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
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.
Also in 1986, Benini had a meeting with Robert Monroe, author of Journeys Out of the Body. Soon after Playboy magazine published in-depth article on Monroe’s research, Benini and Monroe agreed to meet in person. Benini was about to embark on a cross-country journey, culminating in his exhibition at the University of Nevada-Medical Sciences, and agreed to come to the Monroe Institute of Applied Sciences in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a center devoted to accelerated learning through expanded forms of consciousness.
Benini had read Robert Monroe’s Journey’s Out of the Body in the early 1970’s. During this meeting, however, Monroe updated Benini on his latest Hemi-synch research methodologies involving a revolutionary sound wave process to synchronize both halves of the brain with dramatic effects on consciousness.
In the afternoon, Monroe “processed” Benini in a sound-controlled chamber. In this quiet environment, Benini fell asleep and woke up an hour later totally refreshed, and after another meeting, bid Robert Monroe farewell.
During the following weeks of travel, Benini reported nothing out of the ordinary.
However, upon returning to his studio, he could not bring
himself to complete the rose he had started that remained on the easel. Instead, he felt compelled to use the 120-degree angle to design a green
cube painted on a graduated blue to white background. This became Benini’s
first geometry-based painting.
Excited by the visuals and dimensionality of the painting, Benini decided
to render the cube on canvas stretched on laminated Masonite cut to the
outline of the cube. He then applied brackets to the back of the shaped canvas. The resultant
shadow reinforced the illusion of tri-dimensionality of the image.
Benini, always an avid reader, turned to his library to fuel this new
technique. He returned to the works of Plato and Pythagoras, as well as
the perspective studies of the Italian Renaissance.
Methodically, the work grew from a rendering of simple solids in space to
the work that came to full evolution in the 90’s.