Ben Schonzeit

b. 1942

Ben Schonzeit (b.1942, Brooklyn, NY), known for the surreal juxtaposition of subjects in his canvases, helped pioneer the Photorealist airbrush technique. After a year of studying architecture at the Cooper Union, New York, Schonzeit switched to fine art, receiving a BFA in 1964. With a group of paintings based on photographs he made of downtown Manhattan, Schonzeit had his first solo exhibition at French and Company, New York, in 1970, his career flourishing as Photorealism came into its own.

Schonzeit’s work is distinguishable from other Photorealist paintings by its eccentric, Surrealist bent. His paintings are based on fabricated still-life arrangements intentionally photographed out of focus to emphasise their air of unreality and on compositionally-complex collages made of found images from magazines and journals. The surreal juxtapositions these generate afford his work heightened artificiality, despite his technically accurate painting being faithful to the – edited – source material. Schonzeit’s skill with the airbrush, enhanced by traditional brushstrokes, results in a perfectly smooth painting surface, his eventual use of polyester canvas giving Schonzeit’s work an increasingly polished aesthetic. 

Schonzeit has had over 50 solo exhibitions in the United States and abroad. Early institutional presentations include Harald Szeemann’s documenta 5, Questioning Reality – Pictorial Worlds Today, Kassel (1972) and Photo-Realism, Serpentine Gallery, London (1973). More recently, he has had the solo presentations The Secret Schonzeit, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH (2002) and Ben Schonzeit: Brilliant Realism, Museum of Art, DeLand, FL (2015). Recent landmark surveys include America: Photorealism in the 1970s, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2009); Photorealism Revisited, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, OH and Butler Institute of Art, Youngstown, OH (2014); Photorealism: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic Painting (2013-2017) which started in Kunsthalle Tübingen, Germany before touring to 10 locations including Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Hyperrealismo 1967-2013, Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, Spain (2015); HyperAmerica: Landscape - Image - Reality, Kunsthaus Graz, Austria (2015); A Feast for the Eyes, Nassau County Museum of Art, NY (2016); From Lens to Eye to Hand: Photorealism 1969 to Today, Parrish Art Museum, NY and Flint Institute of the Arts, MI (2017–2018); 50 Years of Realism, Centro Cultural Center Bank of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro (2019); and Chrome Dreams and Infinite Reflections: American Photorealism, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, NY (2022).


Ben Schonzeit lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

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