The Shape Shifters II

Peyton Wright Gallery is pleased to present The Shape Shifters II, an exploration of paintings by three artists who work with the shaped canvas, Charles Hinman, Angelo di Benedetto, and Mokha Laget. The exhibition will feature works dating from the mid-1960s through the present day. The exhibition will open on Friday, September 6, and will remain on view until September 30. There will be no opening reception.

The concept of the painting as a discrete view into an illusory three-dimensional space is nearly as old as painting itself. Since the advent of easel painting the employment of standard shapes—rectangles and squares—served to reinforce the perception of a window or portal into a reality beyond that of the object itself. Paintings that deviated from the traditional rectangular and square formats have been around since the Renaissance when arched and round pictures (tondos) became popular, but such variations in form were not intended to affect the conceptual basis of the work.

By the early 20th century modernist painters such as Piet Mondrian had begun to experiment with forms other than the standard 90-degree angle configurations. In the post-War years young artists such as the Italian Lucio Fontana, the English artist Richard Smith, and American painters such as Ellsworth Kelly, Leon Polk Smith, Kenneth Noland, Robert Mangold, Richard Tuttle and Frank Stella started to explore the possibilities of irregularly shaped supports for their abstractions. Their insistence on the painting as a singular two-dimensional object rejected any suggestion of pictorial illusion and the subliminal relation of traditional pictorial formats to landscape (the horizontal rectangle) and portraiture (the vertical rectangle). By 1964, the movement had gained sufficient currency for the Guggenheim Museum in New York to present the exhibition The Shaped Canvas, curated by Lawrence Alloway. The Shape Shifters II examines the approaches of three painters to the continuing dialogue between color, form, dimensionality and the relation of viewer and artwork.

Charles Hinman (b. 1932) is a New York native who studied in Syracuse and the Art Students League in New York City in the 1950s. While working as a shop instructor at Woodmere Academy on Long Island in the early 1960s he became skilled in carpentry which allowed him to create complex multi-element armatures for his canvasses. Hinman began extending his work into three dimensions, challenging the distinction between painting and sculpture. His first solo exhibition was presented at the Feigen Gallery in New York in 1964 and his work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Albright-Knox Gallery, the Whitney Museum of American Art and numerous other prestigious institutions in the United States and abroad.

Mokha Laget’s art has been informed by her peripatetic upbringing, spent in Algeria (her birthplace), France and the United States. She settled in the Southwest in the 1990s and her work began to reflect the singular qualities of brilliant light and color that characterize the region. Laget earned her BFA from the Corcoran School of Art and her post-graduate degree in linguistics from Georgetown University, both in Washington, D.C.. During her years in Washington she worked as a professional artist and as a studio assistant to Gene Davis. She describes her work as pushing “the boundaries of complex relationships between color and composition.”

Angelo di Benedetto studied at the Cooper Union Art and the Boston Museum Art School, after which he traveled the country as an itinerant painter. Influenced by Abstract Expressionism of the 40s and 50s, he began to eliminate the image from his work. By the end of the decade, he had decided that “the circle pure and simple was one of the most familiar symbols of mankind and that it metaphored into everything.” For more than three decades he explored the circle in paint, sculpture and shaped canvas. His fascination with the circle also relates to his belief that to effect the dialogue existing between object and maker; the artist must “create archetypal shapes [that have universal appeal], not symbols to reflect simply the intrinsic beauty of the shape itself.”

The Shape Shifters II brings together numerous important movements in abstract post-War art including Abstract Expressionism, hard-edge painting, Minimalism, color-field painting and op art. The shaped canvas movement remains influential into the 21st century and its practitioners continue to explore the expressive possibilities of color, dimension and form freed from the restrictions of the right-angle canvas.

View the exhibition catalog

About the Artists
Mokha Laget is a New Mexico-based painter known for her geometric abstractions that utilize shaped canvas to take hard-edge color field imagery into another dimension. Her work has been exhibited internationally over the past 30 years and has been written about in Art in America, The New Art Examiner, The Washington Post, Art Ltd., and many others. Her work is included in the collections of the Ulrich Museum, The Museum of Geometric and Madi Art, Art in Embassies, The Artery Collection, The National Institutes of Health as well as private and corporate collections around the world.

Born in North Africa, a region of radiant light and dramatic geographical contrasts, Mokha went on to study Fine Arts at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington DC. There she studied under several prominent members of the Washington Color School (WCS), an influential non-objective painting group whose principal members included Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Thomas Downing, Howard Mehring and Paul Reed. During her years in DC, she worked as a professional artist and studio assistant to WCS painter Gene Davis.

