See a Celebration of Everyday Life in Ben Schonzeit’s Photorealistic Paintings

Apr 5, 2016 7:05PM

Small and Cup Cakes 2011

Cakes, tomatoes, a vase of roses—these are some of the ordinary objects you’ll spy in Ben Schonzeit’s trompe-l’oeil paintings. The 73-year-old artist has spent decades refining his hyper-realistic style, and he continues to create new works from his home in New York. His paintings, several of which are on display in an online show via Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, insist that the everyday can be spectacular.

Schonzeit was born in Brooklyn in the 1940s, a time when New York was coming into its prime as a cultural capital. The artist has credited his childhood proximity to the Brooklyn Museum for inspiring his artistic appetite, which hasn’t let up half a century later. After losing an eye in a childhood accident, Schonzeit studied painting at Cooper Union under professors who tended favor the time’s trendy Abstract Expressionism. But Schonzeit came to reject that movement in favor of figuration. “I started painting after I got out of college and tried to forget everything they taught me and find out who I was,” he has said. (Nevertheless, an amused Schonzeit admits he eventually found himself coming back full circle to those same art-school concepts.)

Bread, 2012

Stylistically, where Schonzeit landed might be seen as a firm rebuttal to abstraction of the 1960s. In place of gestural, expressive spills of paint, Schonzeit paints intensely realistic imagery from photographs of the real world. Yet Schonzeit remains committed to questions of form, calling himself “an abstract artist who believes that art should represent something.” His work finds striking compositions and color combinations in the most mundane of material.

Persimmons, 2010

Many of his recent works focus on pattern and repetition, including those of a monochromatic variety, like Persimmons (2010). In addition to the stunning yellows, Schonzeit’s blurry, out-of-focus rendering reminds viewers of the photographic apparatus behind his creation.

Cake Slices. 2011

Another group of paintings turns to pastries and desserts for inspiration. In Cake Slices (2011), Schonzeit plays with the tension between similarity and difference: Each cake slice is nearly identically in shape, but each has its own brilliant, unique decoration. Such are the whimsies of small beauty Schonzeit so stunningly captures.

—A. Wagner

Ben Schonzeit’s paintings are on view in an online show via Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

See more artists from Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art on Artsy.