Mario Bencastro


"Ondulations 1". Acrylic on canvas.
2002 © Mario Bencastro.

"Ondulations 3". Acrylic on canvas.
2002 © Mario Bencastro.

The painter and printmaker Mario Bencastro was born in El Salvador in 1949. He was the co-founder of the Magnet group of painters in New York in 1977. His paintings have been shown in seven solo exhibitions in El Salvador and the United States, and in more than forty group exhibitions in El Salvador, Nicaragua, México, Puerto Rico, the United States and Europe. Group exhibitions include "Spanish American Painters and Sculptors", Brooklyn Museum, 1974; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1976; "Contemporary Printmakers of the Americas", OAS Museum, Washington, DC, 1976; "International Artists", New York, 1977; "Primera Bienal del grabado de America", Venezuela, 1977; "Magnet Geometry", Cayman Gallery, New York, 1977; "II Salón Internacional Xerox", Managua, 1977; "Primera Bienal Iberoamericana de Pintura", Alvar Carrillo Gil Museum, Mexico, 1978; "1a Biennale Italo Latino Americana di Tecniche Grafiche", Roma, 1978; "Resurgimiento", Museo del Barrio, New York, 1978. Awards include: "National Painting and Drawing Contest", Second Prize, San Salvador, 1963; "Benedictine Art Awards", Honorary Mention, New York, 1975.

After the July 1979 Military Coup de Etat in El Salvador (the beginning of the Salvadoran civil war), Mario Bencastro started writing. Ten years later, he finished his first novel, A Shot in the Cathedral, which was chosen as a "Finalist" among 204 works in the "Premio Literario Internacional Novedades-Diana", Mexico, 1989, and was initially published by Editorial Diana of Mexico in 1990.

"Ondulations 2". Acrylic on canvas.
2002 © Mario Bencastro.

"Ondulations 4". Acrylic on canvas.
2002 © Mario Bencastro.

"Mario Bencastro: The Pyramid and Other Linear Formations", by Jacqueline Barnitz.

Introduction to the catalog of the exhibition of paintings by Mario Bencastro at Kromex Ltd Art Gallery, Rockefeller Center, New York, May 1-19, 1979.

Mario Bencastro, whose series the "Monograms" was recently exhibited in New York and San Salvador (1978), brings us yet another series, "The Pyramid and other linear formations". Even though the two series are closely related, in the "linear formations" Bencastro has shifted, albeit almost imperceptibly, into a new world of ideas that transcend pure geometry. One can talk about ideas with Bencastro because he is also a writer, and in dealing with his art, one must take into account the fact that it is only one facet of his creative production.

His acrylic paintings, drawings, watercolors and reliefs are still unequivocally geometric, but his themes and some of the material he uses, reveal a content beyond pure formalistic essentials. This content is of course neither narrative nor ideological. It is no more palpably physical in its meaning than it was for Mondrian, pre-Hispanic or Islamic artists. It is as one knows, a language of symbols -- in Bencastro's case, very personal one because they are neither theosophical as they were for Mondrian, nor expressive of specific ideas. But they do however express his belief in a cosmic order. The rigorously symmetrical and balanced formations of broken and folding lines in his recent work suggested to him the apexes of the familiar stepped Maya pyramids of Central America as they might be seen from above; but he did not set out to paint this theme. It addressed itself to his memory as ancient architecture has made incursions into the consciousness of other geometric artists is recent years. Bencastro falls within the framework of contemporary artist who found geometry for its own sake a sterile concept and proposes to return to it some meaning beyond the visual facts. The earlier geometric painters, constructivists and neo-plasticists attributed mystical or ideological significance to their art, the French purists and Swiss concretists eliminated all such content; but in recent years, a renewed search for "meaning" has again penetrated the world of geometry as a consequence of conceptual art. Bencastro belongs to this generation.

"Linear 1". Acrylic on canvas.
2002 © Mario Bencastro.

"Linear 2". Acrylic on canvas.
2002 © Mario Bencastro.

As a self-taught artist, he has in a relative short time, spanned the steps that 20th century painting went through (impressionist landscape, cubism, Herbin's French purism, Vasarely's excursion into a geometry of ambiguity) to arrive at an independent form and personal set of rules, whereby the viewer can read linear formations as alternatively convex or concave. Unlike the slick machine-made of much geometric art, Bencastro's does not inevitably deny the artist's hand. His reliefs of cutout strips of cardboard or foamboard glued onto a cardboard or wood base and sprayed either gold, or silver or other colors, suggests the warmth of handicrafts. Although he works with a draftsman's precision, the relative small scale of his paintings affords a sense of intimacy that allows for total communion with the work. For Bencastro, the volumetric illusions created by the linear formations are a totality in themselves, and the color is a secondary element whose sole function is to enhance form.

It is difficult to think of Bencastro as a hermetic formalist knowing his definition of poetry as a "sublime parallel to reality", and specially after seen his collection of miniature drawings done on the backs of old calendar pages, paper napkins, yellow pad and computer print paper during lunch hours when necessity forces him out of the studio. These drawings are free-hand notations done with watercolor markers-sometimes dozens of them on the same idea-from which Bencastro selects what he will develop in his paintings, drawings and reliefs. This little collection of gems contains more than a shorthand of his larger production. It is also autobiographical. "The Pyramid and Other Linear Formations" grew out of this unconventional manner of thinking out loud.

-- Jacqueline Barnitz, Professor of Modern Latin American Art at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of the book "Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America", University of Texas Press, 2001.

-- Photos of paintings by Xiomara Castro, winner of the "Juan Rulfo International Photography Prize", Paris, France, 1999.

"Linear 3". Acrylic on canvas.
2002 © Mario Bencastro.