Thursday, May 31, 2018


 "That is what comes of collecting plants" - The Moomins #3, Tove Jansson

I find that I am often amazed as I follow the path to inspiration.  In the middle of very big plans for new creative work, a little side project beckoned that has ended up nourishing me greatly.  Go figure!  Enter "Winter Collection".

In January I was deep in the Finnish woods at a residency at the Arteles Creative Center.  The theme of the residency was "Silence, Awareness, Existence".  Sequestered with 13 other artists, I had many days that were screen-free, and half of those were silent.  I would wander the wintery grounds and marvel at the foliage of the season, frozen and as silent as I was.  I had a little bag with me that I would fill with things of interest that I'd encounter on my wanderings.  When I would get back inside,  I'd lay the items out on paper and dry them. Some would almost dissolve from the warmth but some would be quite striking.

I was traveling with a little box of things I like - string, paper, cloth tassels, etc.  I started playing with combining these treasures with the items from the woods.  There were also a few trips to local Finnish thrift stores in the mix where I was getting more strange tidbits.  I was also hunting around in the residency house and found some things there.  Like lint from the dryer.  Yes, that is blue lint in the image above!

I got the idea to photograph the groupings on my desk in the precious morning light.  You see, when I first arrived at the residency there were about 5 hours of daylight.

True only child behavior.

Did I mention that rural Finland is sparse but astonishing?  So much fir and spruce.  The smell of the smoke sauna.  The taste of the tenderest salmon I ever had.  Strange but splendid salt licorice.  The long blue twilight.

Oh, and moss.  Lots of moss.  I had just finished a one-year project with choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi called "Moss: Awakening Our Humanity" and had just finished doing a lot of research about this mysterious slow-growing botanical.  Then I found myself surrounded by it!

During that time I developed a new respect for the tradition of botanical collecting.  Hence the title of these series.  But I am collecting following my own interests, not for the British Empire or some such.  And combining the elements to amuse myself!

Look for the bling!

Saturday, October 3, 2015


"The Passageway" (12'x7'x7'), October, 2015
Paula Jeanine Bennett
art, sound and scent installation 
(steel, water-based paint, fabric, glue-transfer image, glass, metal, plastic-webbed cladding, coffee, bitter orange oil, 15-minute sound assemblage)
(at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, Red Hook, October, 2015)

How strange and splendid the ways of the muse!  It has been a tremendous adventure creating my new work "The Passageway",  and my first time making a large-scale piece.  Although installation art is often a laborious process, I have enjoyed every paint-spattered step.  

I call "The Passageway" psychological architecture.  Drawing on my early college days of being an urban studies major, the idea of the physical effect of built environment has always been one of my areas of interest.  "The Passageway" is an environment I have built to enfold the viewer in a new experience, one of mystery contained in a controlled space.
An important element of "The Passageway" is the 15-minute soundscape that plays continuously.  Found sounds, spoken word and song thread through the loop.  Although the text is a textural element in the soundscape as opposed to a feature, here is a transcript of what is being said:
"The dry, scented wind
the fig trees, the cedar wood and the mint beds
the murmur of the fast-running water
It was more than enough just to be present in the landscape"
                                                                        -Paul Bowles, "Without Stopping" 
And my text:
"The rough stones below rise to test every step
Each turn and doorway not quite like before
quite like before
in the daylight
Pulling the cloth tight against the wind
and then
the wind rises."
There is also a fragment of song in the soundscape, the first part of my composition, "The Wandering Suite".  Here is the text being sung in the loop:
"Wandering so far
from the shelter of the self
from the center
a step against the stones,

Here is a link to the fully recorded work

Another inspiration for the work was my travels in the ancient world:  India, Egypt and especially Morocco.  On a recent trip to Morocco I was astonished by the emotional response that the low passageways of the medina evoked from me, especially in two cities I love, Tetouan and Essaouira.  Here is an image from Tetouan.

This was my point of entry for the structure of "The Passageway".  I had made several stage set pieces for a performance in Morocco on the same trip.

The Doorway
(for "A Village Of One', Sefrou, Morocco)
The two-dimensional desert house
(for "A Village Of One", Sefrou, Morocco)

My mind began to sift and combine.  I built a model of an idea for a longer structure, combining some of the ideas and materials from these two constructions.  Here is an image of the wire, plumbing tube and fabric model that helped me clarify my ideas for "The Passageway":

"The Passageway" model  (7"x5"x8") 
At that point I was investigating the possibilities of chicken wire and garden hose for the structure.  But as stability is of utmost importance in installations, I began to search for an alternative.  My investigations led me to a structure called a hoophouse, used by gardeners to protect crops.  It would give me a skeleton to build upon.  Here is an image of the early stages of construction.
The skeleton constructed in the gallery

After the skeleton was in place, I began to add the frames, the shaped and draped arches.  Here are the early stages.
The back frame, mixed paper

Two more frames, mixed fabric

 Then the cladding that came with the hoophouse was put over the structure.

Work began to transform the structure.  Cutting, painting and more draping ensued.

Surveying the progress

The Passageway with additional draping

I had been working in the marvelous galleries of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition.  My workspace was in the center of the room, but The Passageway site was to the side, in an atmospheric corner of this amazing post-Civil War structure.  

Finally The Passageway was completed and moved to its site.  Here are some images that give a bit of the feeling of moving through the installation.

