The Philadelphia Weekly[November 8, 2006] ----------------------------
Walter Benjamin Smith:"The Transcendent Real"
By Roberta Fallon
Walter Benjamin Smith believes in the redemptive power of the mystical experience. The young artist, having his first solo show at the Seraphin Gallery, says he's experienced mystical realms. And his new paintings, drawings and window installation gallop into the end zone in a celebration of peyote rituals, rainbows, crystals, animals and community. But what happened to the pop culture figures like yogi the bear that once cavorted in his pictures? "I've slowed myself down to tell the story," the artist says, explaining people were confused by the ambiguity they saw and couldn't tell if he was celebrating or attacking yogi and baby jesus (who appeared, memorably, in one work as a kind of slug). The new works have done away with ambiguity. In one after another painted snapshot of a hallucinatory state, the works praise the mystical experience as the way to a better world. It's the psychedelic Peace-able kingdom. Smith isn't a self-taught artist, but his works have the same heated spirituality and urgency to communicate as those self-taughts-Purvis Young, say-whose works evoke transcendence as a life goal.
Art Blog [November 20, 2006]
The Warm-Up for New Year
By Libby Rosof
The holiday season is just around the corner at Seraphin Gallery, with a float for Santa in the back room--Faten Kanaan's little hand-crafted sled--and a giant mummer's costume by Walter Benjamin Smith
The sled is part of a group show in the back room, We'd Rather Not Tell You, a mix of work by gallery artists and others. (Our students at Tyler staged a show last week called Please Stop Talking, Please--pretty similar, huh)? out front.
The front room has a solo show by Smith, The Transcendent Real, which, as Roberta mentioned here, continues his quest to break on through to the other side.
The surprise in We'd Rather Not... was Kanaan's sled, a handmade beauty inlaid with nacre (i.e. mother of pearl) and looking like it came straight out of some Russian folk tale. The sled, with its woolen fringes and Germanic name, however, brought up Joseph Beuys and Nazis and the stereotype of self-satisfied German burghers. So odd in its sweet perfection, so out of place in the middle of a gallery floor, the object gave me the creeps at the same time that it suggested a million strange stories of escape, trade routes, and bad values. I loved it.
Others in the back show include interwoven trees from Mauro Zamora, cut work from Sarah Daub and from Dee Nicholas, and work by Paul Laughney, Phoebe Adams and Joanne Grüne-Yanoff.
Smith's costume, with its eagle's head covered with feathers and it's 3-D rainbow crown of feathers and beads, is not so much mummers (ok, so I misled you) as shamanism--a giant kachina. And shamanism is what's behind his drawings and paintings filled with loopy imagery and mysterious narratives. The loopier, the better, although I confess a gag reflex to the Native American imagery and the appropriation of rainbows and crystals for visions of color and light. But then, the guy is appropriating everything, from Gauguin natives to cave paintings to space monkeys, and sometimes the mergers are really great and reach a pitch of incantatory transcendence.
What with missing two weeks--more like three--of looking at art, I find myself playing catch up, wandering around in Roberta's footsteps to see what I missed. Glad I got to see this work, which is up for another week.
Seraphin Gallery l Contemporary Philadelphia Art Gallery and Art Consultant
1108 Pine St. l 215-923-7000 l firstname.lastname@example.org