Jim Aikin's Oblong Blob

Random Rambling & Questionable Commentary

Ben Aikin: Paintings

My father was an artist. He sold a few paintings here and there over the years, but he was never able to break through as a successful painter. To support his family, he did anything and everything in the world of art and illustration, from apartment store decorative design to retouching newspaper photos with an airbrush, from humble sign painting to rendering the interiors of hydrogen bombs for the defense department at Sandia Laboratory.

He died in 1992, but he hadn’t been able to paint after the early ’80s; his eyesight deteriorated due to macular degeneration. For years, my mother had dozens of paintings stored in the garage. Unfortunately, some of them got damaged while stored (please don’t ask for details). Today, however, I still have about 18 of his very best paintings, and also a handful of smaller works.

For better or worse, he tended to work large. The first painting shown below, “Return of the King,” is fully six feet tall. I currently have about ten canvases hanging in my home, and I’m taking good care of the others. But the sad fact is that no one but me is going to see them, as long as they’re here at home.

I’d love to arrange a local exhibition, but very few public spaces have the high ceilings and expanses of wall needed to show the paintings as they were meant to be seen.

For the time being, then, this page is the only place where you’re going to have an opportunity to encounter his paintings.

Ben was enormously interested in color, and I’m sure he’d be disappointed in how these works look after passing through the image capture of a $100 Kodak camera and then through the odd, non-linear processing supplied by your Internet browser software and computer operating system. Also, the camera introduces a little spherical aberration, which I’ve attempted to correct using the free Gimp image-processing software. And of course it’s highly unlikely that your computer screen is six feet high. (Size matters.) Even so, I think these images reveal something important about his work. I hope you enjoy viewing them!

"Return of the King" by Ben Aikin

This style has been called “synthetic cubism.” The debt to cubism is obvious, but there’s no overt subject matter. The figures in “Return of the King” may not be human. They may not be figures at all, though the presence of ovoids in the upper area does suggest that they have heads.

The next piece, “The Artisan,” is 4’7″ tall. It’s unframed.

"The Artisan" by Ben Aikin

Both of the two works above date from the late ’60s or early ’70s. Here’s an earlier work from the 1950s. It’s 3’6″ wide and about 2′ high. The subtle colors in this painting didn’t photograph too well. Even so, this image may give you an idea what his work was about: the interplay of intersecting shapes. He worked hard to create a kind of visual ambiguity in which you could clearly see that the image was three-dimensional, but you could never be certain whether one shape was in front of or behind another shape. The optical energy of the paintings comes both from the color combinations and from the fact that the shapes never settle into a definite spatial relationship.

"Nocturne" by Ben Aikin

Now it’s time for some new uploads (as of September 2012).

Two Figures

Somebody commented that the figures in the image above look vaguely Aztec. My father may or may not have had anything that specific in mind; this piece could have been painted at about the same time he carved a kachina doll, so Native American art was definitely on his radar.

I call the painting above “Nocturne.” It’s not as bright as the image here would suggest — I removed some of the flash highlight from the center area, but that left it a little washed out.

The natural light from the window was coming from the right in the next image, as you can probably tell from the shadow cast by the frame. But this accentuated only slightly the natural contrast between the right side and the left, so I made no attempt to correct it.

The next item I call “Odalisque.” I don’t remember if that’s the official name. I’d have to take it down from the wall to look at what’s written on the back, and it’s too big for me to do that — it’s six feet wide. My father didn’t always give his paintings names at all, and on occasion he asked me to come up with a name, so I don’t feel bad about renaming a painting after the fact.

During the period when he was doing grids of small squares (and by the way, this was back in the ’70s, well before computers had color screens with pixels!), Ben did a series called The Four Seasons, after Vivaldi. Unfortunately, “Summer” was vandalized in a break-in many years ago at the Unitarian Church, but I still have the other three. Below is “Autumn.” The blues don’t pop out quite as much as the photo would suggest.

To conclude the series of new uploads, here’s a large piece , about 5’8″ wide not including the frame. I have no idea what the title might be, or what title to give it, but it’s unusually bold, because of the uncharacteristically small set of shapes and the large number of shaded areas (color transitions). The shaded area in the upper center has deteriorated a bit from the smooth color gradation I’m sure he saw when he painted it, but in truth the colors blend better than this photo indicates. The darker transition pigment is less reflective, so it didn’t pick up the flash.

