On Friday, November 15, Atomic Gallery opened ‘Universal Forms’, a retrospective of late Canadian artist Benson Zonena’s unseen sculptural works. Recently rediscovered after 40 years, the exhibit displays select works from two collections: POS/NEG and Interdependence. Organized by Lawrence Blairs, owner & curator of Atomic Design, the exhibition marks the reintroduction of Benson Zonena and his collections of abstract sculptures and monochromatic wall reliefs to a public audience for the first time since the 1970s.
“Upon arrival for a routine house-call, I was totally unprepared for the magic I was about to discover. What I saw before my eyes was immediately comparable to the great works of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Maryon Kantaroff, who Zonena exhibited with at Yaneff Gallery in 1979,” says Blairs, “I was instantly moved by the way the sculpted forms mimic interdependent human existence, a comment on how humans need one another to survive. We are interdependent.”
With a scholarship to Central Saint Martins, the London-born artist began an advertising career for notable art publications like Studio International and Art International in the 1950s and 60s, eventually migrating to work in Toronto with Arts Canada. The move overseas led to his association with Canadian artists such as sculptors Al Green and Sorel Etrog. In 1972, Zonena decided to devote his time to sculpting instead; five years later he was elected to membership at the Sculptors Society of Canada. The next decade would see unrepresented solo and group shows at the Offices of Sheldon Rosen (1975), First Canadian Place (1977), Macdonald Gallery (1978), Hamilton Art Gallery (1978), Yaneff Gallery (1979) and a commission for Temple Sinai entitled Eternal Light.
Celebrating Zonena’s fascination with the complexity of nature, geometric forms, and mathematical order, the pieces in the exhibition focus on the intersection between form, architecture, and the human condition. Though it may not immediately be obvious, Zonena’s highly political point of view is woven into the DNA of his works. POS/NEG, a collection of monochromatic fiberglass wall reliefs, encapsulates the unity of opposites with each positive form identical to its negative mate, while Interdependence, a series of sculptural work made from marble, Vermont sandstone, and wood, fabricates the symbiosis of human existence with each just-touching form relying on the stability and groundedness of the other. The result is a comment on the concept of interdependence as a paradigm.
Zonena likened this paradigm to the pertinent connectedness of our Canadian provinces and cities. The work is exemplary of the diverse ethnic and cultural identities that are separate but co-existing beneath the umbrella of Ontario and Toronto. In today’s political climate, this message is more relevant than ever.
Cody is the managing editor and senior contributor at Glossi Mag.
He is a photography aficionado, masters candidate, fashion enthusiast, avid Ariana Grande fan and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.