HANAPEPE — On Friday, TimeSpace Gallery in art-hip Hanapepe will host the opening of the fluidly prolific painter Carol Bennett’s first solo Kaua‘i gallery show. The collection of work tells a story of process and conductivity between Bennett’s work in water, both as a swimmer and artist.
Over 50 pieces were created for the show, small to large, canvas to wood. Bennett investigates “the universality of form, the continuum of natural elements creating similar patterns. Ever notice that the swirling pattern in wood resembles that of water? I have begun to identify and use this both literally and philosophically — not only painting swimmers on wood but asking broader questions that come from painting water on wood — am I working against the grain, against the current, or with them?”
Bennett has carried on a life-long conversation with Kaua‘i. Traveling back and forth since graduating from University of California, Santa Barbara, allowed Bennett to “keep Kaua‘i in mind, keep the water close,” she said, even in the urban universe of downtown Los Angeles. Working in the film business as a scenic painter, Bennett spent most of her commercial career painting larger-than-life murals — a path that still informs her approach to size and making art for public spaces. “I believe in the democracy of art,” Bennett said, “Just because you can’t afford to buy a piece for your home, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to experience it.”
Bennett’s public art commissions number over 100 and include a 220-foot installation at the Honolulu International Airport and two 22-foot-tall murals at the Judiciary Building in Lihu‘e.
“In other cultures art is as accessible to people as rock ‘n’ roll is to American society — in Europe young kids all go out Friday night to see the art shows, punk hair and all. It’s vibrant and happening,” Bennett said.
Bringing nature in the form of animals or elements into the public sphere has had a humanizing effect on the spaces Bennett’s work inhabits, mostly because Bennett is so personally invested in the questions that inspire the work, “I’m not searching for the answers, it’s the questions that are the meandering force here. Symbolically, I like the fact water can be either a mirror or a window.”
Bennett’s work in this current show has given her the opportunity to “establish a narrative, show the continuum of what happens in the studio,” she said.
Unlike group shows that are “torn pages from a book,” solo shows allow the artist a comprehensive stage to explore a moment of time in development and invite an audience to share in that process. “I really credit Antonio Arellanas of TimeSpace for elevating Kaua‘i’s art scene by giving artists these solo shows,” Bennett said.
Instead of displaying a melange of work that might appeal to the casual collector, a solo show gives an artist the opportunity to fully express a period of work. “It’s really courageous of him, and I appreciate it,” she said.
While Bennett’s work can be described as representational, figurative painting, she approaches the genre with a “self-referential eye and a modern aesthetic,” she said.
Because Bennett is also a swimmer, the subject matter of water and the physical experience of swimming is a strong theme she follows. “I am a woman, I swim. For me, this series is not about swimming, but what happens when one does. The body floats and the mind drifts.
Freud uses above and below water as an analogy for the conscious and subconscious mind,” Bennett states.
The act of painting is similar to the act of swimming, “floating, a temporary stillness, a reprieve from the world.”
Even while working from Traction Avenue just east of Little Tokyo in L.A., in the dark warehouse district of artists and cold storage, Bennett worked with water as subject matter. “I would hold on to Kaua‘i conceptually,” she said. “Though no artist can escape the sense of place which flows through and into their work, and any good art has a sense of place, my pieces at that time expressed swimming in black and white, more urban, sensibilities.”
Bennett taught at L.A.’s two most respected art schools, Otis Art Institute and Art Center College of Design before making the permanent move to Kaua‘i. “My fine art work is most important to me,” she said, while admitting she still loves L.A. (unlike so many transplants), “I am happy to be here, it’s a good life.”
“One thing leads to another: recent painting and works on paper” invites people to “go on the ride, visiting the trail-markers of thoughts I’ve had along this path,” Bennett said.
Seeing her show not only for the benefit of other viewers, Bennett states, “this gives me an opportunity to stand back and see the forest through the trees.”
Or, perhaps, to use Kaua‘i’s sense of place … the ocean in the drop.