This next figure is smaller — about 19″ x 12″. It was painted directly on mat board, probably in the late ’50s or early ’60s.

Jazz Bull

Here’s another painting from the ’70s, “Hooded Figure.” (That’s my title. Actually, it says “Dancers” on the back, but they don’t look much like dancers, do they?) This is 4 feet wide by 3 feet high. The orange, in particular, is not as vivid in real life as the digital reproduction makes it seem.

Hooded Figure

Here’s one of the few paintings he did that has a wide frame. It’s also one of the few that suggests motion. The canvas area of “Five Blue Circles” is about 19″ wide by 29″ high. The digital reproduction doesn’t do justice to the delicate shading of the browns.

FIve Blue Circles

26 Responses to “Ben Aikin: Paintings”

  1. Sesko said

    Brilliant. Will be on the lookout for more, Jim.

  2. Greenman Ron said

    I remember his work well, whether the smaller pieces hanging on “The Wall” at Books Universal, the larger ones in the library, or the largest at those wonderful open air art shows. I remember his work being recognized and appreciated far beyond our own little community. In fact I was thinking of his paintings recently. And I think before you popped up as a long lost potential friend on Facebook. Of course I can’t tell one from another but I think that was the beauty of it. There was no “picture” to see and recall, simply a visual, sensual experience to feel while it was there and then that only to remember. I think I actually avoided reading the titles because I wanted to avoid the corruption of any definition. Robert Greenberg has said that music is the only truly abstract art form but I beg to differ. Ben’s paintings are and perhaps even more so than Pollack’s. I see splatter when I think of Pollack. I see color when I think of Aiken. Thanks for posting these.

  3. Kelly Parker said

    More….. please!

  4. Terry Cox said

    Jim– Don’t know if you remember your father “tutoring” me when I started painting in oils in the early ’60’s. I came over several times and he helped me with color washing techniques, and several other aspects of working in oils. I remember some of his art — mostly works in progress out in his workspace. I remember others at Books Universal. I don’t paint much anymore, but many of my drawings, oils, watercolors, and ink have definite echos of his work.

    As Kelly wrote, “more, please.”

  5. Susana Ghezzi said

    Thank you for the photos. Lovely memories of your father’s work.

  6. Peter said

    Hello Jim recently at your fathers estate sale (Livermore California) I purchased 3 to 4 of your fathers paintings. I remember at the sale a bio of your fathers life and career was posted. Do you have a copy of this bio, if not can you give me some of the basic information on your father (professionally and personally). I would like to have this attached to the backs of the works I bought.

  7. Dean David Spong said

    I very much enjoyed seeing your father’s paintings and do hope that you have additional images that you might send on. I especially like his works from the 1960’s and 1970’s. The image of “THE ARTISAN” is especially appealing but would like to see additional
    paintings of a similar scale or larger. I hope that you have images . I thank you for your time.

    Dean Spong

  8. Walid said

    Hi I love the painting do yo like to sale all of them.
    Please let me know soon
    Walid .

  9. Greg said

    Jim:
    We have been friends in spirit for some time. That is to say, I have come close to memorizing parts of your Inform 7 Handbook. It is probably the only reason I am still plugging ahead with my opus. My first attempt at writing in I7 were guided by that thick paperback volume (available from Amazon).

    Before I found your handbook I almost dumped the whole mess. However, in a never ending evolution of a strange game world HOW DID I GET HERE continues to slog along at a sometimes slow but never rapid pace.

    Anyway, the point of all this is that I had never before taken the time to explore your art. Now that I have, I have one nagging I7 question: when will someone of the extension writers create the ability to display multiple artworks?

    And when will you be releasing handbook I7 2.0?

    Greg Masoner (wgm003@bellsouth.net)

    • midiguru said

      I think there’s a way to display multiple graphics in I7. Don’t know for sure, as I’ve never tried. Perhaps only one at a time? You might want to look at Erik Temple’s Glimmr extensions.

