Strange things in the mind's eye

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¤ Opening reception for paintings by Dan Benjamin¤ 8 to 10 p.m. today and Saturday¤ Paradigm Theater, 116 Main St. in Oak Creek¤ 846-5137

— Writer Joseph Campbell once said the role of the artist is the mythmaker, because the artist has the ability to communicate ideas that are larger than the literal.

Artist Dan Benjamin takes that calling seriously. Although he is not religious, his imagery often incorporates symbolism from the world's religions.

Although he once painted real landscapes, he now paints inner landscapes. To see its expression on the canvas, Benjamin's mind is full of vivid details and the kind of real and unreal images that you experience in a dream.

His work breaks all the rules he learned in art school, he said. Benjamin uses bright colors and enjoys symmetry -- his art teachers discouraged both.

Most people will recognize Benjamin's work from the walls of Chelsea's in Oak Creek. The restaurant is owned by his brother, Andy Benjamin, whom Dan calls his biggest critic and greatest supporter.

This weekend's exhibit will include paintings from as far back as Benjamin's college days to paintings that are not yet dry.

"Every painting is an experiment," he said.

One powerful image is a self-portrait. The brush strokes are wide, and the perspective is almost uncomfortably close. After graduating from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Benjamin moved to the desert for three years to hone his craft.

"I was still raw," he said.

He made a self-portrait every day. His other paintings from that era are studies of the desert. He painted until he thought he had learned something -- about the desert, about art, about himself.

Then he packed his paints and moved to Steamboat to join his brother.

That was five years ago.

After living in the desert's subtle beauty, Benjamin found Colorado's beauty too obvious to paint. That's when he turned inward and started trying to communicate the strange things that passed before his mind's eye.

The main theme in most of his recent work is duality, Benjamin said. "I'm interested in the yin and yang of things. Every action has a consequence.

"The world is beautiful, but it's also horrible, and you have to celebrate that, too."

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