Paul Benney’s interest in Renaissance painting and the iconography of saints, biblical stories and ancient symbolism are the starting point from which he sets out to interrogate contemporary symbology. Speaking of how these old master paintings served didactic and edifying purposes, as means of moral guidance – models and exhortations to lead a “morally respectable” life – he asks what is the equivalent symbolic language of our time, now that the church is no longer there to show us the way. “I think one of the things that’s taken its place is we’ve given that responsibility to the municipality. We’re completely surrounded by images that tell us where to go, what to do... Is this an emergency exit, or a cul de sac?” The mysticism and virtuosity of Benney’s visionary paintings and hybrid digital/painting installations, together with his status as one of the country’s leading and most garlanded portrait painters, belie a provocative and iconoclastic questioning of contemporary authority, with its signage and Nudge Theory, and the use of behavioural science to influence the behaviour and decisions of individuals and society at large.
Benney follows his extraordinary 2020 Night Paintings projection event at Snape, with a showing of new paintings and digital art as part of the Aldeburgh Festival Exhibition.
Paul Benney has exhibited extensively in the US and Europe and is represented in public and private collections worldwide including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA), The Brooklyn Museum (USA), The National Gallery (Australia), The National Portrait Gallery (UK) as well as prominent corporate collections including the Eli Broad Foundation, AIG and Standard Life. Benney has twice won The Visitor’s Choice Award in the BP Portrait Award and was short-listed on two other occasions. He has been a judge for numerous art competitions including the Threadneedle prize in 2013 and the Koestler Trust in 2015.
A member of the Neo-Expressionist group of the early 80’s in New York’s Lower East Side, Benney became known for his depictions of stygian themes reflected in the devastation of some parts of Manhattan at the time.
Today Benney continues to explore themes of religion, mysticism and the symbolism embedded in the natural world that have occupied him throughout his career, engaging with a wide range of media including painting, digital projections and music.
Paul Benney lives and works in Suffolk. UK.