We took the time to chat with local printmaker Philip Bennet, to find out more about his artistic process and inspiration. The Old Print Gallery has represented Bennet for over a year, and his prints have truly resonated with our clients and the OPG print community. His colorful monotypes have been included in many of our group shows, most recently in our summer show WATER, where his print Splash caught the eye of Washington Post art critic Mark Jenkins. (“Several of the other prints are dramatically more colorful. The blue, green and yellow of Philip Bennet’s “Splash,” an oil-based monotype, are so vivid they seem not to have dried fully.” )
Bennet has a one-man 70-year retrospective show this month at the Glenview Mansion Gallery in Rockville, MD. “Retrospective 1942- 2012” opens this Sunday, November 4 with a reception from 1:30-3:30pm. The show runs until November 27. We urge all our blog readers to visit the show, to view over 25 works in pastel, acrylics, watercolor, and collage by this talented local artist.
Read on below for our interview with Bennet. We hope you enjoy! And feel free to ask more questions in our comments section- we will forward them along to Bennet to answer for you.
OPG: When did you first make the switch from pastels to printmaking?
PB: In 2005 when a friend who is an excellent printmaker encouraged me to try it. When I lifted my first monotype print off the press I was hooked. There is an excitement you get from the surprise of not knowing what you have until the moment of truth- when you lift the print off the plate and turn it face up. I knew then I wanted to explore this magical medium in depth and it became my favorite medium. However, I still do some pastels, particularly on beeswax, acrylics on paper and canvas, as well as watercolors when I travel.
OPG: Why use monotype (over other printmaking mediums)? What draws you to the medium?
PB: My printmaking is influenced by my early years as a painter. Making a monotype allows me to use a plate much the way you would paint a canvas or apply pastel to paper. You don’t have to cut into the plate to produce shapes or lines. You merely have to use a brush, pallete knife or brayer (a roller) to apply the paint. Also, I can work much faster and more loosely by not having to cut into a plate. I have done a few linocuts which are more labor intensive and often don’t produce the results I am looking for. I prefer intense color and interesting shapes to line work and monotypes allow me the freedom to do this.
OPG: Compared to other printmaking styles, monotypes can be very loose and organic. Explain to our readers your process for monotypes. Why do you choose to switch between oil-based inks and watercolors? How much of a print’s composition is planned before you begin?
PB: I never do an advance sketch. My only planning is choosing my basic color palette. Then I work intuitively. I mix a color and then paint a shape, look at it and decide what the next color shape should be. I add and subtract as I go, using my knowledge of what a good composition should be. At some point the plate may look like total chaos but, over time, I am able to restore structure and compositional interest to the abstract, usually with a focal point and color balance.
I like oil based inks because the colors are very intense and you can print a ghost (second) image over which you can use a second plate to do some overprinting on the same paper. Using lots of water when painting watercolor on Plexiglas or Mylar allows the colors to run and bleed together which often creates unexpected effects that I can exploit further. With watercolor it is easy to create organic (curved) shapes and soft effects by using more or less water.
Sometimes I do a watercolor first printing and then apply oil-based inks in selective spots on an aluminum plate. I print over parts of the watercolor to create lights and darks. I often have printed on the same paper five or six times with oil-based inks to get different effects, but only in selective areas so that the print doesn’t turn to mud. Professor John Carr, head of the Montgomery College, Rockville campus, printmaking department said in the November 17 issue of the Bethesda Gazette that my “work is very abstract expressionist, a kind of genre of painting or art making that obviously requires a lot of spontaneity, and that so much of printmaking requires just the opposite. I think he’s been very innovative in finding ways to sort of bring that approach back.”
OPG: Although the majority of your prints are abstract, their titles suggest a link to the natural world- Splash, Nebula, Creatures. Is this where you derive your inspiration from?
PB: No, because I have no idea what I am going to title my abstracts when I start since I have no idea what they will turn out to look like when I begin. However, I think titles, especially for abstracts, are important in order to give the viewer some frame of reference or context to what he or she is looking at. Consequently, I look at a finished abstract and decide what a viewer might see in it and then think of several possible titles before choosing one. “Splash” and “Creatures” were easy since from the former you could see a descending column of water and from the latter two animals. I titled “Nebula” to create a little mystery and force the viewer to see the cosmos in a different way.
OPG: What artists (past and current) influence your work and artistic aesthetic?
PB: For past abstract artists they would be Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock, and Richard Diebenkorn and for living artists they would be Gerhard Richter and Charlotte Foust.
OPG: Your retrospective at Glenview Mansion opens this month. In your preparation and planning of the show, did any of your earlier work reignite a desire to print in your former styles/mediums?
PB: Yes. I did use some of my earlier watercolor and acrylic abstracts as ideas for creating some organic, as well as geometric, monotypes for the show. Some of my earlier color combinations also influenced a few of my show abstracts.
OPG: Creativity can be like a river-fast flowing at points, extremely slow at others. How do you combat the constant ebb and flow of creativity-do you have any tricks for creative blocks? How do you stay productive and purposeful in the studio?
PB: Looking at other artists’ art by going to galleries and museums gets my creative juices going. I also collect art books in all mediums and from all parts of the world, which I refer to from time to time to study how paint is applied and texture created. Often I can remember not having enough time to paint because of my love for sports, particularly tennis and hiking, paper work to do, and 7 grandchildren to do things with, but never creative blocks where I say nothing comes to me to paint or print. I think an abstract artist has it easier in dealing with the possibility of an artist’s block because shapes, lines, color, and texture are limitless.
OPG: What ideas/mediums/themes/projects do you hope to tackle next?
PB: What excites me most about painting is the chance to experiment with different mediums, the combination of mediums, and finding new process directions to pursue. Recently, I have begun to work with black ink only or sepia ink only, which allows me to achieve sharp value changes when using a lot or a little mineral spirits or turpenoid. I can get some effects that look much like an etching or lithograph. There will be two black ink monotypes in my November retrospective. I also intend to integrate collage into my work. Lastly- I intend to do some large acrylic abstracts on canvas using 3” and 4” brushes.
OPG: Complete this sentence: When I’m printing, I feel ______.
PB: When I’m printing, I feel lost in another world. The cares of life recede, time seems to move so fast, and I am totally happy for the experience, even if the painting or print is not as successful as I would like. There is always the challenge to fix what is not working and in the process discover a previously untried solution. Moving in new directions and leaning more as my work evolves is the joy of creating art.