19 Sep – 21 Oct 2012


STEPHEN BENWELL  |  Exhibition Text by Gina Lee, 2012

“I can see the family resemblance!” If your mum is Miranda Kerr, that’s not such a bad thing, but if your lineage doesn’t stretch from Orlando Bloom, it could be less of a compliment. 

But we are talking about more than genetics when we talk about family resemblance. Professor Google jumps right in with a discourse on Wittgenstein and provides a succinct summation of his primary theory:

‘… things which may be thought to be connected by one essential common feature may in fact be connected by a series of overlapping similarities, where no one feature is common to all.’ (

Why do we seek these familiar similarities? It is not just above a cradle where the debate rages as to whose eyes or nose the newborn has acquired, but in science and art, white-coated laboratory assistants and tweed-coated academics search for common responses and recurring patterns to “connect the dots” and prove their own theories of relativity.

The concept of connectedness, of relation and relationships, networks of belonging is essential to our understanding of self – of who we are and why we exist. In the current exhibition, Stephen Benwell is again finding a way of connecting his new work to the classic. There is a distinct family resemblance between Benwell’s figures and the Greek sculptures of antiquity. He has found a common ancestry in form and content and created statues of beautiful young men, portraying them again on the surfaces of his hand-formed pots, vases and dishes. There is also a series of eight panel paintings, a combination of four portraits and four non-figurative works that could be seen to provide both a physical and psychological profile of each subject. 

If we look at the various families within the art world, I would expect that Benwell would be invited to the Christmas dinners of the potters, the painters and the sculptors. Colour, line and form all hold equal importance in his work. The faces and figures he paints are an exploration of geometry – half the product of the classical Greek ideal of beauty and half African mask, with sharp contours and accentuated features. And if indeed, as the Greeks believe, symmetry is perfection, then Benwell’s pots and statues are perfectly imperfect. The lumps and bumps and one-sided leanings are common traits that clearly mark these works as belonging to a particular family of Benwell’s creation, genetically modified from classical art and a bevy of good-looking guys. 

So contrary to popular belief, I think Benwell proves that we can in fact choose our family.

In 2013, Heide Museum of Modern Art will present a comprehensive survey of Benwell’s work. Here will be an ideal opportunity to trace the family resemblance back to the beginning, and see how the artist has himself has evolved. 

- Gina Lee, 2012

Stephen Benwell (b. 1953) completed his Masters of Fine Art at Monash University in 2005, but has exhibited regularly since 1995 in Australia and overseas.

Benwell was, for many years, seen as a ceramicist, but today definition only by medium seems redundant and Benwell’s small scale ceramic sculptural forms, drawings and small paintings sit firmly in contemporary art practice. His recent figurative sculptures borrowed heavily from ‘classical’ Greek art are less about beauty and more about imbuing the clay forms and colours with an individual’s psychological and physiological imperfections that he finds beauty in.