Mural by Garth Benton in the Outer Peristyle at the Getty Villa, Malibu CA. via Flickr
|Garth Benton in 1994
This week I was saddened to learn of the passing of a great muralist, Mr. Garth Benton, an internationally recognized artist who was well known for his stylish first-century style trompe l'oeil decoration of the magnificent Getty Villa in Malibu, California.
Mr. Benton "died a after with battle cancer" in May of 2012. I am surprised I did not see it reported anywhere and I only figured it out after I noticed that his website had gone down and began making inquiries. Being a pre-internet personality Mr. Benton was not widely mentioned on the web, but his work was nevertheless world-class, and very well-known in its day.
|trompe l'oeil bas-relief painted by Garth Benton
I had the pleasure of working on a project with Garth Benton many years ago when he came to San Francisco to paint some spectacular Chinoiserie murals in a private residence here. He had arrived in town with inexplicably blank wallpaper apparently intending to paint the murals on site, but with no help and nowhere near enough time. I got a desperate call from the wallpaper hanger (who knew I also paint in this style) and rather than ask what the heck had gone wrong, out of respect for this great master painter I put my nearly entire studio at Mr. Benton's disposal - scaffolding, buckets, tarps, ladders, brushes, and as many assistants as I could round up - and we all learned a lot from him while helping him complete his commission, some of the crew often working until 3 AM or even all night, trying to meet the deadline. While we painted, we were regaled with entertaining stories about his many celebrity clients and amazing jobs he'd done over the years. It was exhausting and exciting and the job was truly beautiful.
|Ballroom mural by Garth Benton in the Getty Residence, San Francisco
A couple of years later Mr. Benton made headlines for suing his clients, Ann and Gordon Getty, for having painted over one of his older murals in their San Francisco home, which he had hoped to photograph for a glossy catalogue raisonné of his work. The mural had been painted on canvas and could easily have been removed, but the Gettys had not realized this when they redecorated, and had to settle a large amount of money on him for the error. While I felt deeply over the heartbreaking loss of the artwork, the case made me cringe: suing an otherwise supportive client likely didn't help his future business. The mural is still gone and the book was never published.
|A Chinoiserie mural painted by Garth Benton for Michael Taylor Design in the 1980s
We exchanged a few emails over the years, but regrettably never did get to meet again.
So I offer this short tribute to Mr. Garth Benton, to be remembered for his fine work, and his influence on a generation of muralists.
images 2-5 via Internet Archive