Karl Benjamin has had a remarkably consistent career in which he has never deviated from making color-based, geometric abstraction. In 1959 Benjamin was included in the landmark Four Abstract Classicists exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibition thrust the artist briefly into the national spotlight along with John McLaughlin, Frederick Hammersley, and Lorser Feitelson. Jules Langsner coined the term “hard-edge” to describe their work in the exhibition catalogue, introducing into the art lexicon a new phrase to denote mid-twentieth-century design-oriented, nonmetaphysical abstraction. The show subsequently traveled to London’s Institute of Contemporary Art under the title West Coast Hard-Edge, bringing the artists international acclaim. Hard-edge painting, which developed in Southern California as a viable alternative to the then ubiquitous and rather academic abstract expressionism, is now seen as a California counterpart to geometric work by Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, and the New York color field painters.
Benjamin, the youngest of the four abstract classicists, had moved to Southern California in 1946 following service in the United States Navy during World War II. In 1952 he moved to Claremont, where he began studies in design on the GI Bill at Scripps College and the Claremont Graduate School under Jean Goodwin Ames, who was well known for challenging design problems. Benjamin was a student at the Claremont Graduate School at the time of the abstract classicist exhibition, graduating in 1960.