Karl Benjamin, celebrated L.A. painter, dies at 86


Karl Benjamin, the celebrated Los Angeles painter, has died at 86. The artist died Thursday of congestive heart failure at his home in Claremont, said his daughter Beth Marie Benjamin.

Benjamin created paintings that experimented in different ways with bold color and various shapes. He was categorized as an Abstract Classicist in an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that ran in the late ‘50s. His works were also described as “hard-edged,” an art term that describes works in which colors and shapes are starkly juxtaposed.

Benjamin’s career had its ups and downs, with his work going out of fashion in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But his work made a comeback in recent years. His paintings were featured in the exhibition “Birth of the Cool” at Orange County Museum of Art in 2007, and he received a major retrospective that same year at the Claremont Museum of Art.


In his review of the Claremont shows, Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote that “Benjamin emerges as a colorist of great wit and inventiveness.”

It was in Claremont that Benjamin spent much of his life. He taught in public schools in the L.A. suburban city, as well as at Pomona College from 1979 to ’94 and at the Claremont Graduate University.

Work by Benjamin was included in the Getty Museum’s “Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970” and the Huntington’s “The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945-1985,” both part of the Pacific Standard Time initiative of exhibitions focusing on art made in Southern California in the post-World War II era. A gallery show, “Karl Benjamin and the Evolution of Abstraction, 1952 to 1980” was also part of PST.

For a full obituary, see


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