Oil on Canvas

Benji Alexander Palus

YEAR 1972
MEDIUM Oil painting


Story of an Artist

Benji Alexander Palus was born in 1972 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the middle of five siblings, having two older brothers and two younger sisters. Noticing early his interest in drawing and colors, his parents had him tested for artistic ability when he was just two years old. Testing at very high levels, Palus was encouraged from this young age to explore and develop his artistic nature.

In 1995 Palus received an associates degree in commercial art, but was disillusioned by the world of paste-ups and copy art, and of learning outmoded techniques at a time when the commercial art business was rapidly shifting into the digital world. He decided that he wanted something more, so he dedicated himself to the study and practice of fine art, specifically in the style of realism. Palus is mostly a self-taught artist, having no formal training in traditional fine art or in the medium of oils, in which he exclusively works.

In 1999 Palus moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he currently resides in the city's French Quarter neighborhood. For over twenty years Palus has studied and honed his style, visiting galleries and museums in his adopted city of New Orleans as well as every part of the world that he travels to, inspired by representational artists from every era. Palus' own body of work focuses on figurative compositions of individual women, sometimes with a child. He exhaustively explores the beauty of feminine nature in its unlimited palette of complex moods and emotions.

Palus began his professional career in 2010 at Studio 831, as part of the annual art event in New Orleans affectionately called Dirty Linen Night, a collaborative effort between several French Quarter art galleries. He has since taken part in group shows around New Orleans, and was juried into the Seventh Annual International Guild of Realism Exhibition at Jones and Terwilliger Gallery in Carmel, California in 2012. In 2015 he made his solo debut at Creason's Fine Art Gallery in New Orleans with the show, Belle Femme: Exploring the Strength and Beauty of Womanhood. He is a member of the International Guild of Realism, Oil Painters of America, the Art Renewal Center, Allied Artists of America, and the National Oil and Acrylic Painters' Society.

Palus' successes and works have been largely staggered in the years following the tragic diagnosis of leukemia in a child whose life he closely shared and whom he loved dearly. Kendall, the son of his closest friend and most prolific muse, was diagnosed with Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia in 2007, just two weeks after his second birthday. Over the course of the next four years Palus fought alongside Kendall and his family against this rare and deadly form of the disease. Palus was one of Kendall's primary caregivers, often with him daily at Children's Hospital of New Orleans for weeks on end. Since Kendall's death in 2011 at the age of six, Palus has struggled professionally and personally with long bouts of the grief and depression that follow in the wake of losing a beloved child.

Palus has found renewed passion in his art, yet the loss is deeply reflected in his work. Scenes of innocence, calm, and playfulness are depicted in colorful yet dark tones, as if he is desperately seeking to reconcile the wonder of childhood with its inevitable loss. He is currently working on his first large series of work crafted around a single theme, for which he has adopted the straightforward title, Mood Lights. The series will explore the emotional associations, effects, and nuances of color on both the subject and the viewer through a variety of colored lights, with the hope of tapping into the deep, subconscious realms of dreams and of childhood memory.


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Artist Statement

My work is a life-long study of feminine strength and beauty, experienced through the bond of close friendship. My models are beautiful, but cliché as it sounds, for me the greater inspiration comes from what lies beneath the physical beauty. The women that I paint have sublime, enthralling souls inside their shells. Strength, courage, wisdom, independence, kindness, vulnerability – tempered but not destroyed by deep suffering; this is true beauty to me. These are aspects of humanity that are worth exploring and preserving, that we can look up to and admire, and be guided to find in ourselves. Once touched by these qualities in another human being, what else could possibly move me so much to pick up my brushes and share with the world?

I work exclusively with a small group of friends who embody these qualities, a handful of exquisite women that I've been fortunate to have found and befriend over the course of twenty-five years of searching for inspiration. I do believe that beauty is everywhere, but I've always felt the need to keep my artwork very personal. I'm a bit of an intimacy junky. I've never actually painted a face that I haven't seen crying, laughing, sleeping; looking back at me with care or amusement; sometimes anger. For me, the pillars of a strong friendship are the pillars for a successful work of art. It's generally a slow process – developing the relationship between artist and muse, something that is sacred to me. Sometimes years have passed between first meeting and the first finished painting. And yet, with the muses that have worked out the best, I knew at first sight, or first touch. I can still remember those moments, though some passed twenty years ago or more; that jolt to the system, an intuitive awareness that something extraordinary has happened, the spark which ignites inspiration. There is a certain sadness that hides deep beneath the laughter and smiles, but is always reaching out to those that will see. That connection sometimes grows into friendship – not a physical relationship but an emotional intimacy, trust and understanding; a comfort. Then, I can go to work on the canvas.

I work in my small apartment. My bedroom is my studio. I enjoy the simplicity of what I have: my easel, paints, and brushes set up in a corner of a room with spotlights next to my bed. I work exclusively with oils in the style of realism. I sometimes make small thumbnail sketches with a ballpoint pen, although I usually craft loose compositions in my head and work them out directly on the canvas, making changes and corrections as necessary as I paint. I use photographs for references, working only from photos that I've taken myself. The photo shoots are sometimes candid moments over coffee or lunch, and sometimes they are meticulous affairs where I've planned out every detail of the location, wardrobe, makeup, lighting, etc, specifically tailored to suit a particular model. I like to work on several paintings at once, so I can bounce back and forth, constantly seeing them with fresh eyes. I do my best work in the mornings, rising from bed and immediately setting up for the day's painting before I've even poured my first cup of coffee.

I'm currently working on a series titled Mood Lights, which explores the emotional effects of different colors of lights upon both the model and the viewer. It will include roughly thirty works of varying sizes from small head studies to epic, six foot canvases, all done in oils. After Mood Lights is finished I plan to do a series of series based on travel, each focused on a specific model in a different country or part of the world. The first will be Le Sue Avventure in Italia, painted from references taken during a photo shoot across Italy with my friend and musa bella, Tasha.

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