An important aspect of The Passageway is this image of a women in 1905 Tangier wrapped in a garment called a haik.  This idea of an enfolded woman informed much of my development of the installation.

Friends Annette and Michael enjoy the ambience

As a last touch I added the scent of bitter orange.  I want The Passageway to wake the senses and give the viewer a moment of pause.
Bitter orange amphora on the back frame

But mostly, I wanted to make poetry that could be walked through.

The artist in The Passageway

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The "Creative" Life

September 3, 2013

Sitting here on the Brooklyn waterfront, looking out my window to the water,  I have been thinking about what defines a multi-disciplinary artist - and how to move through more than one discipline with ease. 
The longer I walk the creative path, the more I inhabit the territory of ideas.  I think it builds a stronger creative mind to investigate other disciplines for ideas.  I remember Henry Miller said he loved to look at the paintings of Turner when he felt "stuck" in his writing.  The trick comes when you write AND paint.  How do more than one way of expression live in harmony in one soul?
As a percussionist, I have always felt the need for many colors in sound.  As a visual artist, I need many textures for my eye and hand.  As a singer, I often visualize the note before I hit it.  As a word person and songwriter,  I want a song to paint a picture in the listeners mind - and if their body moves to the music, all the better.
More and more it seems to me that it is all the same clay:  timbre, texture, color, texture, dance, song.
A colleague of mine, Otis Saleed, calls this sort of multi-disciplined person simply a "creative". 
Can we please put this in common parlance?

So, for your pleasure, dear reader, here are some images of the percussion side of who I am.  All three of these images are moments of strong inspiration for me. 

At Lincoln Center, participating in the first "Table Of Silence" in New York City, 2011:

At the Perry-Mansfield Arts Camp this summer in the Louis Horst studio:

And finally, at the Chateau Windsor Hotel in Mumbai, on a spiral staircase not used since the 1940's:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Vessel Series: Translucence and Opacity

How to satisfy the desire for the shine of glass without the glass? The objects I have been making this fall illustrate my efforts to satisfy this need. I have been experimenting with adding an underlayer of resin to my vessels. Sometimes I add pigment, mica flakes or pearls to the pour.

Some of the images in this recent series were found at the bottom of a dusty pile on a leafy street in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. I must have worn my artistic fervor on my sleeve as I set to the task of looking through endless baskets of cabinet cards. All of a sudden a chair was procured for me by a formidable ruddy fellow as I searched for my special image, the one that set me to dreaming. Of course it was at the bottom of the stack. With eyes defiant she glared at me in sepia.

I am also incorporating some small found objects in my recent pieces. An artist friend gives me strange bags of rusty items from time to time. What were these things in life? My most ambitious use of one of these findings is in my piece "Reliquary 1", shown below. If you look closely in some of the niches you might need a good glass of vin rouge.

An empty can becomes a portal, a vessel, a world, an inheritance.
Handle the materials until they become something else,
something beyond image and tin.
Make one piece. Make another one.
Work it until you have burnished the thing inside yourself
that makes the best of you surface
and then disappear as the work tells the story.
Let the thing burn clean.
Give it the freedom to be a little different every time.
Build a new lineage and let the thrill of it run through you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rough Angels

Vessel: Rough Angel 2 (2010)
4 1/2" x 2 3/4" x 1 1/8"

Vessel: L'Enfant Terrible (2010)
4 1/2" x 2 3/4" x 1 1/4"

Vessel: Columbia St. 2 (2010)
4 1/2" x 2 3/4" x 1 1/8"

Reliquary 1 (2010)
4 1/2" x 2 3/4" 1"

Sunday, June 13, 2010

From Behind the Glass

"Portal: Beyond the Fire" (2009) 7 1/4" x 5 1/4" x 1/2"

When I first started to make art, I worked in shadow boxes. All my assemblages were behind glass. The world inside the box held a certain sense of tension and that feeling of containment was satisfying for me. However, handling the glass made me uneasy.
"Portal: The Departure" (2009) 7 1/4" x 5 1/4" x 1/2"

I decided to experiment with other kinds of surfaces and depart from standard framing. The Portal pieces are made with bookmaking cardboard painted with grey gesso. After making the assemblages I placed them on light wood frames treated with water-based wood stain and polycrylic finish.
It was a thrill to have the work so immediate.

"Prairie Tales 4" (2009) 7 1/4" x 5 1/4" x 1/2"

Many of the images in this series reflect my recent summers spent in the mountains of Colorado.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Vessel Series: Mutton Street & Pydhonie

I have a second city, Mumbai. It is a sprawling, attenuated metropolis consisting of lots of little villages strung together. In the lower part of the sprawl lies the Chor Bazaar. I found myself in the middle of Mutton Street with a dusty basket on my lap. Out in the street gents were trying to sell tourists greasy car parts. Tethered goats were blinking in the sun. Several teas later I found my faces.

Pydhonie is a nearby neighborhood where I have spent many a morning enjoying the ancient crumbling building fronts and pleasant cacaphony of the metalworkers.

Close your eyes and you might hear the hammers.

Vessel: Pydhonie 1 2010 2 1/2" x 5 1/2 " x 1"
Vessel: Pydhonie 2 2010 2 1/2" x 5 1/2" x 1"
Vessel: Mutton Street 1 2010 2 1/2" x 5 1/2" x 1"
Vessel: Mutton Street 2 2010 2 1/2" x 5 1/2" x 1"