Cliff Benjamin's new paintings are based upon atavistic talismans, magical protectors against evil. Like most talismans, however, they also flatter to deceive.
Setting up a simple dialectic between the organic, emotive gesture of representation and the overall reductive qualities of shape and edge, Benjamin attempts to fuse the formal vocabulary of Modernism with the more potent symbolism of primitive myth. Thus bulbous, biomorphic forms and Mondrian-like grids are painted on cutout panels that allude to such primitive weapons as arrow and ax heads, barbs and sickles.
The work's tension essentially derives from this contrast between formal elegance and implied danger, between the iconography of painted content and the shape that contains it. For this to succeed, the whole must be greater than the sum of the parts, but unfortunately we are more conscious of historical quotation than of a truly original aesthetic.
We read each element as an isolated signifier that is several generations removed from its source, not as one part of a free interplay of signs. Like much current work, Benjamin's paintings are easy enough to break down and interpret, but once their deceits have been exposed, there is not much else left to work with. (Davies Long, 8906 Melrose Ave., to Nov. 15.)