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Arthur Benjamins




I know of one very gifted artist who is adamant that the quality of a painting is directly proportional to the cost of the materials used.

To that end, he uses the most expensive oils and canvases thinking that this will justify his prices.

Non-standard materials.

In 2011, I had a solo exhibition in Helsinki, Finland. During the set-up, we had the opportunity to visit one or more large galleries, and one such had various exhibits of Keith Haring.

One was a small metal sculpture which was priced at well over 100,000 Euros, and a painting which had been protectively framed behind glass for the only reason that it was painted on a rough piece of cardboard. Price around the 45,000 Euros.

Putting your work on cheaper materials – like cardboard – requires a high degree of continual protection, both from physical and climatic abuse.

Although Keith Haring was exceptionally prodigious in his all too-short life, he possibly didn't think much about his works' longevity, although much has been saved and cosseted by discerning owners.

He painted much on tarpaulins of various large sizes of which the difficulties in keeping them safe and undamaged is something I have trouble contemplating.

Many years ago when painting technology was virtually non-existent, many artists painted on planks of wood slotted or glue together. Over the years, these planks shrunk which severely affected much of them.

It is only that many paintings on canvas which received a certain amount of care, and in some cases minimal, that they survived to this day, albeit sometimes in a deplorable state.

Some 'traditionalists' perceive a painting to be worthy of being called “art”, is only when it's on canvas, nothing else will suffice.

The range of painting substrate has now become almost limitless. I've painted on canvas, aluminum sheet, plywood, hardboard, particle board and many more.

I like particle-and-hardboard because they are grainless and therefore inert, making them quite impervious to warping and bowing.

The larger a piece of work is, the more you have to consider the strength and rigidity of the painting.

Although canvas is much lighter, wood also has the advantage of being far more puncture resistant.

Traditional art materials.

Not all artists are happy with the properties of the more traditional materials, preferring the use of more viscous paints that can be found at domestic suppliers at a fraction of the cost.

Unlike what they are taught, these domestic paints have a similar longevity as the highly priced oil and acrylic paints and should never be underestimated.

New York artist, Franz Kline once had his household paints secretly confiscated by his agent who had sneaked into his studio and replaced all his pots of paint with high-brand tubes of the most expensive Windsor & Newton stuff.

When Kline found out, he simply walked to the local hardware shop and stocked up again with what he wanted. Kline also painted in his telephone directories as these provided him with ample substrate matter free of charge. The (too) few books on him show these directories which formed the basis of many of his final originals.

Jackson Pollock's later masterpieces all consisted out of household and industrial paint and which still hold true.

Canvas stretching (and cleaning)

These days, there are many variations of canvas available from many sources. The larger the painting, the thicker the canvas that artists usually use, otherwise the painting will slop around like a sheet in the wind.

This can be prevented by stretching the canvas on the frame by means of the corner wedges, however I have seen many artists screwing L-brackets onto the back of their frames, keeping them unmovable for ever more. Even store-bought canvases are rigid. In my mind – this is totally unacceptable.

Looking closely at stretcher bars, it seems that the manufacturers have left no direct means to allow the re-tensioning of new or completed canvases. I've designed a radically different tensioning method which also can be retro-fitted to any large painting.

Canvases will loosen up over the years. Some more than the others, depending how rigid the media is. The thin cotton duck canvas does not have the rigidity required, which does not detract from its excellent quality. You can tension a canvas by wetting it depending on the media used.

My own first medium was enamel paint on canvas. This media is wafer thin and as tough as nails. Rolling up a painted canvas into a 3” diameter tube has no detrimental effect on it and thoroughly wetting it is also without problems.

I've had paintings which had been in smoky atmospheres returned to me for cleaning. The clients used to be horrified when I hosed down the complete canvas in the shower and sponged off the smoke with sugar soap, allowing the mess to come off in dirty streaks. I dried the painting with a soft towel, poured the client more coffee and waved him off an hour after he'd arrived.

However – other media will require a totally different cleaning method and with which I'm not familiar.

Reproductions and prints.

I always have to chuckle out loud at the proclamations of a great many fine art print sellers who elaborate lyrically about their finest special, grease proof, acid-free, color-fast, hand scooped, UV-resistant, paper of which all 'mono cells have been stereotypically removed', etc. etc. etc.

The truth is that people want beautiful prints on their walls and simply don't give a tinker's cuss what's it printed on. It’s common knowledge that you don't place a print in direct sunlight.