Benjamin Berlin

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About this artist

Little is known of this early Los Angeles modernist, although during the 1920s and 1930s Benjamin F. Berlin was considered by his peers to be among the most talented of local abstract artists. He may have attended college before studying illustration in Los Angeles, first at the Cannon Art School from 1911 to 1912 and for about six months at a school run by John H. Rich (1876-1954) and William V. Cahill (died 1924). He was one of several artists who maintained studios at the Lyceum Theater Building. He may also have worked for the motion-picture industry.

Although Berlin began his career as a portraitist and continued to paint representational works into the 1920s, he participated in the first modernist show in Los Angeles held in 1923 at the MacDowell Women’s Club and was a member of the governing committee that organized the Group of Independent Artists. He had one of the largest bodies of work in the 1923 exhibition, nineteen pieces, including Owngz (unlocated), an arrangement of semitransparent, geometrical, overlapping shapes. He continued to exhibit cubistinspired paintings during the mid-1920s and perhaps as late as the early 1930s. He frequented Margery Winter’s salon, where he associated with art historian and critic Sadakichi Hartmann and EJNAR HANSEN.

Around 1930 Berlin painted watercolors of the Grand Canyon, possibly for the tourist trade. He also participated in the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, producing easel paintings in the studio of Area Director LORSER FEITELSON, who became his close friend. During the mid-1930s his art became more surreal, perhaps under Feitelson’s influence.

"Ben Berlin Paints Fourth Dimension, Says Occultist, after Viewing Exhibit," For Art’s Sake 1 (January 15, 1924): 3 § Los Angeles Art Association, artist’s file, newspaper clipping, "‘Psycho-Imagistic’ Artist Enters Row," Los Angeles Examiner, November 1, 1926 [?] § Ted LeBerthon, "Night and Day," News (Los Angeles), June 27, 1940, p. 32 § Archiv. Am. Art, Oral History Project, "Interview with Nick Brigante," by Betty Hoag, May 25, 1964, transcription, pp. 7-10, includes discussion of Berlin § Moure with Smith 1975, p. 16, with bibliography.