Claremont’s famed painter is honored with mural

After more than 60 years of artistry, rendering color and shapes in various media, the late Karl Benjamin is now appropriately immortalized in paint.

A 4000-square-foot mural finished last month at the Pomona Billiards building, 400 W. Second St., pays tribute to Claremont’s famed abstract painter and impassioned advocate for the Pomona Arts Colony, a hub of galleries and shops in the city’s downtown.

“It feels very appropriate that he should be overlooking the whole Pomona art scene,” said Mr. Benjamin’s daughter, Beth Marie Benjamin, of the finished product. “To have seen [Pomona] turn into a pretty vibrant art community was really special for him. My father put a lot of energy into its growth.”

The black, blue and white mural depicts Mr. Benjamin with brush in hand, painting the geometric shapes he is known for onto the side of the building.

“It’s such a great likeness,” his daughter noted of the straightforward gaze depicted in the mural. “It’s been so heartwarming to be reminded of the influence he has had on so many lives.”

Los Angeles muralist David Flores brought the momentous project life. It is the largest mural he has completed to date and for a worthy cause, according to the artist.

“It commemorates a man that’s worth commemorating,” Mr. Flores said.

Not only is it the largest of Mr. Flores’ works, it is also the first time he has painted a mural in the Inland Empire, a project commissioned by Andi Compagnone of the Pomona Cultural Arts Commission. Mr. Flores approached Ms. Compagnone last February shortly after the city enacted an ordinance calling for more displays of art in public spaces. The 2 began brainstorming a design shortly after.

“He came up with some great concepts, but they were just not relevant to what was happening to the Inland Empire art scene,” Ms. Campognone said, who proposed, “Why not create a portrait of a local artist?”

She could not think of anyone better to be commemorated than one of Pomona’s biggest supporters and educators.

“In addition to being an international painter, he was a local hero,” Ms. Campognone said. “No one thought someone from our region could be so famous.”

Orchestrating the mural was a particularly meaningful project for the Pomona commissioner, whose husband, artist Alex Couwenberg, flourished under the tutelage of Mr. Benjamin. Coincidentally, Mr. Couwenberg’s art studio is located within the building where the mural now stands.

“It is poignant that there is now a giant mural of a friend and mentor right next to my husband’s studio,” Ms. Campognone said.

Mr. Benjamin, notably humble, was pleasantly surprised to be the subject of such a distinguished addition to the local community: “He was thrilled that a young person with such a complementary style would be depicting him,” Ms. Campognone said.

Mr. Flores’ commission to do a mural for the Olympics delayed the original winter starting date for the project. Coincidentally, it was not until the week of Mr. Benjamin’s death that the young artist began work on the commemorative mural. Though saddened that the artist will never get to see the finished product, family and friends take comfort in knowing that the mural will allow Mr. Benjamin’s influence in the art community to live on.

“I’ve gotten great feedback from so many people, even those with no previous connection to the Pomona art scene,” said Ms. Campognone, who says she has received countless feedback from bystanders and commuters who have enjoyed watching the mural’s progress while passing by on the train every day on their way to work. “He continues to have an impact.”

—Beth Hartnett



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