Suburbanality, Solo Catalogue Statement, 2005

Edition of 1000

For sometime now Benjamin Werner has been executing inner city and suburban scenes around Brisbane. He does this not as a social historian does but rather as a means of searching for clues about the extent to which aspects of the sublime can be traced in everyday experiences. The subject of the sublime has been an important one in painting for several centuries. Originating in Germany, it grew from an attempt to represent the unrepresentable. That is, to suggest how God could be present or was manifested in nature. In his work for his honours year at Queensland College of Art, Werner often returned to themes of destruction and imminent doom. However these did not draw on biblical vernacular but rather drew from such profane events as the demolition of the Woolloongabba Hotel. In other works, approaching thunderstorms over suburban skylines or the brooding sea of Deception Bay were used to suggest forces and urges well beyond the everyday. In earlier work Werner often focused on the denizes of these urban and suburban environments paying close attention to their gestures, the details of their apparel and their relationship to each other and to the architectural spaces they inhabit. Influences on these works include well know painter Jeffery Smart and local artist Robert Brownhall.

In Werner’s images of people in the urban environment there are often traces of illustration that come from his keen interest in attention to detail that is not as evident in his more panoramic and epic paintings. This illustrative quality can be seen to good example in the group of pencil drawings made in preparation for many of the paintings in this exhibition.

In these most recent paintings Werner continues the theme of the contemporary urban sublime by taking ordinary, commonplace and familiar scenes and through shifting focus or the freezing of a moment in time presents them anew. In Your suburb 1 and 2-Ipswich Road the everyday drive, the vista of roofs, palms and recognisable fast food outlet signage is transformed through the use of altered focus within the picture frame into a slipping vision of the ever changing – still the same vista.

Your Suburb 2, Ipswich Road Oil on canvas 1223 x 609mm
In a group of smaller works including Mount Olivett-Main Street, Garage Door-Ann Street, Windows-Kingsford Smith Drive and Cut-James Street Werner again show us the commonplace and familiar urban environment in unexpected ways. This time the glow of streetlights creating sharply racked shadows has instilled in the cropped and edited facades of recognisable valley landmarks a quality of film noir.

It is in these pictures that Werner also picks up on another prevalent theme of modern and contemporary western art, the loneliness and isolation of the city, portrayed with such lyricism in the work of the great American Painter Edward Hopper. This can been seen in Man at a Bus Stop-Brunswick Street where the solitary nature of the indistinct figure is only heightened by the surrounding cool night air punctuated by the illuminated glow of the shelter advertising panel. The influence of Edward Hopper is particularly pervasive in Stairs 1 and 2-Coronation Drive where Werner echoes many of Hoppers paintings of the stoops and steps of Brownstone townhouses commonplace in cities like Boston and New York.

Man at a Bus Stop, Brunswick Street Oil on canvas 1223 x 913mm 2005

However, Werner’s interest in the natural environment intertwines with that of the suburban in works such as Trees 1and 2-Riverside Drive in which a stand of trees, perhaps representing natures increasing isolation within the urban environment, along the riverside drive in West End on a blustery and brooding evening is frozen and transformed by the illumination of a sudden flash of light.


Trees 1, Riverside Drive Oil on canvas 1223 x 913mm 2005
Ben Byrne