Anthony Benjamin


Anthony Benjamin (1931 - 2002) was an English artist noted for his abstracts. Born in Boarhunt, Hampshire, he dropped out of an engineering apprenticeship in 1949 to study art at the Regent Street Polytechnic, an education that was complemented by three months' studying drawing in Paris with Fernand Léger.


When he graduated in 1954, he was working in a social realist style and exhibited at the Beaux Arts gallery, the London home of the kitchen-sink artists. The following year he moved to a cottage on the Cornish moors near St Ives, then a centre for abstract art.


St. Ives had been dominated by the influence of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth but by 1956 the 'Middle Generation' of Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, Bryan Wynter and Terry Frost were becoming well established in Britain and were soon to be known in New York. Lanyon persuaded Benjamin to join the Newlyn Society of Artists, which he had set up as a reaction to the Penwith Society of Arts. Benjamin had his first one man exhibition there in 1958.


Like Lanyon, he produced paintings abstracted from the Cornish landscape and sea, but with an expansiveness that revealed an early appreciation of the American abstract expressionists, whose work was being seen in Britain for the first time. His time in Cornwall was punctuated by a scholarship to study printmaking at SW Hayter's legendary Atelier 17 in Paris.


In Cornwall, Benjamin met a young Canadian artist, Nancy Patterson. In 1960, he was awarded an Italian government fellowship, and the two lived in Italy before moving to London the following year; they remained lifelong companions.


Important exhibitions at the ICA in 1966, and at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, the following year, were dominated by large sculptures made of perspex, fibreglass and highly polished chrome, which were well received by the critics.


At a point when Benjamin seemed to be on the verge of secure recognition, he moved to North America, where British artists were well-respected, and, between 1967 and 1972, he held several positions as professor of fine art: at the University of Calgary; York University, Toronto; Hayward State College, California, and Ontario College of Art.


By the time he returned to Britain in 1973, his reputation had faded. Nonetheless, he established himself as a prolific and gifted printmaker, producing his own work and, through his Hope (Sufferance) Press, that of other artists.