Mokha has enjoyed a diverse career characterized by travel, color, and curiosity. In addition to her painting practices, she has also worked as an independent curator, art restorer, arts writer and was Curatorial Assistant for the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts. In theatre, she was a set designer, scriptwriter, actor and director. With a degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, she has spent much of the past 25 years traveling parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia as a simultaneous French interpreter. She lives and works in an off-grid studio in the mountains of New Mexico.
(B. 1932)
Charles Hinman, known for his shaped-canvas sculpture, was born in Syracuse, New York on December 29, 1932. He attended art classes at Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (now Everson Museum of Art) and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University in 1955. He was a professional baseball pitcher for the Milwaukee Braves while pursuing his BFA. From 1955 to 1966, he studied at the Art Students League; then served in the United States Army from 1956 to 1958.

Hinman lived in New York City and held various part-time jobs while he continued to paint. Charles Hinman taught painting and engineering drawing at Staten Island Academy, New York from 1960 to 1962, and was the shop instructor at Woodmere Academy on Long Island from 1962 to 1964. In these two positions, he developed carpentry and engineering skills that gave him the ability to construct his own shaped canvases with complex three-dimensional curves.

In 1963, while seeking an independent path, he created his first shaped canvases in his studio on the Bowery, where Will Insley, who was also working on shaped canvases, and Robert Indiana had studios, as well.

Hinman first received critical attention in the exhibition 7 New Artisits at the Sidney Janis Gallery in May 1964 where he exhibited flat canvases cut at angles and suspended by cords. The other artists in the exhibition were: Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Norman Ives, Robert Slutsky, Robert Whitman, and Arakawa.

Hinman went on to add the third dimension to his shaped canvases while examining the subtle boundary between the picture plane and the space in front of it, as well as playing with the idea of literal versus illusionistic depth.

Usually Hinman begins his work by building charcoal drawings of volumetric shapes. Out of the series of drawings, he will select one drawing and turn it into “shop drawings” to determine how the organic shape can be turned into a constructed form with intricate shape stretchers supporting it. While building the armature, he addresses the level of three-dimensionality of the work. Once the work has been stretched with canvas and given a ground, he then determines colors, often creating more sketches and repainting areas several times.

In the 1960’s, Hinman used bright colors in his work adding an almost Pop aesthetic to his canvases, such as Poltergeist, 1964, which is in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He said he was then using color as if he were painting a hot rod. In 1975, Hinman began an all-white series of paintings. Returning to color in the late 1970’s, Hinman treated color as spatial indicators with each color representing a different canvas unit; each color having a separate stretcher underneath it. With a more muted palette of grays, silvers, and tans, the artist attained subtle interactions of color shapes interlocking with each other in space within a rhythmic order.

Hinman’s first solo exhibition was at the Feigen Gallery in New York in Nov.-Dec.1964, quickly followed by exhibitions with Feigen in 1965 at both his New York and Chicago galleries. Out of the 1964 show, the Museum of Modern Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and Nelson Rockefeller purchased works. In 1965, Hinman was one of four Americans invited to exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Nagaoka, Japan where Hinman shared first prize with the Japanese artist Jiro Takamatsu. More solo and group exhibitions followed with Feigen through 1969 and then Hinman signed on with the Paris dealer Denise Rene, having solo exhibitions at Galerie Denise Rene in Paris in 1971 and then in her New York gallery in 1972, 1973 and 1975.

Hinman has visited Japan, Thailand, India, Iran, Greece, Italy, France and England. He served as artist-in-Residence, Aspen, Colorado in 1966. Hinman has taught at Cornell University and at Syracuse University. He has also held teaching positions at Pratt Institute, School of Visual Arts, the Cooper Union, Princeton University, University of Georgia campuses in Athens, Georgia and Cortona, Italy, and other distinguished institutions. Presently, he is teaching at the Art Students League of New York. In 1989, Hinman’s work traveled to Russia for an exhibition organized by Donald Kuspit titled Painting Beyond the Death of Painting at the Kuznetsky Most Exhibition Hall in Moscow. Hinman has credited Russian Supremacists as having a strong influence on his work.

Museum collections with Charles Hinman’s work include: the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC; the Phoenix Art Museum, AZ; the Denver Art Museum, CO; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; the Nagaoke Museum in Japan; the Louisiana Museum in Denmark; the Tel Aviv Museum in Israel; and the Pfalzgalerie Museum in Germany, among others.

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(1913 - 1992)
The son of Italian immigrants from the Salerno province in southern Italy, as a teenager Angelo di Benedetto worked as a truck driver in the mornings and a bartender in the afternoons to study at the Cooper Union Art School in New York City (1930-34) from which he graduated with a certificate in freehand drawing. He won a scholarship to the Boston Museum Art School where he studied for three years, beginning in 1934, with Russian émigré painter Alexandre Jacovleff, a member of Mir Isskustva (World of Art) in St. Petersburg before the Russian Revolution. In 1936 he painted a religious mural for St. Michael's Grove in Paterson, New Jersey. The following year he entered his first juried exhibition at the Montclair Museum in New Jersey, winning first prize and first honorable mention.
Before World War II, di Benedetto traveled extensively around the United States in his car and trailer doing regional paintings. In 1941 he did what is considered the first authentic version of George Washington Crossing the Delaware, a contrast to the well-known painting on the same subject (1851) by German-born painter, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. During the war di Benedetto volunteered for a secret mission to Africa in 1941 before the Allied invasion, serving as director of camouflage, foreman of native laborers and an interpreter while based in Eritrea. The following year he received a direct commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the First Photo Mapping Squadron, leading groups as a guide and interpreter and doing ground control. During his free time in Africa, he sketched and painted the local population and his fellow servicemen.

Like many other servicemen stationed at the time in Colorado, di Benedetto chose to remain in Colorado impressed by the state's physical grandeur and healthful climate. After the war, he lived briefly for about a year in Rangely, a small town in northwest Colorado where he traveled and sketched. But finding it a little too remote, he settled in the old mining town of Central City in 1947, his home base for the rest of his life.

In the early 1950s he did woodcuts in a modernist style, including Remembrance, showing his two young daughters. Influenced by Abstract Expressionism at that time, he began considering the elimination of the image from his work. By the end of the decade, he had decided that "the circle pure and simple was one of the most familiar symbols of mankind and that it metaphored into everything." At the same time, he noted that "99% of the abstract painters shied away from using [the circle]. When they didn't, they slaughtered it, murdered it and buried it. So it became my motif."

For more than three decades he explored the circle in paint, sculpture and shaped canvas. Two examples of the last-named medium are his Red CQ and Black C-1, both from 1969. Because abstraction touched upon his deep feelings and spirituality, he felt he could make visible that part of life which "we feel but almost never see." His fascination with the circle also relates to his belief that to effect the dialogue existing between object and maker; the artist must "create archetypal shapes [that have universal appeal], not symbols to reflect simply the intrinsic beauty of the shape itself."

During the 1960s and 1970s, he received other major sculpture commissions: an 80-foot-long copper wall, Jewish Community Center, Denver (1962); sculpture garden, General Rose Hospital, Denver (1964); Fountain, First National Bank of Dallas (1966); Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, Pueblo, Colorado (1969); neighborhood park sculpture, Yonkers, New York (1971); High School Park, Northglenn, Colorado (1974); ice skating rink sculpture, Pueblo (1976). 

Fate was not as kind to his mural which the Colorado Supreme Court justices commissioned him to paint in 1976 for the Colorado Judicial Building from a field of twenty-two candidates. With his former student, Phyllis Montrose as his principal assistant along with three others, he spent a year and a half executing the mural. Entitled Justice Through the Ages (aka Lawgivers), it depicted sixty individuals from ancient Babylon’s King Hammurabi to former U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren.  Measuring 20 feet by 180 feet, it was called at its dedication “the largest figurative mural in America.” Although for more than a generation it sprawled across the ceiling of the open-aired first floor of the Colorado Judicial Building, it was not saved when the building was demolished in 2010 to make way for the block-long Ralph L. Carr Justice Complex.

Reflecting on his distinguished career in his twilight years, he described art “’as a type of sanity,’ an activity which allows an individual to experiment through different styles and media and to explore the intellectual and psychological aspects of his or her life.” Each time he entered his studio he was pushed to explore further, to “test his sanity.” This freedom proved crucial in the creation of his multi-faceted oeuvre.

Angelo di Benedetto was the subject of numerous solo exhibitions in New York, Chicago, Denver, and Santa Fe.

His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee; the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe; the Denver Art Museum; Western History Art Collection, Denver Public Library; and the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, Denver, among others.

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