04 August 2011

Paul Behnke


Can you briefly describe what you do?

I make non-objective paintings and drawings. Through my process I arrive at a unique pictorial vocabulary in which high key color plays a significant role. There is a suggestion of flux, in my work, and a strong sense of arriving at an image rather than the creation of a fixed representation.

What drives you to make work?

The feeling I get when I look at great works of art---part envy, part pride and a desire to compete with my heroes.

Can you tell me something of your day-to-day working practices?

I paint everyday, usually starting around noon and stopping at six. 
I never begin with a preconceived idea or image. I choose a color and begin. When a few forms begin to present themselves I scrape a layer of semi-transparent paint over the composition. This allows forms and spatial relationships to be seen in a different way. The process is repeated until I arrive at a nearly final state. Often at this point I begin to edit forms and make color changes until the painting feels complete.

How long have you been working in that way?

With a few minor variations, for about two years. Before then there was not much paring down involved and the final painting was much more busy and frenetic.

Which artists have had the greatest affect on your work?

Morandi and the New York School in the beginning.  For the last six years I've paid a great deal of attention to the work of the British abstract painters: John Hoyland, Gillian Ayres, Albert Irvin, and Patrick Heron.

What, outside visual art, informs your practice?

I think literature influences how I see myself as a painter and the romantic way I view art in general and this in turn informs my practice.  I'm thinking of books like The Masterpiece by Zola, The Horse's Mouth, and the Sound of Sleat by Jon Schueler. 

How would you like people to engage with your work?

Ideally, I would like an educated viewer. With that as a given, I hope there would be many ways to approach my work. 

Have you seen anything recently that has made an impression?

Yes, recent shows by Thornton Willis, Kimber Smith, and Norman Bluhm. And John Hoyland's work in the Independent Eye exhibition at Flowers gallery. There was also a terrific abstraction by Alfred Leslie in the Ab-Ex show at MoMA that I'm still thinking about.

Do you have anything exciting on the horizon?

This October I'll have work in a group show curated by Jeffrey Cortland Jones at the University of Dayton in Ohio. And on the distant horizon I'll have a one person show at the Rosenfeld Gallery in Philadelphia in 2012.


  1. I love Paul's work this interview has given me more insight into his process and inspiration. Thank you.

  2. Funny how a standardized interview helps highlight difference. It's always nice to see work from a traveler.

  3. Interesting process - I might introduce that to my students, if that's OK. I also wanna know - how do you get to the financial stage that you can paint every day? If only...:)

  4. Always love your work Paul!