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Interview with Dutch-born Artist Arthur Benjamins on His Motor Sport Paintings

Kassandra Ramirez


Dutch-born Arthur Benjamins has achieved acclaim in the United Kingdom as well as countries as far as Japan and Australia. He pioneered the use of enamel paints, which no other artist had ever attempted in motor racing art. His colorfully distinct photo-realistic style has caught the attention of the media and public from many corners of the world.

Arthur Benjamins is completely self taught, which enabled him to explore his visions without rigid guidelines set by specific tuition. He pioneered “Abstract Iconography”, where known and lesser-known iconic images are guided into a form of minimalism, a heartbeat away from abstraction. This style embraces portraits of musicians, actors, politicians, artists and racing drivers.

Arthur Benjamins had his first United States art exhibition in 2014 and now lives in Peoria, AZ as an artist with 1Pilgrim Studio. Benjamins shares his experience as a professional artist with the art community, giving further insight into the artistic perspective and process behind his notable motor sport paintings.

“No Surrender” - Arthur Benjamins

“No Surrender” - Arthur Benjamins

What is your story?

I was born in Holland in 1953, lived in Rhodesia for 6 years, returned to Holland in 1963 and moved to the UK in 1974, where I lived for 40 years. I became one of their foremost motoring artists from 1983 onwards and booked many successes through many exhibitions, countless magazine and newspaper articles, fine art prints, book covers and several television appearances. I am also totally self-taught – something that some self-styled 'movers and shakers' may find unattractive.

I now live in Phoenix, Arizona and from where I am now, I intend to build up my reputation as an innovative and contemporary artist in the USA and beyond In throw I ame full knowledge that I would never become a racing driver – I wanted to use a very specific – but very tricky medium that could portray all the bright colors associated with motor racing. I decided to use enamel paints – the same ones that I painted my models with. It was a complete revelation as that medium conveyed all that I wanted to. Over the years, this medium caused a bit of an uproar among the several established motoring artists, eliciting that they said they were also going to try that medium. To my knowledge, none of them did.

When did you discover you wanted to be a professional artist?

Knowing that a part of my father’s family were successful artists was certainly an ever-present spark. I was kicked into a sudden artistic direction. I was never a child prodigy like some other artists. I started late, possibly around my mid teens and the people around me treated my aspirations with indulgent kindness. I never developed a self-identity until much later.

What is your dream art collaboration?

 A Facebook artist I befriended some years ago, suggested a collaboration whereby we'd both repaint one of each others' images in our own styles. Our techniques and styles are poles apart, however, his forte is the female form in many guises – an art form that ticks all my boxes!

“The Green Hell” - Arthur Benjamins

“The Green Hell” - Arthur Benjamins

What visual artists inspire you in your work?

The Dutch artist who inspired me in 1968 was Jack de Rijk – an average artist who had serendipitously broken into motor racing art before it became popular. As a result, his works were featured on TV and various newspaper articles – many of which I cut out and still have. He hit the jackpot with his automotive art and his first large exhibition was bought out in one fell swoop by Ford. The very moment I saw him on TV, I knew exactly what I really wanted in life.

De Rijk passed away in 2005 and I regret never having contacted him to convey that he had single handedly steered me onto a path from which I had never deviated. Sadder, still – his online presence is marked by only a few images of his later art. To this day, my own role in motor racing art has mirrored De Rijk's, as I receive regular contacts from other artists who were buoyed in exactly the same manner when they saw my work at Racing Car Shows. Full circle! 

I am buoyed by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Willem de Kooning, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and various more. Not necessarily their art – but more of their own personal stories – their struggles amongst the myriad New York critics who ruled imperiously around the 40s, 50s and 60s. De Kooning, who stowed-away onto USA soil in 1926 and became highly feted in the the New York art world, only reached financial successes well over 30 years later! The other artists would also face equal hardships till their time came, too.

How would you describe your unique style?

 My motor racing style started out as very graphic. When I still lived in Holland, I began to produce in quantity and with the absolute minimum of detail, I set about to portray the technical aspects of the cars, which hitherto had never been attempted by any other automotive artist, whose styles had been marked by provocative slashes and blobs of random color – very popular in the 1960s – and which was considered to have an eternal life.
A few random European artists reigned fairly supreme in their own countries and I was fortunate to have met various other high echelon British artists and to have exhibited alongside them at the larger shows.

