“Revered … but Benjamin has questioned the value of his landscapes.”
Photo: Quentin Jones, SMH.
Not everyone can write like Jack Marx. And fewer still can do it for The Sydney Morning Herald. Commissioned to write the text for a book published to coincide with Jason Benjamin‘s new solo show at Melbourne’s Metro 5, Marx siezed the opportunity to unleash his inner Gonzo. Here are the first two paragraphs of the SMH front page story:
“SOMETIME in the winter of 2006, I became quite convinced that the Sydney artist Jason Benjamin was not long for this earth.
He had hired me to write the text for his monograph, What Binds Us, and thus I’d spent weeks in his pocket, during which time I had witnessed the 35-year-old’s descent into a mine of inexplicable neurosis and despair that would surely end with death. The only question was whether it would be by his own hand or mine. I’d have been happy with either.”
Near death! Everything is on the line!! The artist may die!!! Unfortunately, the story that followed didn’t quite live up to this corker of an opening. Given the tough job of writing about Benjamin, Marx went to the painter’s studio, asked some questions, then sat around for few hours. At one point things got quite tense:
“One day, after I’d commented positively on one of his works in progress, he took up his brush and, with nary a word, destroyed the picture – surely the most self-sacrificial “f— off” in the history of either art or journalism. During another difficult evening, Jason doodled my likeness on the back of a beer coaster as he answered my questions. The monstrous result left no doubt as to how he viewed his interrogator at that point in time.”
The “monstrous result” was a picture of a guy wearing a hat… One can easily sympathise with Benjamin, suddenly struck with the realisation he’s got a lot of work to do before the show and a bloke in a hat turns up to ask him questions. As the deadline for the show loomed, Benjamin started to have second thoughts about the book – did he really need a text after all? Couldn’t it all just be pictures? Meanwhile, the artist was going through Van Gogh-like emotional turmoil:
“More worrying, however, was his diminishing enthusiasm for Jason Benjamin, a creeping self-loathing that tumbled out in an increasingly fraught and shapeless series of late-night telephone conversations, during which he revealed he’d been sleeping in his studio (“the chamber”, as he was now calling it), going days without seeing his wife or children.”
Luckily for Benjamin, he’s a professional and got the job done, but sadly for Marx, this also meant in the end there was no story, no suicide and no murder. Instead, the SMH story concludes with Mrs. Benjmain ruminating on her husbands obsessions:
“Jason’s wife, Annie, speaks of “the bad time” last year, as if referring to some beaten disease. She still wishes he saw more of his family – he’s in the studio from the crack of dawn to the dead of night. Not even she is allowed in there.”