A fleet of squids drift heavenward, an empty town beneath. A candy-colored city lies half-submerged, barnacles accumulating over graffiti. In the worlds of John Behnke, the familiar and the fantastic collide, all depicted with vibrant hues and exquisite detail. “These places are like my playgrounds,” he says.
Behnke’s take on the age-old tradition of landscape painting is personal and irreverent; his environments are wild mash-ups. They combine locations observed through Google Street View and places imperfectly remembered from his own childhood, along with pop-cultural artifacts. A map from a Nintendo 64 game and a set from “Twin Peaks” blend into the sites of the artist’s direct experience.
Notably, these vivid places are devoid of people - the surfaces might glisten and buzz with life, but they’re “ghost towns.”The sole inhabitants are Behnke’s mythic creatures.“The Glass Carnival” presents scenes from two epics in the artist’s imaginative universe. There’s the tale of the squid exodus (in which a spreading plague forces a civilization of hyperintelligent cephalapods to flee their ocean floor home) - and then the ballad of the colossal peacock (in which the protagonist grows up among a family of robins, his out-of-stepness becoming an engine of resentment and explosive growth). Behnke presents these stories in vignettes, compelling fragments of complex dramas.
The paintings incorporate an eclectic mix of media - acrylics, gouache, markers, gel pens, and others wash together into a shimmering surface. The exhibition also features Behnke’s recent forays into ceramics, his fantastical characters stepping boldly into the third dimension. “I get annoyed by the limitations of one medium,” he says. And much like a squid ascending to the cosmos, John Behnke playfully resists limitations.