Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fantastica The World of Leo Benseman by Peter Simpson

Fantastica The World of Leo Benseman

If you have been following the New Zealand Art scene closely you will probably be aware of Leo Benseman.  Even if you are not fanatical about art, you are sure to have heard of his friend Rita Angus.  In Fantstica: The World of Leo Benseman, Academic Peter Simpson explores and explains who this unique artist was.

Simpson very thoroughly researches back to a few generations before Leo’s birth.  We discover predominantly North German origins for the Takaka/Nelson based Bensemann family. Leo’s family and school life are typical early 20th century lives with no special privileges or even artistic influences.

Leo’s school days friendship with Laurence Baigent becomes a lifelong one.  It is known that Baigent was homosexual but it is unclear if his friendship with Leo was also sexual.  Certainly Leo did marry and father 4 children.  Simpson explains that Leo seemed to enjoy being an outsider or not in the mainstream.  This was evidenced in his artistic work that tended towards portraits, while his contemporaries were fixated on the local landscape and then developing into landscapes when portraiture became more popular.

Benseman was an important and long time member of the Canterbury art collective, who called themselves the Group.  He exhibited with them     times.  He was also taken on as a partner in Christchurch’s Caxton Press, who for many years were the main publishers of New Zealand writing, especially poetry.

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