The Grenning Gallery is pleased to announce Ben Fenske’s Annual Solo Show, on view from Friday, August 11th through Sunday, September 10th. We invite the public to our Opening Reception from 6:30pm - 8pm on Friday, August 11th.
With more depth and ease than ever before, this year Fenske paints his muse Amy Florence, and others in and around his home in Chianti. Fenske’s latest figurative work shows the people closest to him in their daily life—seemingly oblivious to him painting them—rather than posing like academic models. Amy, Buddy is the perfect example of this. After sunbathing, Amy reaches down to pet a happy Buddy, as he rolls on the grass in delight. The magnificent Tuscan landscape, chock-full of tall cypress trees and a typical stone farmhouse, proudly sits atop the upper third of the canvas, crowning the composition.
Simple moments are heightened and romanticized in Fenske’s work, which recalls an important tenant of 19th century impressionist movement. They often sought to elevate the everyday person in their work-a-day life, to offset the prior centuries when artists eyes were mostly focused on wealthy and powerful clients in their finery. In the compelling life-sized canvas, Amy, Buddy, Fenske creates an image that celebrates inter-species affection—a moment almost every human can relate to. Fenske’s commitment to the universality of the human experience, regardless of temporal rank is just one of the many ways his work is profound and timeless.
As another example, in Kitchen, he presents a largescale painting of a cucina interior, where a meal is being prepared. A connected and loving exchange is preserved in the foreground, where a young girl gives a begging dog a little reassuring scratch under the chin. She is neatly dressed in a white and green button-up frock, yet she has clearly found comfort, her bare feet standing on the cool terracotta floor. The composition is masterful, with the incandescent light suspended over the table allowing the top 1/3 of the scene to recede into mystery. This forces our eye into the action in the middle foreground. The bold color combination of the red floors, the green walls and the yellow table and ceiling create a richly pigmented environment rarely found in the works of classically trained artists. Both scenes are reminiscent of 17th century genre paintings’ simple and fleeting moments, but with the ease of Fenske’s loose strokes. They are familiar scenes that can feel like nostalgic memories or dreams of our own lives, as they are or as we wish they would be.
In Lilacs, Coffee, Wine, the flowers appear to bloom in front of us, taking over the table. The composition is plentiful yet balanced. One healthy green bean hangs over the precipice of the wooden table. A knife on the cutting board performs the same balancing act. Fenske’s foregrounded objects are moving closer to the viewer than his previous kitchen table paintings. The narrow drawer is pulled open, inviting the viewer to take a playful reach into the painting. At the same time, he adds more visual intrigue to the background, including a towel draped over one of the chairs. He has deepened the picture plane without compromising the casual nature of how each object has been placed. Even without any figures, Fenske composes a humanistic painting, revealing traces of the artists who live around this table.
In Winter Table, Fenske captures another bountiful moment in time. A golden hue soaks the entire canvas, signifying that late-day early-evening wintertime light. The artichokes and oranges signify Spring is close. One of the chairs appears to be slightly pulled out, suggesting someone has just left their espresso… maybe to paint… or prepare the meat—no doubt Bistecca Fiorentina—on the cutting board. Familiar objects reappear in this composition, as in many Fenske paintings; the yellow teapot, the olive oil beaker, the tumbler with a finger of red wine left to drink, and of course, the silver Mokka pot. Vivacity permeates even the quietest of Fenske’s still life’s.
The ‘woman in front of a window’ as subject has captivated Fenske’s imagination and his gaze for years. The juxtaposition of a backlit woman, daintily posed, beautiful and smartly dressed, placed before the glory of the framed, illuminated landscape out yonder is an image one can behold endlessly. In Window, the woman (Amy Florence yet again) is seated at a table with her hand placed upon an open book. Yet, her eyes are not held by the book. Instead, they are turned outward to the window behind her. As she looks out, we feel her sense of wonder, a yearning for all possibilities that may exist out beyond the hills.
Finally, Fenske delivers another set of lovely floral still lifes. Sunflowers face us with yellow lashes spread wide against a blue and white backdrop. Poppies, Chamomile are painted so delicately, they seem to float away from their stems. Although both bouquets are weighted down by their vessels, Fenske’s loose, buoyant brushstrokes breathe air into the atmosphere, allowing vibrations into a subject which is meant, literally, to be still.
Please join us for the Opening Reception on Friday August 11th to meet the painter and rejoice in his new work! Fenske will be here in the Hamptons for the first time since 2021 and will have the use of a studio space out here for the first time ever; so, we are excited to see what he will create over the coming months! Please check in with us regularly between now and mid-October, as the new sought after paintings will be surfacing as he finishes them.
Laura Grenning, Megan Toy and Katie Pepi