Following his residency with Dio Horia gallery on the picturesque island of Mykonos, Chilean painter Pablo Benzo opened his first solo show in Greece on June 12th, and will be on view through July 9th. Described as a “celebration of nostalgia and modernism as experienced in contemporary painting,” Some Velvet Morning presents new works on canvas as well as oil pastel works on paper which are approaching the still life format through portraiture lens while utilizing the surrealist liberty.

Borrowing the title from a song written by Lee Hazlewood and originally recorded by Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra in late 1967, the body of work evokes the similar uncanny atmosphere as the song that gives a nod to the mythical Cretan princess Phedra. Both soothing and peaceful, there are elements that suggest a potential shift and change of the setting, yet, we can’t tell if the change is for the better or worse. And although focusing on depicting still life, Benzo is in fact portraying the objects as if they were his sitters. Furniture, plant pots, vases, and interior elements are rendered with soft colors, aiming to evoke the ambience they exist in, rather than depict their physical qualities. At the same time, the silky gradients of such hues are creating a sense of bulbous volumes, which are oftentimes broken with cubist-like interruptions. And while the objects feel animated because of such an approach, the living elements, such as flowers, fruits (lemons, bananas, cherries), or even the figures, are often portrayed as still, made of solid mass (Fruit Basket, Collective Portrait, or Self Portrait With Imaginary Paleas, all 2021). Adding the series of oil pastels on paper into the mix, the artist is now exploring the same approach through the use of more gesture-based technique and stronger, more vibrant color contrasts.

In this new body of work Benzo is both including a figure in some of the paintings (Self Portrait With Imaginary Paleas, Time Traveler, or Very Special Occasion Shoes, all 2021), as well as frequently experimenting with landscape motif (Mountain Lamp, Sofa Landscape, A Place Where I Like Walking, or Constantino’s Favorite, all 2021), both constructing a sense of perspective as well as distance. But along with using the landscape as a grand setting existing beyond the focus of the image, the Berlin-based artist is playing with the scale and importance of his motifs and includes these natural settings inside of his objects. This constructs a surreal setting which is sometimes pushed towards abstraction with unexpected, expressively painted sections. With subtle nods to Impressionist, Cubist, as well as Surrealist greats, Benzo’s compositions and paint manipulation varies significantly, adding to the extraordinary ambiance of the presentation. —Sasha Bogojev