“Upon arrival for a routine house call, I was totally unprepared for the magic I was about to discover. What I saw before my eyes was immediately comparable to the great works of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Maryon Kantaroff,” Toronto gallerist Lawrence Blairs, owner and curator of Atomic Design, says of a recent art-buying visit that yielded a roomful of pieces by the late Canadian artist Benson Zonena.
Born in London and trained at Central Saint Martins, Zonena enjoyed a successful career in advertising in England and Canada while also producing distinctive sculptures and wall art. Focusing on form, architecture and the human condition, his body of work eventually won him membership in the Sculptors Society of Canada and led to a series of group and solo shows in the late 1970s.
But then he was largely forgotten by the art and design world – until now. Universal Forms, an exhibition curated by Blairs, kicked off at his Atomic Gallery this month and is available for viewing over the coming weeks by appointment. Featuring select pieces from two collections – POS/NEG and Interdependence – the show marks the first time in 40 years that Zonena’s work can be seen by the public.
POS/NEG, a collection of monochromatic fibreglass wall reliefs, juxtaposes “positive forms” with their “negative mates,” while Interdependence, a series of abstract sculptures made from marble, Vermont sandstone and wood, explores the interconnectedness of the human experience.
In addition to resurrecting Zonena’s art, the exhibition, says Blairs, couldn’t be timelier. Seeing the work, “I was instantly moved by the way the sculpted forms mimic interdependent human existence, a comment on how humans need one another to survive,” the gallerist says. “We are interdependent. And in today’s political climate, this message is more relevant than ever.”