Celebrating the pictorial finesse of artist Leo Bensemann

Ilam Campus Gallery’s upcoming exhibition celebrates the five-decade career of graphic artist, painter and publisher Leo Bensemann (1912–1986) and connects current students to an inspiring University of Canterbury’s (UC) Fine Arts alumni.

Leo Bensemann, Design for the cover of the Group Show Catalogue, 1957

Leo Bensemann: Illustrator, Designer and Printer, showing from 2 – 23 October 2020, demonstrates the scope and influence of the Christchurch-based artist’s work.

In 1937, Bensemann’s Fantastica: Thirteen Drawings was the first art publication by the newly established Caxton Press. Bensemann, who had assisted with the book, joined Caxton Press the following year and for the next 40 years was influential in introducing modern typographical design and typefaces to New Zealand. He continued his art practices of drawing and painting throughout his life and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, for services to art, literature and printing in 1985.

“Leo’s practice continues to endure and his ability to operate across a whole range of disciplines makes him a great role model for our current students,” UC Head of Fine Arts Aaron Kreisler says. “Our latest exhibition at the Campus Gallery offers audiences an amazing opportunity to see a vast array of printed matter, illustrations and design work by this visually gifted savant.”

The exhibition has been put together by Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū curator Peter Vangioni, who has a keen interest in Bensemann’s work and is a fellow letterpress printer running his own studio, The Kowhai Press. In 2013 Vangioni curated A Caxton Miscellany: The Caxton press 1933 – 1958 for the Christchurch Art Gallery and Christchurch City Libraries.

Vangioni will be in conversation with Luke Wood, SoFA Graphic Design lecturer, at 12.30pm on Friday 2 October. His expertise makes the exhibition a double treat for students and UC arts community, Kreisler says.

“Peter has brought together works from major Christchurch holdings of Bensemann’s work, to provide a thoughtful insight into the pictorial finesse and rich diversity of practice that Bensemann amassed over his lifetime. Leo Bensemann: Illustrator, Designer and Printer is a stunning exhibition that has been astutely put together and in the process provides an exemplary model of curatorial practice for our gallery’s audiences,” he says.

The exhibition includes Bensemann’s original drawings, wood engravings, book designs and letterpress printing, and acknowledges the generous recent gifts from his family to the Macmillan Brown Library at UC and Christchurch Art Gallery Library.

Read more about Leo Bensemann here.

Leo Bensemann: Illustrator, Designer and Printer, curated by Peter Vangioni is at Ilam Campus Gallery, Block 2, School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury, 2 – 23 October 2020.

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