Wednesday, 12 September 2007


Dan Bennett

Gardens have always held a special place in my imagination. Budding with colour, texture and form, they become ever-changing living sculptures, within which one can hide, play, relax and dream. Having tended gardens for over half my life, I have built up an intrinsic understanding of how plants bud, grow, bloom, whither and die. I no longer use reference material to produce my images, and instead rely solely on my inner eye and visual memory. It is this intimate knowledge that I attempt to capture and express in my paintings.

My love of pattern making has led me to appropriate artwork from across the world, and across the ages. Aboriginal patterns have always had a strong influence in my artwork, reflecting the land and a spiritual connection with it. The spiral, for instance, suggests to me; dreams, re-birth, the snake, wind and the labyrinth. This connection between land and art has always been a fascination of mine, from arranging stones on the beach, through to the Peruvian geoglyphs. I find Islamic art useful when considering patterns, and appreciate the meditative process of producing more intricately detailed work. Japanese art from the Edo period influences my compositions, especially when working on several panels, as in a triptych. Body decoration from around the world has always informed my patterns, such as mehndi hand painting, Celtic and Maori tattoos, and African body art. 20th Century Western art is a wealth of inspiration, from which I take most of my mark-making, such as action-painting and 'taking the line for a walk'. My principle material (acrylic paint) is also deeply rooted in the 20th Century, both in terms of its production and its qualities of plasticity and convenience.

Money spent on applications is never wasted.
No matter how original and gifted an artist you are, or how commercially viable your end product is; unless you tell other people about it, you will not be able to earn a living from your work. It is so important to research the industry and find suitable outlets for your work and then actually approach those potential agents and gallery owners. Spending the time, money and effort in producing high quality images, both as A4 printed images and as digital jpegs is the first step. Then put together a simple, well-considered package of six to eight printed images, a CD of up to twenty images, your (brief) artist's statement, and your CV. Send these to as many people in the industry as can. Half will ignore you. Many will reject you. But the ones that accept your work will show it to their clients, and then hopefully sell it.

Favourite living artist.
John Hoyland is a real favourite of mine due to his complete lack of inhibition. There are absolutely no rules in his work. Anything goes - any and every colour combination mixed with any and every brutal mark, team up to create knowingly outlandish and childlike accidents. At one and the same time they are menacingly dark and lightly flamboyant. They suggest the sea, deep space, chemical reactions, the world of amoebae, hallucinogenic dreams, and an afterthought. He is a brave painter, and has had the creative energy to keep at it for decades, without seeming to flag or become jaded.

Favourite historical artist.
Gustav Klimt could do it all. Whether he was commissioned to paint wooden panels for a civic building to a strict brief, capture someone's essence in a portrait, explore abstract expressionism through pattern and colour, or convincingly depict a natural landscape - Gustav Klimpt could do it and do it well. His paintings are simultaneously realistic and abstracted, sexy and spiritual, commercial ventures and personal exploration. He was a truly modern painter.

When and where did you first want to do what you do?
I was watching the Turner Prize award ceremony on Channel Four in 1991. I was sixteen years old and it was then that I realised that it was actually possible to make a living out of producing art. With Anish Kapoor's great big void sculpture, Fiona Rae's exploding exercises in mark-making, and Rachael Whiteread's concrete non-spaces, the event had a deep impact on my sense of self, reverberations of which I am still feeling today.

What place in the world has inspired you?
The generic English town garden inspires me the most. These little oases of plant life barely contained in their fenced off, walled in boxes are teeming with life, artifice and accidental beauty. The time, effort and money spent on them by the owners. The natural wonders of photosynthesis, pollination and germination. The riot of texture, colour and shapes. The rotten ugliness of death, disease and decay. The shifting seasons and helplessness felt when freak weather hits. All this and more makes the little city garden the most inspiring place in the world.

Last best read.
Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe is the story of the chief priest of Ulu, who's authority is challenged by his own tribe, the white government, a foreign religion, and even his own family. Achebe is an inspiring humanist, and leads the reader through a changing world, without ever judging either the old world or the new. Things do not get better or worse, they simply become different. The element of this novel that I particularly enjoyed was the frequent use of old African proverbs and sayings which were effortlessly translated into modern ideas.

How much do you bend your 'vision' to suit the marketplace?
The breakthrough change in my work that directly led to commercial success was to leave more white space. I have always used the same colours, patterns, geometry and techniques, but I used to fill the canvas so that every square inch was crammed to bursting point. Several people suggested that I should leave more white space between my marks so that they could actually be seen. I did this and it had an instant effect on my sales, and I have since carried on leaving more white space. It takes a lot of confidence to leave large areas of the canvas untouched, and now I am selling regularly I have that confidence, and I am happier with the work. However, before I was selling and lacked this confidence, any blank area of canvas used to scream at me to be filled up. It was breaking this circle of behaviour that was difficult. It seems strange to me now, as I used to feel that changing my work to suit the market was somwhow unartistic. When in fact, changing my work to suit the market has actually led to my work becoming more fulfilled in my own eyes.

How do you set about starting a new project?
Priming my canvases is an incredibly important part of my working practice. I triple prime each canvas with white gesso, to give them a perfectly smooth, matt white chalky finish. This initial step is identical with every piece, and really focuses my mind on what I am about to create. By attempting to make the surface as clean and smooth as possible, the canvas and stretcher become a precious object within themselves, even before I have applied any acrylic paint. This feeling of preciousness is important to grab hold of and to hold onto. To make an exciting, unique and original piece of art, I have to feel that what I am making is in some way precious. Sometimes, when the light is right, it almost seems a shame to spoil the whiteness of the surface, and to simply exhibit the piece as it is. Fortunately my love of colour stops all that.

Surprising activity?
I have recently started climbing, both on indoor walls and outdoor rocks. The activity of clinging onto tiny hold by my fingertips, and balancing on virtually non-existent nodules at great heights is the perfect tonic to sitting in my studio drawing intensely delicate patterns. When I paint I only have myself to rely on, but when I am climbing I am very much relying on the person on the other end of the rope. The high levels of adrenaline mixed with the cuts and bruises involved in climbing, also complement the sedentary painting activity. I have recently created a piece inspired by the sandstone outcrops in Sussex at Harrison's Rock. This piece is called Carrera and is a little more abstract than my usual work, and attempts to explore the seemingly agelessness of stone and rock.

What one word would describe your feeling of doing your work?


Usiku (oo-SEE-koo) said...

Sharing our work with others also blesses them with it's beauty and encourages others to find their own artistry.

steve said...

I found this very intersting as I bought one of Dans originals (Abstract No 3 - Hove) about 10 years ago and its acrylic concentric pattern leave no space free from vivid it was interesting to read about Dans more commercial style leaving some of the canvas white in hi smore current works. We still love the picture.