My next show is going up this week at Leigh Square in Port Coquitlam.
Here’s the invitation and the interview the wonderful folks there did.
In Conversation with Mary Bennett
Tell us a bit about how this series of work began. Where did the fascination for nests and eggs begin?
The first piece grew out of a previous series that I did during Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday anniversary. I was reading about Darwin’s life and then trying to learn about where his work sowed seeds for contemporary scientists. So that led me to reading about DNA, molecular biology and genetics. National Geographic did a series with a lot of photos, meant for people like me – non-scientists with some interest. One of the factoids that captured my imagination was learning that the same gene is switched on when baby birds are learning to sing as is switched on in human babies learning to speak. It was months before I had an idea for a visual expression of that. I did a bird with a circle above it that looked something like a nest and something like a speech bubble. This was also the first time I used magnetized paint in a work. I called it “Corvid Speaks” and put magnetic poetry in the nest.
What do these forms mean to you personally?
Some years ago a friend pointed out that all of my paintings had circles in them. I hadn’t noticed it but wasn’t surprised. Many important entitles are represented as circles: the sun, moon and planets including ours, so then can make us think about the cyclical nature of days, months and the seasons.
I learned a lot about birds and nests over the past couple of years. Most people I think are drawn to birds and nests but often don’t have words to describe why. Some of what I see as inspiring is that different birds have quite different nest-making methods that work for their own needs. Tiny birds like hummingbirds make nests that are very difficult to see, whereas eagles and ospreys are not much afraid to expose their nests.
Some are very intricate and some look a tad messy or like the northern fulmar just scrape a few pebbles together. Some are built up over years; some start afresh every year.
It does concern me that birds often incorporate plastic, coat hangers and cigarette butts in their nests.
What role does text play in your work?
I often incorporate words in some way. The challenge I often face is how to use the text so it doesn’t look like a poster or a sign. I like to have the text discernible to someone who’s looking closely but not immediately noticeable. Many of these pieces were done in collaboration with a poet, Keith Wilkinson. It was very satisfying to go back and forth. He would respond to the painting in progress and sometimes how he responded influenced how I finished the painting.
Which artists or writers influence you—either for stylistic, technical or conceptual reasons?
Locally I consider Jeanne Krabbendam a mentor as well as a teacher. She encourages me to be bolder and is so knowledgeable about mixed-media techniques.
I do like conceptual art. I’m enjoying the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery and plan to take my 7-year-old grandson to perhaps broaden his idea of what is art and what you can do with lego. When I was studying art at UBC many years ago, I decided Chagall was my favorite artist and I’ve had no reason to change that, although I’ve added many other favorites. I like art that pushes boundaries a bit in terms of content, materials or even display. I’ve been interested in environmental art including objects made from repurposed materials or natural organic (even invasive) plant material.
Community-engaged art where people work with a professional artist to express themselves is a growing and exciting field. I am working with Evelyn Roth this summer to engage Kitsilano residents in making a story-telling tent from recycled video-tape. I’m excited about that.
Is there a dream project you’d someday like to complete?
I love working collaboratively and would love to do a project with artists from varied disciplines.
A year-long process with dancers, musicians, performance artists, sculptors, digital projection as well as other visual artists and writers. It would have to be a compelling theme that everyone had a real commitment to and that allowed a lot of interpretation. Thanks for asking that. I’d never thought of it before, although I really enjoy many art forms.
Maybe someone will read this who responds to my art and approach me with a suggestion about how to begin!
I saw an eagle’s nest built within the structure of transmission poles along the highway heading to White Rock, right near the Crescent Beach turnoff. I’d like to paint that. I’m trying to learn more about that nest and whether there are dangers to the eagles or us.
I tried to start a new series, but I seem to still want to paint nests.