I’ve always cast a wide net in terms of my influences – poetry, pop art, comic books, opera, advertising – I’ve never discriminated. But the inclusion of recognizable images that stem from those influences were left to – well, not chance, but process. There was a sub-conscious drawing upon my personal depository, but the actual forms and shapes emerged from a sort of primordial soup that I didn’t attempt to sort through. 

I still start a painting the same way – laying down paint and lines and then choosing areas or forms that I want to either capitalize on or eliminate. But now, I find myself looking at what rises to the top of that soup and recognizing shapes as the manifestation of ideas I’ve been working with . . . suddenly, it isn’t the process that is driving the images in the painting, but my own mythology – even as I’m creating it.

Movies, films, comic books and super heroes, spiritualism and mysticism are all co-mingling with my formal romantic modernism, in a very literal sense. My new work contains many figurative elements that relate to the intersection of pop culture and spirituality with a special emphasis on the Mystic (used in the colloquial sense) and how that is co-opted by comics, movies and novels. 

I’m particularly interested in the indoctrination of quasi-spiritual concepts into our personal morality and how we use that to cope with current political challenges. I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian and I spent much of my childhood in Memphis watching classic staples like the Andy Griffith Show and the Big Valley. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that our moral codes are crafted from these early experiences. We develop our ideas of heroes and villains, right and wrong, from this strange mix of traditional and popular stories. 

I’ve been working through this more additive process through drawings on paper and small paintings, as well as the large acrylic paintings I’m known for. It feels both more personal and authentic than the more formal abstractions I’ve done in the past, as well as more socially relevant as we as a society grapple with complex issues and our own need for spiritual sustenance. 

Paul Behnke was born in Memphis, TN and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting from the Memphis College of Art.

Behnke's work has been exhibited widely in the United States and internationally. He has had solo exhibitions in New York, Heidelberg, Philadelphia, Saint Augustine, and Memphis, as well as group shows in San Francicso, Honolulu, London, Dublin, Paphos, Glasgow and The Netherlands.

Behnke's work has been reviewed in Hyperallergic Weekend, The New Criterion and The New Republic.