Max Benjamin

Max Benjamin was born in San Diego in 1928 and moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1951 to attend the University of Washington at Puget Sound where he studied with Walter Issacs and Ambrose Patterson, two artists strongly influenced by European Modernism.  Although Benjamin exhibited in Seattle and is sometimes associated with the school of Northwest Mystics such as Morris Graves and Mark Tobey, Benjamin’s energetic and graphic paintings may owe more to early Modernists like Vassily Kandinsky. Benjamin is a grumpy eccentric who has always gone his own way.  His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Seattle Art Museum, The Tacoma Art Museum, The Portland Art Museum, the Bellvue Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as well as the collections of Safeco, US Bank, and Merril Lynch.

Benjamin moved to Guemes island in 1959, where he still lives in an 1870’s log cabin situated on an extensive and mature Rhododendron Farm.  When Mark Andres and Bill Rhoades visited his studio in 2015 to pick up the painting he was donating to the collection, he asked if they would like to see what he had been working on and then proceeded to haul one large canvas after another from his racks, perhaps 40 in all, insisting on doing all his own lifting and carrying.  At 87, he was vital and sturdy, with the physique of an old farmer.  The studio, a Spartan, unheated outbuilding reeking of turpentine, contained only simple chairs, a table and a wall where spotlights allowed him to paint at any hour of the day or night.  Benjamin’s palette was a card table burbling with beautiful, intense pigment whose lava flow seemed to run from two volcano-like ceramic containers filled with turpentine and brushes – it looked like the palette of God.