Art opening: Ben Wohlberg at his home on Payne Road
Found on a recent July morning in the barn-like gallery he calls his ‘gal-rage,’ island resident and abstract artist Ben Wohlberg is in the midst of hanging his current show, scheduled to open there this weekend. The sounds of hammering greet this visitor as she makes her way between the plush greens of the lawn and overhanging tree branches that sketch out a corner of the artist’s secluded Block Island world.
Set against the stark white walls of the gallery, his new work radiates with the artist’s ever-expanding palette and the influences of nature with which he lives so intimately. As ever an experimentalist with media — colors, textures and grounds — Wohlberg this year expands his color spectrum in a new-found fascination with shades of magenta, as well as with pastels and reds.
These influences become immediately evident in his most recent paintings: a flash of dark red startles in the midst of lavender, blue, gold and white strokes in one work he calls “Joie de Vivre.” This element of surprise also greets the viewer of another painting, entitled “Razzle- Dazzle,” where reds and whites playfully skit across a canvas dominated by blacks, blues and greys.
Since the 1960s, Wohlberg and his wife Catherine, a behavioral psychologist, have come to call the Block Island their home, allotting 10 or more weeks of each year to a retreat in Harbor Island in the Bahamas. There in a warmer climate allowing for quicker drying times, Wohlberg has found he is able to play with thicker applications of paint on canvas, another innovation this year.
The alternating rhythms of life on two islands has had a profound effect on Wohlberg’s aesthetic and on the work it evokes, providing him with what he describes as “the emotional canvas” from which he draws much of his inspiration. Being always surrounded by vast expanses of sea and sky with their play of light and shadow, Wohlberg has translated these influences into an art depicting elements of both worlds.
Blending the vibrant tropical colors of the Bahamas into the cooler more geometric land and seascapes of Block Island, Wohlberg’s paintings reflect his fascination with the process, through which he says the real “is distilled intuitively to achieve an abstract form.” The process seems in many ways to be almost more important than the finished work to Wohlberg, who likens the art of painting to that of musical composition.
He finds in both the same mixing of disparate elements — individual perceptions of the real world, imaginative associations, blends of color, light and texture — that result in an art that is at once impressionistic and yet engages the viewer in a conversation that Wohlberg feels is intuitive and reflective.
The public is invited to engage in that conversation — with both the art and the artist — at an opening reception on Saturday, July 28 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the artist’s studio, Fire number 806, Payne Road. Wohlberg’s show will run daily form 1 to 5 p.m. each day until August 11, and by appointment through Labor Day.