's dystopian visions of a bleak, decaying, manmade landscape.Download PDF (3.5 MB)
It's holiday time with family. I look down at my slice of fruit cake and am transported back to Steve DiBenedetto's studio with his paintings of jewel-like colors embedded in dense fields of sticky brown. I visited him a month ago to talk about his work and found not just his well-known visionary image-webs but a new group of paintings depicting invented glass and steel buildings. Memory and vision are folded into turbulent atmospheres of corporate strangeness. My sense must have been recalibrated as I'm now seeing DiBenedetto's work echoed in the ornamental snowflakes and strings of colored lights celebrated the birth of the crucified one.Download PDF (16 MB)
Unbeknownst to many, Steve DiBenedetto has been exhibiting his work since 1987, when his first solo show was mounted at New York's Cable Gallery. But his profile has risen considerably in the past five years as critics, curators and the art world at large have warmed to his densely congested paintings and drawings, which indulge an esthetic of overstimulation.Download PDF (16 MB)
In a hallucinatory catalog essay co-written in 1966 by Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter, an extraterrestrial comments on a canvas by the engineer of his spaceship: "I'm glad you're conventional, with no qualms about painting beautiful pictures. You have as much in common with Raphael as with the Surrealists, the Impressionists, the cave painters." This quote uncannily doubles as a description of Steve DiBenedetto's mind altering paintings and drawings. "Conventional" may not be the first word that comes to mind while viewing his current show at Nolan/Eckman Gallery: In many of the compositions, octopuses can be seen tangling with helicopters in settings that are by turns murky and lapidary. But the conventions of painting are among the main subjects of this belligerently beautiful work.Download PDF (3.3 MB)