Fantastica: The World of Leo Bensemann
A magnificent distillation of thirty years of research, Fantastica invites us into the world of Leo Bensemann and provides a new window into the art and culture of twentieth-century New Zealand.
Fantastica is the first book to survey the life and work of Leo Bensemann (1912–1986). Accomplished in a multitude of fields — drawing, painting, print-making, music, calligraphy, typography, book design, editing, printing, publishing — Bensemann stood at the heart of New Zealand’s literary and cultural life from the 1930s to the 1980s as designer and illustrator at the Caxton Press, member of The Group and friend of Charles Brasch, Rita Angus, Douglas Lilburn, Lawrence Baigent, Denis Glover and Doris Lusk.
At a time when Christchurch was the leading centre in New Zealand for literature, theatre, music and the visual arts, Bensemann, through his own activities and his personal and professional relationships, was in the thick of it. Fantastica provides new insight into that cultural scene and reveals the depth of Bensemann’s work. His art and design — witty, mysterious, highly literate and allusive, fantastical in style and subject — contrasted dramatically with the prevailing fashion for realism and regional landscape, establishing Bensemann as a challenging outsider within New Zealand art. Later, from the 1960s, Bensemann took up landscape painting, producing increasingly powerful and distinctive paintings of South Island scenes, especially of the Takaka/Golden Bay area where he grew up.
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If you could physically sense an author’s passion and thoroughness, Peter Simpson’s books would glow like fresh bread. His timely and lavishly illustrated Fantastica: The World of Leo Bensemann positively radiates, and yet again shows Auckland University Press to be New Zealand’s pre-eminent art book publisher. – Andrew Paul Wood, Landfall Online
As his art bears witness, Leo Bensemann was a unique figure in New Zealand's cultural history, and Peter Simpson, through cool passion and focused observation, brings not only the artist and his work, but that changing social milieu to life in these beautifully presented pages. - Graham Reid, NZ Herald
Peter Simpson’s research has drawn out an engaging insight into the life and times of Bensemann, showing his wide range of talents from realistic paintings to fantastical – in both style and content – print, book designs and illustrations. – Robyn Charles, Urbis