My pioneering use of enamel paints was viewed with considerable surprise and possible suspicion by other artists and patrons alike – but which was never emulated by anyone else. Modern acrylics have a much shorter drying time, allowing me to work with increased spontaneity and have almost similar traits of enamel paints which are sadly covered by stringent USA Hazmat regulations.
The mid 1980s saw me move towards a pioneering photo-realistic style, which hit the mark in Great Britain after I had moved there in 1974. It would be up to around the end of the millennium that I would discard this and return to my first love – the graphic style.

“Grand Prix Homage” by Arthur Benjamins

“Grand Prix Homage” by Arthur Benjamins

What is the hardest part of living as a professional artist?

Becoming a professional artist is all good and well if you can support yourself independently from your art.
Many artists would take these logical steps. When I lived in the UK, I deliberately remained an engineering designer up to the point where 'age-ism' began to rule supreme and much less experienced people became the 'new world'. 
However, by that time the UK had shown to have fallen irretrievably behind as the motoring art leaders. That decline started with the late 1980s recession from which it never recovered.
By that time I had pioneered my “Abstract Iconography” - a genre which portrays known and lesser-known icons and iconic images and reduces them to a point where they exist a fraction away from recognizability.
The UK was a hotbed of embarrassed looks and curtailed small talk, party-time conversations when I answered that I was a professional artist. I might have well told them that I had some kind of venereal disease, such were their stunned reactions.
I am happy to say that the reactions in the USA are diametrically the opposite. The fact that I'm a professional artist elicits genuine interest.

Give us insight into the production of your last project. What was the biggest highlight of the process?

 One of the most recent exciting automotive art projects was to introduce an aspect into my work which I had never considered before. The germ of the idea came to me when looking through one of my books on Roy Lichtenstein's early work, whose generic use of comic-and-strip cartooning featured predominantly and would re-nourish my own love for drawing cartoons – something I hadn't done for over 40 years. This new project also fits in beautifully with my graphic predilection towards simplification, abstraction, even.

With the Indianapolis 500 coming ever closer, which I have always loved, I multi-angled my idea into combining that race with the hope and dreams of all racing drivers – to drive and win at the Indy 500.
I would choose a hero of my own, calling him, Mike – after my own middle name, Michael. Mike is sitting in his race car and dreams of winning that race, his finger pointing upwards and with a heroic smirk and dreamlike eyes gazing into the middle distance like so many had done before him. I would call my painting, “Believe And Achieve.” Through this painting, I had weaved myself into motor racing greatness after all.

My following project is to make a range of smaller paintings, combining strip cartoon ethos with biting humor and satire. My other recent painting, “The 1000 Mile Hell”, was to embrace famous races and depict them into “what-if”, projects of which the possibilities are limitless.

“The 100 Mile Hell” by Arthur Benjamins

“The 100 Mile Hell” by Arthur Benjamins

What are you favorite colors to use in your art?

Living in Arizona, I have to painfully endure the enduring love affair with a gamut of brown hues from which too many refuse to move away. Very few of those people don't realize that their own south-western style homes can happily live with art that doesn’t follow the rules they think they need to follow. There isn't a color I would not wish to use, only the relationships between colors I wish to address. Red is the color I like to spice up images with. Always add a little red to any image and it will become more appealing to potentials. To that effect, Johannes Itten's “The Elements Of Color”, is a highly recommended book on the relationship between all sorts of colors and their hues. It is available on Amazon.

What is your favorite element about creating?

 If there isn't a mold that fits you, make one that does. You can follow a trend trying to cash in on it, hopefully making money in the process. That doesn’t mean you'll be a good artist – just a copyist – and there are plenty of those about.

It will take some time for you to find your own style and that journey can be as you personally direct it. In the beginning you will partly or completely follow in another's footsteps up until the point you move away and find your own corner or niche. The main element of finding your own way is the utmost need to create something – whether it's existing or new. I remember an occurrence many years ago when I was drawing up a Sci-Fi painting where weird beings are climbing out from a precipice and making their way towards the viewer. A friend happened to be looking over my shoulder wondering what I was doing. The very moment he saw what I had drawn, he muttered something and fled the room. I was somewhat alarmed at first but that turned into deep satisfaction when I realized what my work could actually do!

A famous artist who made his name when he painted the first Star Wars poster and remains prodigious, told me that he paints because he 'wants to get it right'.  The reasons for creating something are many fold and cannot be put in a paragraph or two. My own personal reasons are that I wish to speak through my work – not as in a message as I have stated before – but to shake up the viewer – to get them to think and ask themselves questions – to elicit responses, whether they are good or bad.