On April 30th, 2023, M. Benjamin Herndon’s solo exhibition, andforththroughthemistamountainameadow, opened at Emerson Dorsch Gallery, Miami, Florida. The show presents a selection of paintings whose monochromatic, matte black surfaces have been hand-polished to reveal lustrous silvery fields, creating light from a ground of darkness. While upon first encounter, the paintings seem to fold into the accepted cannon of post-minimalism, what initially strikes the viewer as a “no-hands” degree of material refinement is in fact possessed of unfolding subtleties that move far beyond technical mastery.
While the means of composing and creating such work can be mechanistic, and the development of his process has been highly informed by scientific experimentation, the artist himself has expressed this process as entirely in service to the poetics of perceiving.
Most people who can do certain things keep it to themselves: this is smart. For when one has been alerted to their own capacity, they have a responsibility to it. This state of self-revelation is clear within Herndon’s paintings: what sings out from them with gorgeous candor is devotion. Requiring skillful engineering and execution, processes that may otherwise border on rote instead take part in something deeply ritualized that bows at the feet of the ineffable. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “For the simplicity that lies this side of complexity, I would not give a fig, but for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity, I would give my life.”
Herndon makes his paint from scratch—essentially an emulsion of oil and alkyd, pigmented with graphite—building up his surfaces on canvas with up to thirty carefully made, thin coats of paint that are then selectively polished. It is within this meditation through matter, I believe, that devotion creeps in.
While technically categorized as painting, Herndon’s work is equally sculptural and spatial, awoken by an essential interplay between light, space, and body. The movement of the viewer’s body—as well as the space in which the paintings are hung—are defining agents in the experience of the work. To use the artist’s own words, it is “a uniquely physical matter.” Having flown from Los Angeles to Miami for the exhibition’s opening, I can confidently say: if there is any art that is worth taking your body to see, this is it.
M. Benjamin Herndon’s andforththroughthemistamountainameadow is on now until July 1st, 2023 at Emerson Dorsch Gallery, Miami, Florida.