Moskowitz Bayse is pleased to present Letters from the Black Hours, an exhibition of new paintings by Benjamin Styer. The exhibition is the artist’s second solo presentation with the gallery, and will be installed in our Viewing Room from September 16 - October 21, 2023.
In Letters from the Black Hours, Benjamin Styer mines and weaves together idiosyncratic selections from his vast library of established visual references, then collages and re-presents them as harmonious offerings to the viewer. Works conjure the power of familiarity by tangibly linking us between distant and near pasts, through our velocitous present, and toward wildly imaginative futures.
As the exhibition title references, recent works use Books of hours, a popular style of surviving illuminated manuscript that characteristically guides through daily prayers, reflections, and meditations, as both formal inspiration and point of departure. While Styer’s works share a rhythm of visual organization, calligraphic lettering, stylized adornment, and windows as portals to other or adjacent realms with their medieval counterparts, the artist’s centrifuge of texts and images move beyond narrative as moralizing device to offer only soulfully palpable ideas that glow and shimmer on a visible horizon just out of reach.
Hermetic drive and meditative persistence characterize the relationship of artist as maker from autonomous to conduit and back again, making permeating the personal through to allegory and myth possible. Exquisite details born out of immense care and concentration add to the feeling of infinite expanse, implying worlds exist within worlds so immense and interconnected that narrative spins out in all directions, unable or unwilling to be contained. In All-Nite Cabinet, a bookshelf holds within it a landscape dotted with glowing castles and far off temples, as a Luden’s cough drop box, toy figurines, baked goods, and friendly insects at similar scale also sit within it, functioning as glyphs that take on talismanic power.
The artist plays with overtly painterly concerns–light, color, and form–in a related series of works that excite the relationship between abstraction and adornment. In Midnight Wafers, the artist repeats and overlaps a familiar floral-esque form in four colors, creating a painted visual pattern that resembles a stamp or an offset print–a cheeky hand-made allusion to mechanical reproduction, the inevitable and ultimate demise of the illuminated manuscript. Passages of calligraphic text abstractly resemble Abecedaries, a medieval aid to teach reading, known to possess runic powers. Styer’s blocks of text at once read as formal, with kaleidoscopic color and spirals guiding the eye in, through, and around images–upon close observation, legible fragments emerge and guide the viewer. Names and phrases that appear and reappear across paintings, serving as an occasional non-pictorial invocation.
The vastness of Styer’s world holds within it a deep connectivity and pronounced spiritual generosity; with art history, memory, dream, and experience flattened and continually disrupted, the doors to the artist’s universe creak open. In this new body of work, his practice looks within and steps beyond itself, further integrating past work into an ever-deepening network of self-reference and extensive historical allusion.