Barton Benes has been creating beauty out of detritus for the past 40 years. The first time I ever saw his work was in 1976 in a gallery in Washington, D.C. I’ll never forget it . The exhibition consisted of a number of works of 30×22 sheets of paper. Each sheet contained a drawn grid of perhaps 30 squares. Within each square was a insect held in place by a yellowish glue. Beneath each bug, a legible, almost child-like script told of a time and date - ie 8:30 July 7th. This is how Benes dealt with the roaches that shared his New York apartment - with reverence for all life and death, with a sly sense of humor, and with an impeccable sense of style. And years later, this is still how Barton deals with his life - turning into art.
There is another story that articulates this need that Barton has to to make the proverbial silk purse out of the sow’s ear, the lemonade out of lemon. Barton was born in New Jersey, but his family had come from a little town in Czechoslovakia . After the fall of Communism, the Czech Republic invited him back home. He went to visit his family’s town and wandered into the ancestral church. It turns out that this particular church is the famous Sedlec Ossuary. All of the decoration - chandeliers, alters - all architectural details - are made from human bones. When the church was renovated in the 1850’s the local woodcarver was given permission to use the bones of the townspeople that had been in church’s cemetery. And that he did to gorgeous effect. It seems that the impetus to create beauty from death is part of Barton’s DNA. He had been using bones to create art for years before he learned about this aspect of his heritage.