Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Art Space Talk: Tom Bennett

Tom Bennett grew up in a household of artists-- he was influenced by his father, also an award-winning painter, Harry Bennett. Tom received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting at the University of Connecticut where he studied under the painter and photographer, Bill Parker. Tom also studied design under Paul Zelansky. Since that time, Tom has been involved with numerous solo and group exhibits in the United States. He is represented internationally in both public and private collections that include the likes of Andy Warhol, Richard Diebenkorn, and David Hockney.

Brian Sherwin: Thomas, I understand that your father is also an artist. How did he influence you during your early years? Is he still an influence today?

Tom Bennett: I grew up in a house with art as a focus. I was drawing from the beginning, and my father once told me he knew I was going to be an artist when he looked at a drawing of a head I did at the age of 3. He noticed I had included the iris and pupil in the eyes of the face. He naturally was and is always an influence.

BS: Having viewed your work and the work of your father I must say that you have both went in your own direction as far as art is concerned. I assume that he did not push you toward a certain style. Care to share further information about your father and how he has supported your career as an artist?

TB: My father did not aggressively push me at all as a painter. My oldest sister was a prodigy and she may have resented any 'pushing" by him, so he decided to let me develop at my own pace. I made my first canvas oil painting at the age of 5 and was hooked.

BS: Thomas, aside from your father, who else has influenced your art? Have you been inspired by certain artists or art movements?

TB: As a kid, I was really into the artists from Mad magazine, like Mort Drucker. As a teenager, I became excited by painters like Degas, the pre-Rafaelites and Klimt. I discovered Francis Bacon in art school, who was and has been a major influence. deKooning, Diebenkorn, Frank Aurebach are some of the other figurative/expressionist-heroes of mine.

BS: Thomas, you attended the University of Connecticut where you earned a BFA- you decided not to pursue an MFA. Why did you make this choice? Also, how did you further your studies after college?

TB: I recall the last semester of art school and talking to a professor about my future. He suggested that I didn't need grad school. I should just paint and 'work in a factory" to support my painting. I had decided to take some time off from school anyway and moved to NY, painted, exhibited, and took odd jobs. I then went to Europe and never looked back.

BS: While in Barcelona you took part in group shows and had two one-man shows. Can you recall how the scene was at that time? Also, why did you decide to leave Barcelona?

TB: I arrived in Barcelona and developed friendships with mostly ex-patriots. I met some local painters such as Santi Moix, who has quite an international reputation today. Ultimately, through some of my acquaintances I found an apt with a painting studio in the marina section of the city, a few yards from the sea. It was a wonderful place to paint. I got legal working status in Barcelona, but couldn't make any money, outside of the occasional gig teaching English. I sold some paintings now and then, but I returned to the States, thinking I had too many financial obligations and I had difficulty making any sort of income in Barcelona.

BS: Thomas, when you moved back to New York you moved into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn just before the influx of artists who moved into that area. Can you recall any experiences or events you observed during that time? I assume that you settled before prices skyrocketed?

TB: I knew nothing of Brooklyn when I returned to NY. I saw it as some alien planet. My friend Rick had invited me to share an apt in Greenpoint/Williamsburg, I needed a place to live, so I went. Later I found my own studio across the street from a crackhouse on South 2nd Street. I would be walking home and cops would ask me what I was doing, suspecting me of buying drugs. I would say, " I live here.' They would stare blankly at me. They were shocked. I was one of a handful of artists in that neighborhood at the time. It was all great old polish kielbasa shops and businesses that had been there for generations. It was around that time the first galleries started opening. Today, it's vastly changed. Sky-rise apartment buildings are going up and there are 2-bedroom apartments going for a million dollars or more.

BS: Thomas, you have said the following about your art, "Though I'm strongly influenced by my classical training, I love pushing the medium around. Motion is essential. I'm always thinking about how muscles and forms can almost connect.", can you go into further detail about your art and what you are striving to do?

TB: Painting is foremost a physical act for me. I love the materials. Movement is a natural outcome of the way I approach the work, whether it's a drawing, monotype or painting. The process, of course is the exhilarating thing, and when the product incites a strong emotional or psychic response, I've succeeded. A good piece of art is one that can hold many layered ambiguous narratives or allegories.The viewer brings his own interpretations to the work and the hope is that there is an ongoing dialogue between the two. Over the last several months I've been making homage paintings referencing some classical works I've chosen for both their formal strength and /or the allegory involved. I like the interpretation and re-translation of these images in our art-historical collective unconscious.

BS: Thomas, can you discuss the darkness of some of your works? They often reveal a haunting atmosphere. Do these images capture your thoughts about current events? Are you conveying a certain mood with these images? Or do you just prefer to work in that manner?

TB: It's really always been a natural. unconscious thing for me. I'm really a nice guy outside the studio.

BS: Thomas, I've read that you are represented internationally in both public and private collections that include the likes of Andy Warhol, Richard Diebenkorn, and David Hockney. Where can our readers go to view your art?

TB: I'm represented by Tabla Rasa gallery in Brooklyn, NY and the Riversea gallery in Astoria, OR.

BS: Thomas, you exhibited with World Artist Network during the WAN Gallery Inaugural Show in Baltimore, MD. As you know, WAN had long been one of the largest art groups on At one time, their membership was over 100,000. How did you get involved with WAN? Can you tell us more about WAN and why you agree with their philosophy?

TB: WAN is an open forum for the exchange of ideas and the opportunity to form alliances with like-minded artists. It's members include really exciting people with fresh ideas and powerful work.

BS: Thomas, tell us about your studio. Do you work in silence? Or do you prefer to listen to music while working on your art? What are the conditions you need to focus on your art?

TB: My studio takes up the entire top floor of my house in Brooklyn. Because it's located in my home, it's easy to be distracted. Therefore I must shut the door and shut out the world. I do work with music or NPR on the radio. I'll listen to everything from old blues music to Beethoven, depending on where I am in my head that day.

BS: Thomas, can you tell us more about your artistic process? How do you start a piece? Do you plan it out in your head first... draw it out? What are the first steps you make when creating?

TB: Sometimes I'll do drawings and monotypes working out ideas and I'll build on that. Sometimes I'll take a leap from photographic reference I've found or shot myself. I also work from life. It depends on the project. Once I actualize the process., it's a continuous dance between lawlessness and order. By that I mean it's allowing the intuitive subconscious to work with conscious control.

BS: Thomas, do you have any upcoming exhibits?

TB: I'm working out developing a show here in Brooklyn for early next year, but the dates aren't set. I'll be in a group show at the Visual Art Center of Northern NJ in January. My work can be seen at the Riversea Gallery in Astoria, OR, and the Tabla Rasa Gallery in Brooklyn , NY.
You can learn more about Tom Bennett and his art by visiting his website:
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

No comments: