- Anthony Benjamin 1931–2002
- Oil paint on canvas
- Support: 1396 × 1523 mm
- Bequeathed by Anne Christopherson in memory of her husband John Christopherson 2013, accessioned 2017
Poem of the Ocean II is a large off-square canvas that has been broadly painted with sweeping brushstrokes; along the bottom edge is a sweeping concave area of purple, while the greater part of the painting is made up of an area of grey that has been applied in a succession of largely vertical strokes – in the centre of the painting is a flash of orange. In the mid to late 1950s Anthony Benjamin abandoned a realist style and the patronage of Helen Lessore’s Beaux Arts Gallery in London when he moved to St Ives in Cornwall. There he bought a small cottage that had belonged to the artist Sven Berlin (1911–1999) and he developed an abstract expressionist style of painting heavily indebted to Peter Lanyon (1918–1964). Like Lanyon, his gestural paintings were inspired by the sea and landscape of Cornwall. Poem of the Ocean II is characteristic of these works and would be one of Benjamin’s last paintings in this idiom.
In 1960, shortly after painting Poem of the Ocean II, Benjamin was awarded an Italian Travel Scholarship and, deeply affected by the experience of seeing early Italian Renaissance paintings, he left his home in St Ives to return to London where he started to paint defined flat shapes, utilising repeated geometrical shapes rather than gesture. This style of painting he continued to develop while teaching on the experimental ‘Groundcourse’ at Ealing School of Art with Roy Ascott, Ron Kitaj, Brian Wall and others. Benjamin’s flatter, more icon-like paintings challenged the orthodoxy that a successful painting was made of a single homogenous image and are said to have been a major influence on the work of Bernard Cohen (born 1933). These, and a group of innovative Perspex sculptures (now lost), secured Benjamin’s reputation, with solo exhibitions at the ICA, London and Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, before he relocated to the United States at the end of the 1960s. Poem of the Ocean II was made in Cornwall but, while still relating to landscape, it also looks forward to the later work in its simpler, more linear design and the flatter handling of paint.
Poem of the Ocean II was acquired directly from the artist in 1960 by the painter John Christopherson (1921–1996) and remained in his collection until being acquired by Tate. Christopherson was well-known as a collector of work by his contemporaries, particularly of artists in St Ives in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The collection consisted largely of minor pieces by major British artists, such as Walter Sickert, Anthony Caro and Henry Moore, as well as major works by lesser artists.
Chris Stephens, April 2006
Updated by Andrew Wilson, August 2017
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