Leigh Behnke


Myth and Memory: Personal Iconographies
In Search of Lost History

The genesis of my work resides in my own personal history. Starting in graduate school I became interested in the formal properties that made up an image, and how those properties could recontextualize the way we perceived it. By working with multiple images I could change one element in a work, and compare it to others to see how its “reading” was affected. The study of perception in this manner has been the basis of my work ever since.

Theoretically, I could exploit any image to manipulate this data, and my early work did so. More recently I have found that I am gravitating to the less exotic and perhaps more familiar imagery that comes from my personal history; the imagery that grows out of my own visual iconography

More specifically I am a person with a particular history that grows out of a larger movement of people through time and across geographic space. The various branches of my family settled in New England in the period between 1680 and 1860. They appear to have been cautious people. Once they got here they did not move too far afield, inhabiting three states over three centuries. I grew up in the bosom of solid late Victorian middle class ancestors residing in houses that had been built by them, and passed down or passed along to others members of a cohesive community 

The world is very different now. I don’t live like that, and I value the multicultural universe I now occupy. I DO find myself wondering about my New England forerunners and how they experienced the visual world. 

Several years ago I read Russell Shorto’s book “The Island At the Center of The World”. It had a profound impact on how I saw the geography of my current home in downtown Manhattan. I made a series of paintings that explored the passage of Henry Hudson up the river that is now named after him. Governor’s Island was at that time called Nut Island, and I used the Commanding Officers House interior as one of the images to consider this broader issue. The ornamentation and architectural elements still in place are precursors alluding to an even earlier time.

The geography and iconography of my own history is so familiar to me that I am able use it with comfortably. I believe in the possibility of the specificity of an image being able to transcend itself to a more universal experience. I have done several series of works based on historic locations. In these I have had an interest in portraying the situation as seen through the eyes of a participant, not as an illustration, but experientially, as a means to augment perception. The specificity of my experience and vision, growing out of my history and geography is enlisted in the broader goal of enriching and enhancing the meaning of an image, giving it layers of context and enhanced meaning. Hopefully the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

In the same manner, I have “borrowed” locations and motifs that are familiar to me, architectural and cultural elements that resonate beyond the reportage of description or travelogue. In combining them with related iconography I am creating my own version of the myths that I hope will resound and reinforce their underlying history.

Leigh Behnke
New York City
February 9, 2013



1979     Kent State Blossom Program
1979-present     School of Visual Arts, New York
1989     National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, Master Teacher
1990-93     National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, Panelist


1999- 2000          ED Foundation (consecutive grants for two years)
2013                     Guggenheim Fellowship

1978     Fischbach Gallery, New York
1979     Fischbach Gallery, New York
1981     Thomas Segal Gallery, Boston
1982     Fischbach Gallery, New York
1985     Fischbach Gallery, New York
1991     Fischbach Gallery, New York
1992     National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC
1994     Fischbach Gallery, New York
1998     Fischbach Gallery, New York
2000     Elaine Baker Gallery, Boca Raton, FL
2003     Cloistered Spaces and Other Environments, Fischbach Gallery, New
2006     The Garden, Fischbach Gallery, New York
2009     Through The Looking Glass, Fischbach Gallery, New York
2013     Myth and Memory, Fischnach Gallery ,NYC


