Benji Whalen’s new works expose the idiosyncrasies of humans by, frankly, turning them inside out. His Gutted paintings depict figures without their skins and outer layer, existing in a content state of continuous pink guts and eyeballs. The eyes are always looking outward as if it is not aware or does not care that its insides are piled up high onto each other. Inversely, his aggregate sculptures of discarded fabric swatches and cardboard infrastructure seem to hide or retreat into collapse, a private dwelling where one can be invisible or unseen.
Whalen’s comfort with his polarizing explorations of complete exposure and concealment also come through in his finesse with different mediums. In past exhibitions, he has shown a wide range of work, from ironic alphabet quilts to embroidered tattoos on stuffed fabric arms to his Femmes Flanelles, a series in which he painted nightgown drapery over nude models in porn magazines. He states: “To this day, I reach for a thread and needle as easily I do a brush.”
Whalen credits his acumen as an artist and observer to his upbringing. His parents were both artists and puppeteers. He grew up living on the commune of the historic Bread and Puppet Theater, probably best known for their anti-war demonstrations using enormous puppets in the 1960s and 1970s. For his parents, as well as his grandmother who was a seamstress and pianist, creativity was a form of sustenance in their daily lives. Benji Whalen continues his family’s creative lineage, through a lens of humor and sympathy that demonstrate the inherent pluralism humanity possesses.