He has won prizes for his paintings since the age of 7! That was over twenty years ago.
His paintings often reflect the Kiowa culture of his mother, as here, but the exceptional skill he demonstrates probably comes from his father, painter, Bennie “Yellowman” Nelson.
This latest painting is brimming with vibrant color and expert, painterly technique.
According to the artist, this is an evocation of his Kiowa family’s winter camp, at a place near a natural hot spring – hence the flaming red color?
Ben said that he was experimenting with “mathematics” in his new work, so that may explain the precision of the tepee’s placement – in the exact center of the canvas.
The composition is masterful, combining strict, straight lines with billowing curves, and vivid color with neutrals.
The rigorous straight lines of the tepee and its poles, as well as the calibrated axis on which it is centered, are mitigated by an uneven curved line that runs from top left, down to the center horizon, and the buoyant, mottled areas that rise from the bottom half, up.
That irregular curved line resembles the outline of a mountain, which might be the “Rose Hill” of the title.
It echoes the diagonal lines of the tepee, and the equally organic horizon line, creating an irregular form, between them.
In the bottom half of the painting, the artist has beautifully mixed cloud-like forms in metallic silver, with smaller, but equally amorphous, shapes in gold metallic paint.
Given the story about the hot springs, these may refer to clouds of steam, as well.
These vague forms float over a darker grey background and are even seen wafting up into the top half of the painting, through the transparent cover of the tepee.
Transparent and opaque areas are wonderfully composed into a whole, with assured finesse, by the artist.
There is an ethereal, feel about this painting; sort of realistic, but dreamlike.
At the very top left corner, a moon appears, but is it a crescent, or is it in eclipse?
Like the rest of the painting, we are left with a vision, but no certainty.
This is a marvelous departure for this prominent artist; different from both his bold figural pieces and his ledger-like historic Plains pictures.
The result is intriguing, elusive, but fascinating, and visually rewarding.
A beautiful example of Ben’s mature, unquestionable ability to join technique and ideas into an artistic whole.
All ready to hang, no frame needed.