Autopsy: Amy BENNETT


American Painter,
Born in Portland, 1977
Lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Autopsy of an artwork: Amy BENNETT, a unique feeling
by Beatrice Chassepot

I have discovered American painter, Amy BENNETT during a solo exhibition entitled “At the Lake” in January 2009, at Richard Heller Gallery in Santa Monica.

Heat, oil on panel, 24 x 38 inches, 2009
Courtesy the artist & Richard Heller Gallery

I did not even know her name, but as I usually enjoy the exhibitions held at the gallery I went there with confidence. I glance inquisitively at the canvases hanged on the white walls. They are all representing green landscapes, in small or medium size.

The scenes are believed to be scenes of holidays. In the very first foreground you see a lake, in the second foreground you have a few persons lounging alongside surrounded by some rustic houses and trees. This first glance makes me puzzled. It’s a little bit like the paintings by Corot, the School of Pont Aven, Monet and Sisley did not reach until here. When looking at Cezanne’s landscape you almost feel the hot weather and you hear the cicadas. When you look at Sisley’s paintings you almost smell the Mediterranean, and when you face Monet’s Water lilies you are plunged in grief. Here, none of those.

 While these thoughts of the pretentious French I am flocked, a very special feeling swept over me. A “little something” I never experienced before, looking at paintings of landscapes. A very special atmosphere emanates from these paintings. A curious attraction, almost voyeuristic to these everyday scenes that are surprising intimacy meanwhile you feel kind of like a detachment as these people you see are strangers to you.

Heat, oil on panel, 24 x 38 inches, 2009 / detail                     Paula, oil on panel, 18 x 18 inches, 2008 / detail

If one tries to relate those landscapes with real life they could have taken place anywhere on the North American continent, and any time from the 50’s to now. The caravans that we see have always existed and still in circulation now in the U.S. Same remark for the camping tents, the cars or the wooden houses, typical of the lakeshore. Actually, these are more like an “idea” of a caravan, an “idea” of camping tent, and an “idea” of home rather than a real particular brand or a local architecture.

After exploring the assumptions about the dating and location, I must admit that the feeling of strangeness felt earlier, far from fading thus increases…


Idealized scenes


I feel I’m getting closer to a possible explanation: are those scenes idealized landscapes? Obviously, when looking at each item painted on the ground floor, each one is drawn in purpose.  This is a well structured composition. Each item is essential to the story the artist has decided to set up for the viewer. A boat, some cars, some tents or houses build a narrative painting to feed and stimulate the imagination of the viewer.

The characters depicted on the paintings are also essential to the story, none is there by chance. They are the main actors of these scenes of holidays or weekends. The artist clearly shows to us when a human being is a woman, a man or a child if necessary for the story. Then she specifies more precisely the age for example in the case of a grandmother by adding details such as body size, hair color. She can also add a detail which gives the dynamics, mobility, like an arm in the air, one leg ready to jump if she wants to specify it is a young person in action. Otherwise the artist just suggests the figure, sometimes not even sexually, to indicate the only human presence.

At this stage of investigation, we know we are in the presence of holidays or weekends scenes very likely from North America. We understand that these scenes are totally idealized by the artist.

The sense of strangeness felt earlier is still pregnant. The explanations are sitill not sufficient. I have another hunch that I would like to explore.


A rare composition concern


example 1

example 2

example 3

example 4

I take another tour of the exhibition to focus my attention this time on this intuition. I guess some explanations come from the particular composition concern that the artist brings to his paintings.

The composition is indeed a perfection, absolutely and strictly obeying the rules of pure academic. All possibilities of the composition are explored: diamond, diagonal, elliptical, centered, or obeying the rule of Thirds, imposing lines of force, as confirmed by the examples 1,2,3 and 4, above.

It makes me think of neoclassical painter, Jean-Dominique Ingres.  He rigorously applied the traditional rules of composition, taking the Golden Numbers for his portraits from Greek models he considered as perfection. This strict framework (almost rigid when you read what he said about it) allows him to install easily a set, a situation good enough to push a little further his intention as a Painter which is extreme sensuality in the case of Ingres.Actually the comparison with Ingres has to be considered at the same high demanding level they both had, but no further more. In our case, if Amy Bennett seems to provide the utmost care to a classical composition, balance, she does not compose with reality, but a reality which it’s consist is invented. She does not hesitate – see Example 4 above – to create a reflection of a house on the lake that is, in this case, quite unlikely. If one was a strict representation of reality, the blue house is too far from water and too low to produce a whole reflection as it is depicted on the painting.Another difference with Ingres is Amy Bennett doesn’t borrow mythological subjects, Orientalist or a sort of story that inspired the Classic and Neoclassic Painters. She deliberately chooses the theater of everyday life to express her dramaturgy.


A staging of dramatic fictional everyday life


Amy Bennett’s perfect composition for each painting serves to install the scene of a fictional narrative of everyday life. It depicts a situation likely, not truly. Here I am inclined to borrow the vocabulary of theater as a sense of drama has pertinence on each painting.

The scene (I mean here a fragment of a longer story) she paints is a self-mimesis. Actually we almost feel the characters or the water or anything else on the painting could keep leading their life outside the paintings.

I don’t leave you more in the expectation of this intriguing work. After a few questions to the gallery owner Richard Heller, I understand, and I can’t wait to give you the secret of the artist which confirms my intuition:
Amy Bennett’s landscapes are due to models she totally manufactures by herself. It is all fake, all manufactured, nothing is real at all!

The decor, trees, lake water, snow (or not), people, houses everything is handmade. She installs the lighting, thus deciding the time of day, the weather, season and so on…

Then, she sets up the scenario she had in mind to install the dramatic context she wants.

And finally she chooses her angle of view as a painter would do in situ, outdoor. She installs her easel and begins painting from this original artifact, so Unique!

After having maintained a bit of suspense I deliver without further delay, the words of Amy Bennett on what makes the magic of her painting:
“I have no formal design of the composition when I started. I arrange my comp on the scene in three dimensions and then I look at the kind of light, camera angles and framing that would be best. I think the compositions are all stable, in fact, e, t as you say, I try to make them different each time.” Amy Bennett (Interview September 28th, 2010)
We deduce, when reading these lines above, that Amy Bennett’s concern with composition on the paintings, if real, however, when painting, is intuitive. But we saw she has long creative process before the act of painting. This is a different approach. Composition is constructed at much earlier stage, when the creation of a scenario is ready to be realized in three dimensions to install her dramaturgy.

The angle of view she chooses, when ready to paint, just amplifies the previous intension.

here is a one of her models          and the painting from it       Escape, oil on panel, 14 x 18 inches, 2008

Amazed by such process, I asked more about those handmade models, so detailed from which she paints sometimes more than one painting.

“Regarding the models, I do not keep, I take the items for the construction of other decorations. The models are not manufactured in order to be preserved and sustained. I do not see such works of art by itself “says Amy Bennett

(I know, for having seen them, other artists who do not bother that much about the quality of their manufactured piece of art and they have also no such concern for their conservation in time)

So here is the explanation of this sense of strangeness that I felt so strongly when looking at these paintings: they come from a total and perfect artifact. Such remarkable work deserves a piece of investigation … Through this process, so Unique, Amy Bennett brings a Unique result that produces a Unique feeling!

Beatrice Chassepot
Los Angeles, September 30th, 2010

more infos:

Amy Bennett, her website

Read more about her work

Richard Heller Gallery,