As an arts curator since 1982, Roberto José González prides himself in recognizing the quality and skill of visual artists when assembling new exhibitions. His intuition was elevated the first time he saw the work of San Antonio-based artist and alumna Sarah Benson. With an impressive body of work she had created over the last few decades, González knew presenting a solo exhibition with Benson would be an inspiration for anyone who attended the show.
Benson’s retrospective exhibition, featuring artwork she created from 1978-2018, will be on display at UIW’s Semmes Gallery in the Kelso Art Center from Jan. 18-Feb. 22, 2019. During these 40 years as an artist, González said Benson “has carved a stylistic niche” in the local arts community. “I thought it would be an important exhibition for San Antonio to know her work,” González said.
Once González decided he wanted to work with Benson on a retrospective, the two brainstormed ideas about where they could hold the exhibition. Since both González and Benson are alumni of UIW, it seemed logical to submit a proposal to their alma mater. Benson attended the University of the Incarnate Word from 1963-1964 before graduating from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She returned to UIW more than 20 years later and earned a bachelor’s degree in interior design in 1987.
“I thought about other venues, but it made perfect sense to have the exhibition [at UIW],” González said. “How wonderful it is to be coming home for the both of us.”
When they got word from Miguel Cortinas, associate professor and chair of the art department at UIW, that the retrospective was accepted, Benson was thrilled.
“At first, I thought it would be nice if it ever happened,” she said. “Then it became real. I was very pleased and flattered.”
As an arts educator, Cortinas said it’s important for art students to see the changes that occur in an artist’s work over time. Benson’s retrospective exhibition is a perfect example of how it develops in different ways throughout an entire career.
“It is a natural component of the art-making process,” Cortinas said. “In sampling [Benson’s] work over the years, it was striking to see her continued interest in abstraction and a fluid evolution of her formal concerns.”
With an exhibition date set, Benson and González got to work. Benson had accumulated a large number of artwork over the last 40 years, so the two started sorting through the pieces she had stored in her home studio in Alamo Heights. González also thought it would be a good idea to see whether Benson could track down any of her older work that she had either sold or given away throughout the years, so they could see whether any of those pieces would fit their vision for the exhibition. It was a process Benson enjoyed.
“It was fun looking at my work and looking for that thread so that we could do a cohesive retrospective,” she said. “I had some [artwork] I had given to family members. I called them, and everybody was happy to lend them back to me.”
González said it took about two months to appraise 40 years’ worth of Benson’s work.
“It wasn’t simple,” he said. “When you’re looking at that many decades of work, you have to bring all of it out and go through it methodically. Then it comes down to the final selections that are representative of every style and decade. Even then, we had to exclude [pieces].”
The earliest artwork in the retrospective is a piece called Arrangement #1 from 1978. It is an oil on canvas painting, a type of “self-portrait” Benson said, of a pile of shoes in her closet – from chunky purple heels to green flats to blue sandals.
“Although the shoes are objects, I see them as elements of a composition,” Benson explained in her description of the work. “Their random shapes, grouped together in a careless fashion, makes an abstract composition. They become shapes for the sake of carrying the color.”
Through the years, Benson’s work has changed, but her love for abstract art has remained consistent. In one of her latest pieces from 2018, Angles Grid, which will be on display during the exhibition, she painted “angular geometric forms randomly arranged within rectangular shapes.” Benson said the piece is a good example of “how [she is] painting now, while still possessing some of the properties of [her] earlier works.”
“I love anything that has a sequence,” she said. “I love things that have repetition.”
Benson hopes visitors to the Semmes Gallery early next year will get a sense of who she is as an artist and person through her range of artwork.
“There is a joyful aspect to my work,” she said. “Perhaps they can know a little about me in what they see.”