The sound of quaint jazz music fills a brick-walled room covered in vibrant paintings at the Nearby Gallery in Newton Centre. An installation composed of journals and knick-knacks, complete with a pin labeled “The Benayun Book Society,” sits in the middle of the space.
Daniel Benayun, a Boston-based painter, freelance designer, and art instructor, sat comfortably on a couch covered in blankets featuring his own illustrations in a patchwork flannel over a Harley-Davidson sweatshirt, as he began a self-guided tour of his exhibit called Looking So Hard For a Place To Land, I Almost Forgot How To Fly.
“The show is called Looking So Hard For A Place To Land, I Almost Forgot How To Fly, and in the show’s title, it’s already a bit of, like, a metaphor and gets you thinking about the word usage,” he said. “This show’s just, like, filled with allegorical paintings, poems, writings.”
The show opened to the public on March 11, which Benayun said was an emotional and rewarding experience.
“I sold a painting to a woman and she was crying,” Benayun said. “It felt like it was a great success.”
The show has had immensely positive feedback, according to gallery owner Cal Rice.
“It was one of the most successful shows the gallery’s ever had,” Rice said.
Directing his attention to the installation, the sole three-dimensional piece in the gallery, Benayun said it is important relative to the rest of the exhibit.
“It’s an installation that I made that’s just very down and dirty, all my journals from the ages of, like, eighth grade to today,” he said, gesturing to the mound of leather-bound books and accompanying trinkets.
Much of the surrounding wall space consists of pieces which Benayun dubs allegorical and poem paintings. The first painting of the tour, entitled “Spector’s Nonlinear Dynamic”, conveys the theme of freethinking.
“This is from a photo of my grandfather, and his name was Jack—Jack Spector,” Benayun said. “I’ve illustrated him in blue to sort of express a mood that like sometimes in life when we do our own thing, it’s a little bit polarizing, but his brilliance is from that.”
Benayun said the painting of his grandfather illustrates a common feature of his exhibit: the brightly-colored advertising tactics of the early 20th century.
“It’s using the visual language of the 1920s and ’30s, while simultaneously resetting the thread of time and … expressing a contemporary concept,” he said while showcasing a gouache painting entitled ‘Brined Lighthouse and the Forked Sour Path.’ “We’ve lost a lot of character, and I think that, personally, I’m drawn to that beautiful character that you see in this period of art.”
Many of Benayun’s elaborate pieces are made with gouache, a water-medium paint designed to be non-transparent, including the namesake of the exhibit, “Looking So Hard For A Place To Land, I Almost Forgot How To Fly.”
“It’s a woman jumping from an airplane … but she’s also seen in, like a very brave and ambitious sort of pose,” Benayun said. “It’s just like an allegory of ‘be in the moment, enjoy the moment until the moment ends.’ Don’t be fearful.”
Most of the paintings lining the gallery walls, including the feature piece, are paired with one of his own poems.
When asked why he selected “Looking So Hard For A Place To Land, I Almost Forgot How To Fly” as the namesake of the exhibit, Benayun said it was a perfect representation of the entire show.
“It bridged the gap for the body of work that I’m creating in the show, which are allegorical paintings, poem paintings, and then sort of like my commercial work,” he said.
Moving away from the larger pieces, Benayun stopped before a four-by-four display of what he labels “Benayun’s Wonder Cans,” inspired by Andy Warhol’s famous soup cans.
“I’ve always loved Warhol,” Benayun said. “He used the soup cans to remind you that when you go to the grocery store [and] you see a can on a shelf, in a way it’s also art because it reminds you of a feeling. What I’m doing here is revisiting the tradition of what is commercial art and what is fine art.”
As Benayun shifted to the final portion of the exhibit, he said he intended to incorporate his passion for writing into his artwork.
“Every year for the past four years, I’ve self published a book, and these books are typically collections of poems or writing,” he said, pointing toward a page of his book, Bright Stories, which includes comics and other artwork by Benayun.
Concluding the tour, Benayun said that art has been a key outlet in his life.
“I’m just so blessed and lucky that like, I’ve been able to find the channels where it’s been received and been able to make a lifestyle, living out of it,” he said. “I like to draw pictures. Like, I can’t even say it any better than that.”