      When the next update of I7 comes out, I may update the Handbook. Depends on what else I have going on at the time. Right now I’m looking at an entirely different technology for producing interactive stories.

  10. Greg said

    Ops! I didn’t read far enough, but anyway, heis work is great!

  11. Alvin Lee said

    Hi Jim,
    Happened to be passing some time and stopped by a shop in the area. Found one of your dad’s paintings in the shop. I like it a lot and am seriously considering going back to the shop to purchase it. So of course I did a web search to see what I could find out and came across your blog article. Really liked the examples that you posted. Just wondering if any other paintings by your father might be available for consideration to purchase? I am a big California mid-century fan. Thanks much. Alvin

    • midiguru said

      I would certainly consider selling a few paintings, as I have about 20 and can’t hang more than ten in my home. The tricky bit is, I’m not set up to ship them anywhere. Nor, I think, would anyone be likely to buy a painting based on photos. So I guess my answer would be, if you find yourself near Livermore for any reason, send me an email (midiguru23@sbcglobal.net) and we’ll arrange a time when you can view the work. After you buy a painting, how you arrange for shipping will be up to you.

  12. Alvin said

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for the response. I am interested in coming over to visit and see the paintings. I have a SUV so taking anything that we would agreed upon would no problem. I most likely would not be considering anything that is extra large. For any visit I would like to do it on a weekend and during the daytime. I will email you to set up a visit. Most likely no sooner than into July.
    If you happen to have photos of any of the paintings that you are interested in selling pls. feel free to email to me at x10yrsaft@yahoo.com so I can have a sneak peek. :-)
    Thanks again, Alvin

  13. Mike Peake said

    He was a talented man with a unique style. Thank you for sharing them with the world.

  14. Jon said

    Just gloriously lovely shapes and colors. Quite evocative. Would enjoy owning one. Clearly under appreciated!

  15. Jim,
    I thought you’d be interested in knowing that two of your father’s paintings are displayed in the recently renovated Big Sur Roadhouse restaurant. You can see the paintings at http://www.glenoaksbigsur.com/roadhouse.html . Mouse over the thumbnails on the bottom to see his images. We love the paintings and are so happy to have them displayed there.
    Basil

    • midiguru said

      Thanks, Basil! I don’t recall the one with the brighter colors, but I do remember the one with the browns. I only know of one other one offhand — there’s a woman in Sacramento who has one. I wish there was a way to arrange an exhibition, but I’ve had no luck figuring out how to do it. If that ever happens, I might ask you to loan these for a week or two.

  16. CJ Jones said

    Thanks for posting your father’s work! I bought a painting of his titled “Emissaries” and it is dated 1967. It’s 4’x5′ and hangs on my wall. I’m glad to see his other paintings which are very beautiful.

    • midiguru said

      Just out of curiosity, where did you buy it? Based on your name, I would have guessed you inherited it from Jerry Jones, who I recall was one of my father’s friends. But apparently that would have been a bad guess.

      • CJ Jones said

        I bought it in Fremont at Thrift Town about 2 years ago. There’s no one in my family named Jerry. I’ll send you a picture of it if you post your email address or email me your email address.

  17. Nikki Ishibashi said

    We also bought a large painting of your fathers a year ago from an antique dealer in San Francisco. We love it very much. Your father was incredibly talented. I’d also be willing to send you a picture of the painting if you like.

  18. joe donnelly said

    are you familar with his earlier works in the 1950s? I have a mixed media signed Aiken but I see no images of his signiture can you help? joe

    • midiguru said

      I would have seen everything that he did in the 1950s other than commercial art, since he would have been doing it down the hall in the dining room or the garage. Whether I would remember anything specific is less clear, since I was very young at the time. But if it’s signed “Aiken” it’s definitely not his work, since that’s not the spelling our family has ever used. If you just mistyped … his signature would be on the back, in all caps — nice square block capitals — and probably in pencil.

  19. robert said

    was it your mother who did the tiles?

    • midiguru said

      Not sure what you mean by tiles, unless you somehow acquired one of the small enamel pieces she did in the 1950s. I no longer have them, so you could have found them in a garage sale or something.

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