In 1977, after 14 years in the Bahamas, Benini
officially emigrated to the United States, entering the country at the West Palm Beach airport, in a leased cargo plane carrying his earlier paintings, his 7,000 books and the works of other artists he had collected through the years.
Evinston, Florida is a sleepy little village south of Gainesville, Florida, with an historic post office and several homes flanking the now-silent railroad tracks. It was Benini’s destination upon entering America.
On a previous visit, he
had purchased a 1870’s Victorian two-story home. Within weeks, the
living room was transformed into a large comfortable studio where he
resumed work. It was in this studio, that the first shaped Superroses were
Benini searched for materials and methods to free the designs from traditional square-cornered compositions, all the while painting ever-larger depictions of the rose in stylized, separated hues of the same color. Despite the at-first cumbersome framing apparatus, this was Benini’s most striking work to-date.
Shown regularly in New York as well as in universities and minor museum institutions in the United States and Europe, this work received some recognition in critical circles and support from a number of international collectors.
In addition to the originals rendered in
acrylics, Benini occasionally completed watercolor studies of the roses.
In 1979, Lorraine, then working on a Master’s degree in Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, and writing for the Gainesville Sun, interviewed Benini about his first exhibition in Florida. Today, married to Benini, she manages administrative aspects of his career.
After a cold Gainesville winter, Benini and Lorraine bought a small house on the southern shore of Lake Harney, part of the St. John’s River system, 20 miles northeast of Orlando.
A studio was built on the property and in that semi-tropical environment, Benini continued to develop ever-larger shaped roses alternated with traditional-format paintings of a nature directly related to his dream experiences (lucid dreaming), as well as landscapes from his frequent journeys across America. With a prevalence of blues and grays and white, Benini created smooth, background stages upon which the various characters and symbols, acted their silent plays. Works like “Pas de Rose” and “The Wish” typify the output of this period. At this time, Benini’s primary technique evolved by replacing hard-edge lines with smooth blending of the pigments that dramatically changed the appearance of the work.
Meanwhile, the roses continued to grow on the canvases, reaching sizes up to 35 feet. Three of these paintings, hung like vertical banners in the Landmark Building seven-story atrium in Orlando in 1985, to celebrate the 110th birthday of the City of Orlando.
This exhibition, commemorated in a poster, also marked the occasion of Benini receiving the key to the City of Orlando by then-Mayor Bill Fredericks.
As a farewell to the rose, a symbol that had occupied his work for more than 20 years, Benini, in 1986, accepted an invitation from Harold Goldstein, then-president of the American Rose Society, to create a symbolic painting to commemorate the official declaration by President Reagan of the rose as the official national flower of America.
In the same year, Benini became an American Citizen.
The final Benini painting
featuring the rose, was L'Ultima Rosa. It was completed in 1987, the year
Benini became an American citizen and the year the rose became our national
flower. During the Clinton Administration, the painting hung in the White
House, having been acquired by Virginia Kelley as a Christmas present for
her son, President Bill Clinton.