Canadian artist Tom Benner, known for striking animal sculptures, dies at 72

Tom Benner, the Canadian artist whose larger-than-life sculptures depicted nature and forced the public to think about themselves in relation to their environment, has passed away.

Benner lived and died in London, Ont. His family confirmed his death on Wednesday at the age of 72.

Benner’s art was part of the movement known as London Regionalism in the 1960s and 1970s, challenging how the artist situates himself in the art world and in the community.

“When I think of Tom’s work, the first thing that comes to mind is his love for nature and the environment,” said Catherine Elliott Shaw, acting manager of the McIntosh Gallery at Western University and its former curator.

Tom Benner's White Rhino sculpture stands in front of Museum London in London, Ont.
Benner’s White Rhino sculpture stands in front of Museum London in London, Ont. (Dave Chidley/CBC)

“He made an amazing series of artworks that tried to focus people on the disappearing natural habitat, animals themselves, their place within our view of life, but he was also interested in humor and he knew that if he could use that humor, he could reach people better. That’s not to say his work wasn’t serious, but he knew how to use humor to get people to look at his work and take the message as a person.”

In London, Benner’s white rhinoceros — an aluminum sculpture of a large rhinoceros — stands in front of Museum London.

He said of his art: “Each piece is deeply rooted in a tradition of storytelling and storytelling, but is equally concerned with materiality. Some stories are based on historical research, scouring bookstores and libraries in search of information, some stories come in the form of dreams, memories.

“My sculpture is not only about the individual piece, but also about the process, the materials and the space it occupies.”

VIEW | Tom Benner explains his exhibition 12 years ago at Charlottetown’s Confederation Center of the Arts:

Artist Tom Benner Has a New Exhibition at Charlottetown’s Confederation Center of the Arts

Benner’s work has been exhibited across Canada, including at Toronto’s Union Station and Charlottetown’s Confederation Center of the Arts, where he created an iconic moose that stands outside the building.

“He meant a lot to the culture of this region and to Canadian art in general,” said Cassandra Getty, Art Curator at Museum London.

“He claimed his own unique voice and way of working that was instantly recognizable. He was very prescient in his work on the idea of ​​how humanity threatened the environment.”

on his websiteBenner’s biography states that he lived with his wife Pauline and brother-in-law.

His brother is the artist Ron Benner, also a resident of London.

Benner ‘always very serious about his art’

Benner’s household was a jovial home celebrating art, said Michael Gibson, president of the Michael Gibson Gallery.

“I used to go to their house in 9th grade, 10th grade, and they were very, very funny. Tom made these huge fiberglass boulders back then. We lifted them over our heads, sort of Fred Flinstone-type things, to show how strong we were. It was hilarious,” Gibson recalled.

Museum London curator Cassandra Getty will face the White Rhino on Thursday. The black belt was placed on the foot of the rhinoceros by a mourner. The artist, Benner, passed away on Wednesday. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

“He had humor, but he was also very serious about his art.”

Tom Benner was best known for his large sculptures made of cold rolled, riveted aluminum and copper. In the 1980s he made a series of works on endangered or extinct animal species, including the white rhinoceros.

“He had to deliver messages that were pretty serious, but he used humor to get those messages across,” Getty said.

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