1978     Landscape/Cityscape Art Gallery, State University of New York,
             Borderline Drawings, Iola Gallery, New York
1979     New York Now, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ
             A.J. Wood Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
             The Urban Landscape, Wave Hill, Riverdale, NY
             The New American Still Life, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
             The Gallery, Kent State University, Ohio
1980     The Watercolor Still Life, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
             Selections from the Fischbach Gallery, State University of New York,
             On Paper, ICA, Virginia Museum, Richmond
             Real, Really Real, Super Real, originated at the San Antonio Museum of
             Art, Texas; traveling to; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, and the
             Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana
1981     A Feast for the Eyes: Contemporary Representations of Food, The
             Hecksher Museum, Huntington, NY
             Collector’s Gallery XV, The Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, San
             Antonio, TX
             Contemporary American Realists: Works on Paper, University Art
             Gallery, University of Pittsburgh, PA
1982     Contemporary Realism, Brainerd Gallery, State University of New York
             at Potsdam and Plaza Gallery, Albany, NY
             Still Life/Interiors, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA
             Fine Arts Faculty, School of Visual Arts, NY
             Lower Manhattan from Street to Sky, Whitney Museum of American Art,
             Downtown Branch, New York
1983     Realists Watercolors, Florida International University, Miami, FL
             Contemporary American Women Painters, Rahr-West Museum,
             Manitowoc, WN
             Contemporary Images of Watercolor: 1983, Allen Priebe Art Gallery,
             University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh
             In Honor of the Brooklyn Bridge, David Finley, Jr. Gallery, New York
1984     Painting/Photography, Thorpe Intermedia Gallery, Sparkill, NY
             America Seen, Adams-Middleton Gallery, Dallas, TX
1985     American Realism: The Precise Image, The Isetan Museum, Tokyo and
             the Daimura Museum, Osaka, Japan
             American Realism, William Sawyer Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1985-87     American Realism: 20th Century Drawings and Watercolors,
             organized by the San Francisco Museum of Art, California, traveling to:
             DeCordova and Dana Museum and Park, Lincoln, MA; Archer M.
             Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas, Austin, TX;  Northwestern
             University, Evanstown, IL; Williams College Museum of    Art,
             Williamstown, MA; Akron Art Museum, Ohio; Madison Art Center,
1986     Landscape/Seascape/Cityscape 1960-85, Contemporary Arts Center,
             New Orleans, LA and The New York Academy of Art, New York
             Watercolor USA 1986, The Monumental Image, Springfield Art Museum,
             Nature Morte: The Museum Considers the Still Life, Southern
             Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, PA
1987     Group Show, Fischbach Gallery, New York
1988     Contemporary American Realism: Selections from the Glen C. Janss
             Collection, Sheehan Gallery, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA
1989     First Annual A.D.A. Show, New York City
1989     Summer Show, Fischbach Gallery, New York
             Gallery Artists, Fischbach Gallery, New York
             Second Annual A.D.A. Show, New York City
1990     Flaneur/Flaneuse: Out for a Stroll, Barbara Fendrick Gallery, New York
1991     New Horizons in American Realism, Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MN
             Urban Realism, Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID
             Urban Icons, Klarfeld Perry Gallery, New York
             Urban Realism, Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID
1991-92     Dual Cultures: China and USA, Six Realist Painters, Nassau County
             Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, NY
1993     Contemporary Realist Watercolors, Sewall Art Gallery, Rice University,
             Houston, TX
             Excellence in Watercolor, New Jersey Center for the Visual Arts,
             Summit, NJ
             Paintings from the Commerce Bancshares Collection, Lakeview Museum
            of Arts and Sciences, Peoria, IL
1993-94     American Realism: The Urban Scene, Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID;
             traveling to: Redding Museum and Art Center, Redding, CA; Albany
             Museum of Art, Albany,
             GA; Canton Art Institute, Canton, OH; Paine Art Center and Arboretum,
             WN; Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Maples, FL; Sunrise Museums,
             WV; The Rockwell Museum, Corning, NY; Muscatine Art Center;
             Muscatine, IA
1994-95     New York Realism Past and Present, Odakyu Museum, Tokyo;
             Kagoshima City   Museum of Art, Kitakyushu Municiple Museum of Art,
             The Museum of Art Kintetsu, Osaka;  Fukushima Prefectural Museum of
             Art, Tampa Museum of Art, Florida
1995     American Art Today: Night Paintings, Art Museum at Florida
             International University, Miami, FL
1997     Realism in 20th Century American Painting, Ogunquit Museum of
             American Art, Olgunquit, ME
             Get Real, Duke University Museum of Art, Raleigh-Durham, NC; curated
             by Virginia Bonito
1999-2001     Together/Working, traveling exhibition curated by Judith
             Swirsky: The Art Museum, University of New Hampshire, Paul Creative
             Center, Durham; The Emily Lowe Gallery, Hofstra University, New York;
             Gallery of contemporary Art, Colorado Springs.
2001     Contemporary American Realism III, M.A. Doran Gallery, Tulsa, OK
2002     H20 ’02: Paintings of Water, Fischbach Gallery, New York
2002-2003     6 Realists, General Electric Company, Fairfield, CT
2003     Facing Reality: The Seavest Collection of Contemporary Realism,
             Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY
2004     179th Annual, National Academy Museum, New York, NY
2004     Little Worlds, Fischbach Gallery, New York, NY
2004     Gone Fisching: Paintings of Summer, Fischbach Gallery, NY
2011     This is The Morning After The Night Before, Fischbach Gallery, New York,
2011     Gangs of New York, Fischbach Gallery, New York, NY
2011     The Value of Water, The Cathedral Church of Saint John, New York, NY