Pip Benveniste

Pip Benveniste

Pip Benveniste by Paul Vaughan

Searching for nature’s signature with a thinking eye

THE daughter of Bohemian artists, Benveniste was born into the creative community of writers, artists, potters and actors in Newlyn, Cornwall; she helped to establish organic farming communities and market gardening while absorbing the Cornish landscapes and famous light that was to later be part of her inspiration as an artist.
Benveniste was a contemporary of the artist Patrick Heron; they knew each other in childhood when their fathers – Tom Heron and Alec Walker – collaborated in the creative project of Crysede. This business produced high quality, wood-block, hand-printed designs on fine silk textiles and garments which sold in the successful 28 Crysede shops across England for over a decade. Walker was the artist and Tom Heron the businessman.

In one sense, the Land Rugs project was a return to Benveniste’s roots, in the textile aspect of her father’s art, inspiring her to design ‘English Garden’, ‘Magic’, ‘Near & Far’ and ‘Three Wheels’ among many others. Colour was a life-long ally in her search for what she described as ‘nature’s signature’.

Landscapes from Cornwall to Mexico, from Norfolk to Tunisia inspired her to lay down an ever growing matrix of interconnecting themes to illustrate the continuing cycle of birth, growth, decay, death and re-birth in the natural world.

Granite rocks, woodland, crop rotation, the coastline, breakwaters, fishing boats, local fields, parched desert, mountains and streams – these would all play their part in inspiring her largely abstract work, with reviewers making connections between her paintings and those of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Klee’s ‘thinking eye’ has been used more than once as a helpful way to describe her ways of seeing, and her subsequent delivery to canvas, paper, etching plate or film. Her rug design ‘Receptive’ has resonances with the Bauhaus school of art.

All this and more can be found in Benveniste’s rug designs, now hand-knotted and crafted by weavers in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, a region of the world whose cultures echo the wide-ranging path of enquiry and disciplined work output of the artist.

Pip Benveniste by Tony Ward

Tibetan culture and the teachings of the Dalai Lama had a special place in her heart; Benveniste’s designs in Gallery One Land Colours are ‘signed’ with her graphic representation of the Bodhi Tree, Buddha’s tree of enlightenment.

Many paintings and rug designs were the result of isolated moments of meditation: staring at reflections on a canal, a seasonal change, the wind on a moor, or the power of a coastal storm. The rug designs in Gallery Two Brush Strokes have their origins in the bold black and white canvases that epitomised a memorable part of her work in the 1960s, using crushed bamboo sticks for brushes.

Benveniste exhibited widely over the years and her paintings, etchings and rug designs sold well over the six decades of her career. Her  black and white 16mm films of artists such as John Latham working in the streets of London were later shown at Tate Britain in the retrospective 1960s exhibition, ‘This Was Tomorrow’, as well as on BBCTV and Channel 4.

Benveniste was a modernist in all senses of the word. She was uncompromising in all things, and as an artist, she always wanted to maximise her sensate as well as cognate relationship to life. Life was for living to the limits, often in defiance of tradition and convention. She was a serious artist, perceptive and with a strong enquiring mind, a stoic who stayed the course with extraordinary discipline. She had a very direct manner in asking questions and somehow demanded the same directness back. She had little time for social niceties. Writing shortly before her death she said “It is the creative energy of ‘the doing’ that has the value; the finished object is the manifestation of this energy and that is how it acquires a value.”

Given the male ‘domination’ of fine art in Britain (and elsewhere) immediately after the Second World War, she was then all the more singular within her generation in committing herself to being a full time artist; history tells us the price that all artists pay for their singular purpose is visited more painfully upon women artists and this was no less true for her. You have to have a great deal of self-belief and discipline to get up every day and try and create something new.

In the Land Rugs designs of all 4 Galleries – One, Two, Three and Four – there are highly accomplished works by Benveniste where the form and composition closely matches the work of her modernist contemporaries, exemplifying a search for some existential truth about our relationship to nature and to life.

Pip Benveniste

Pip Benveniste

See The Guardian’s obituary notice on Benveniste.

Benveniste’s original works of art for sale    A wide range of original works of Benveniste’s paintings in oil, acrylic, watercolour and etchings over a 60 year period are also available for sale through Land Rugs. In addition, Land Rugs offers stunning, Giclee pigment prints on art paper in numbered, limited editions of much of her work; these prints – in a choice of sizes, ie A4, A3, A2 etc – are exceptionally good reproductions and a cheaper way of purchasing her work than the original works of art. Please contact us if you are interested in this aspect of the artist’s work. Read more at:

‘Nature’s Signature’, article on Pip Benveniste in Resurgence Magazine
The Guardian obituary on Pip Benveniste, September 17, 2010
CV for Pip Benveniste 1921-2010