We have been told that in the beginning was the Word, so let’s begin with Benjamin Spark’s name and his deserted genealogy. Choosing a pseudonym for oneself is to do violence to one’s lineage by rejecting the name of one’s father (often in order to remain sane). Thus we don’t know anything about Spark’s past: free from any ties, he burst into the art scene in 2008, which seems like yesterday, yet an eternity ago. In other words, in the beginning is Benjamin Spark, a secret son showing up as an adult, and whose mind and paintbrush are effervescing. As the critic and novelist Guy Scarpetta likes to recall, “the great artist is the one who wasn’t planned in the program.”
Spark’s style was forged like a shortened, fast-forwarded art history. His painting doesn’t come from the street, but goes straight back to the cave. Indeed, some of his works from 2008 evoke parietal art, all the while abruptly connecting Lascaux, Chauvet or Altamira to, let’s say, Dubuffet and Basquiat. We can’t help but think of the graffiti immortalised by Brassaï, since they embraced all of these references, as well as men’s ancestral urge to mark walls as a way to leave a trace of their dreams and fears, whether repressed or not, conscious or unconscious. Speaking of fears, if the writers’ one is that of the blank page, the painters’ one has always been that of the black canvas, that is, a frame filled with the countless layers of their predecessors’ traces, which have to be painted over again and again.
Benjamin Spark appears like the dashing hair of fifty years of visual culture as he gets back to the roots of a pictorial project, the magnitude of which had only been truly considered by his master Erró. Indeed, the latter has methodically, successively (and sometimes simultaneously) explored all the possible ways to combine images from simple juxtapositions to the most intricate collisions since the late 1950s.
The more his art has progressed, the more he has been searching for a sense of fusion, and his painting has ultimately become somewhat an agglomerate of the entire hierarchy of genres. Following Bosch or Bruegel the Elder (let’s not skimp), Spark not only rejects savant allegories, great historical and religious themes, as well as grandiloquent commemorations of single events presented as if they stood out in the media fog, but he also deliberately banalises all of these in a quantum pictorial big bang, in which the eye doesn’t know which way to turn. Indeed, the eye is over-solicited and drowned in an ocean of signifiers, within which the painter chooses not to isolate any forms, as unique as they may be, but rather to render the liquid excesses overflowing the world.
Stéphane Corréard – art critic
(translated from French by Violaine Boutet de Monvel)