Lizet Benrey’s Kabbalah Visions

By Dominique Nahas

There is no question that artist Lizet Benrey is concerned with the expression of vitalizing energy in her abstract work. Energy in such work is seen as propulsive, charged or diffused. There is a great sense of presencing that occurs: it is, in fact, the main event. The suggestion of incommensurables, the contemplative and the active, seemingly co-existing, are held in suspension and in uneasy harmony throughout. This interplay is realized with purposeful delicacy in a work such as Organic Blues, for example. Here, an admixture of absence and presencing pervades the pictorial surface while such integration results in evanescent, billowy passages of light.

There is another aspect, which must be referred to here, namely Benrey’s capacity to evoke a guttural ferocity and intensity through her handling of brush strokes while retaining a delicacy of handling of lights and darks, as in Birth of Space. This work, with its romanticist/symbolist tendencies offers us a sensual play of dramatic light contrasts and invokes the attainment of formerly hidden insights into divine nature. The work is both grounded and ungrounded and there is hardly a resolution, which is felt, or perceived. The picture plans are infected, affected, leavened with extraordinary life-energy which cannot be denied. Sensuality can not only be seen but also felt if one were fortunate enough to see these surfaces and their urgency and drama which Benrey portrays and displays within her charged pictorial fields, blistering as they are with pent-up vitality. This vitality vitalizes the surfaces, the dark darks and the penumbral effects onto which the artist conjures up, as in a vision, for us.

One of the virtues of abstract painting is that it isn’t about narration or story. Good abstract work resists this means of informing or persuasion. In its stead it involves the senses and the sensibilities in an unblinking homage to “here-ness’ and “there-ness’. Defying translation into data or information abstraction depends on a finely tuned interplay of knowledge, experience and sensation to decode what the work is “about.”

Lizet Benrey’s abstract artworks have a distinctive transcendental component: they suggest the recognition that change and transformation exists in all things and throughout space and time. They allude to energies (sublime and profane, earthly and heavenly) and the cosmic wheel which unites such polarities. With all of that, Benrey’s artworks are enigmatic. They are problematic to classify in terms of format. And this is not a bad thing at all.

Compact in size yet outsized in their visual effects, her pieces start their lives as monoprints on paper whose forms and tonalities are then worked into or are covered up or are extrapolated upon using litho ink, pencil and pastel oil-sticks. The artist uses a variety of tools with which she makes her marks. In effect and affect, the artist’s visual explorations read very much as paintings, not works on paper (monotypes) in the common understanding of the word. They have the authoritative feel of painting. The poetry of touch and of sensation informs these works. By this I mean that there is a direct visceral approach to mark making which Benrey applies to her work. While the layering and the rupturing of the painterly surface of paint onto the paper clearly has something to do with these sensations as well.

Benrey’s are in a sense constructed artworks. They are devised using both systematic processes and ordered responses to what appears before her while favoring just at the right time and in the right way chance and randomness. That is to say her works are the result of a superb confidence in the rightness of intuition to do its job effectively. Their surfaces recall the vulnerability of draughtsmanship and of printing on paper with the toughness and resilience of painting on stretched and primed canvas. Benrey’s artworks are intense; their episodic handling of details is counterbalanced by visually operatic effects stemming from the application and juxtaposition of light values as seen in Illuminated Path, for example.

This being said, her works, not surprisingly, are effective carriers of (often mixed) emotions. Her assured inventiveness of her forms and coloristic handling suggests that a great deal of faith is invested in channeling the high level of unpredictability of the mark-making which courses through each work. There are surprises in store for the viewer, whether it be in the deft manner the artist conjures up space and place in As the Waters Part, the evanescent detailing of Infinity, or the atonal quality of a work such as Transcendence which signals an abnegation of constraints and a collapse of closed systems or the near-performative twisting and slipping of painterly volumes in Decoding.

One of the predominate visual themes in Lizet Benrey’s work is the artist’s provocatively heightened use of dramatized light and shadow analogous to a sense of all-pervading insight which seems to have been deployed to do battle with forces of darkness. The light and the energetic strokes create a field which dramatizes the presence of two or more conflicting forces or sources. Visual dramatization is set loose in such works. What intermeshes are slow emanations and subsequent revelations of pure perception with reverie. These ruminatively poetic images cannot be forced open, nor read immediately. As slow constellations, they unfold in their own time, magisterially, while the viewer’s eye scans the works’ surfaces, suffused colors, and forms. The artist ably controls such interiorized world with finesse and tension, wondrously combined.

Dominique Nahas is a curator and critic based in Manhattan.​