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Technical Support Close Up: Artist Scott Bennett

Mark Golden: Did you always want to be an artist?

Scott Bennett: I was always drawing as a kid, and while I wasn't sure when I was six years old that I wanted to paint, I always felt I would be involved in the arts.

Mark: Was this encouraged by your parents?

Scott: Yes, they encouraged me. I requested things like John Nagy drawing kits, so I would always have paper, pencils and stuff to draw with.

Mark: Early on you created incredible renderings and realistic drawings of flowers and plants.

Scott: The ones that you've seen - the botanical paintings of carnivorous plants - started later. I was in my early 20s but my fascination with these plants started very early - around 7 or 8. I was dissatisfied with illustrations in books so I made my own drawings and paintings from life. I also took field trips to photograph them in the wild. It was a natural outgrowth of my interest in the plants to start drawing them - to make images of them.

Mark: Those particular drawings were created when you were doing the large abstract paintings?

Scott: Yes.

Mark: Wow! I guess I imagined some predating the others. In high school you continued to focus on art?

Scott: Yes, and I had a really formative experience in 9th grade that relates to acrylic. My art teacher was an ambitious painter and had knowledge about what were still very new, acrylic paints and mediums. He had us using acrylic mediums with paper - collaging the paper - to make textured surfaces and this experience carried over. It was my first experience with what acrylic paints and mediums could do.

Mark: Did you go right from high school to Syracuse University?

Scott: Yes, into the art school but not as a painting major. I didn't know I was a painter until after I graduated.

Mark: What was your major?

Scott: Synaesthetic Education. It was the name for the Art Education Department at that time. I found the professors and philosophy fascinating. The idea was that we don't need to teach kids how to draw or paint. They do fine by themselves. We need to provide an environment that supports what they're already really good at. Studying synaesthetic education allowed me to intellectually explore the nature of creativity. I was dabbling and exploring several different areas to discover what had the strongest pull for me. When I graduated I took a road trip across country and started painting more. After returning home, I stayed at my parents' house for several months. I created a small studio in my bedroom. With my bed tilted up on the wall, plastic on the floor and canvas stapled to a board, I was dripping acrylic paint. Shortly after, I moved back to Syracuse to be around my friends - an ambitious group of painters. I needed to be around other artists so I got an apartment with a room in the basement for my first studio. I bought my first big batch of paint, which was Bocour Acrylic in quarts and I also bought jugs of Rhoplex AC 234. There was a lot of pouring and spreading going on then.

Mark: Finding this community of other artists after graduation was really important to defining your next path?

Scott: Definitely. That's why I came back. I needed other eyes on my work, people whose eyes I trusted and who I felt I could grow with and share ideas with.

Mark: At some point, you had people outside of this community seeing your work.

Scott: In 1980, I was introduced to the art critic and writer Clement Greenberg, and started showing him my work. My friend Mark Raush and I would visit him in Norwich with rolls of paintings in the truck and sit and talk and show paintings. It was wonderful and most beneficial. Having Clem's eyes on my work was a great experience and I learned a lot. There was always something I took away from each visit.

Mark: That's fabulous. So it was from one of those trips that you came to us...

Scott: I remember the first trip in 1980 very clearly; I'll never forget it. I pulled up the gravel driveway to a cute little house, a barn and an incredible view. Sam came outside with you to greet me. I remember Sam talking about being so proud of his paint, saying things like, "Tell us what you think. We've got these gel mediums. We're making different viscosities and surfaces, and we have all this pigment load in the paint." I forget whether Adele made me a sandwich that time, but that is often what would happen. I'd buy paint, have lunch and we'd talk. I have such wonderful memories. I always left feeling so alive. There were these people who were really interested and curious about what I was doing and they were making great paint. That first visit will forever be in my memory.

Mark: I remember how exciting it was to have artists come to the factory, truly interested in what we were doing. We were thrilled to have you here. Scott, you began using the material early on in our history and became really familiar with a wide range of products, always providing insight on the use of those materials. Can you talk about how that continued? At some point you started using a lot of material.

Scott: It was the first time I used gel mediums - thickened, acrylic emulsions. And because I could get them in gallons or even five gallon pails, it facilitated new ways of working that before were not quite possible. I became fascinated with the possibilities of thicker paint films and what happens when you switch around the ratios. I had a fairly large painting platform (12' x 12') so I'd staple canvas to the floor surface and work on multiple paintings at a time. I was pouring paint a lot, but also using thick mixtures worked into thinner mixtures. I was pushing the materials to their limits to see the outcome.

Mark: And most of this work was abstract, non-figurative?

Scott: It was all abstract. I really come out of abstraction and non-objective painting. I was using a lot of pretty rudimentary tools and rarely using a brush. There was a whole period when I was pouring and spreading.

Mark: So it was a lot of invention, mark making and working with these transparencies and translucencies, building up a whole repertoire of ways to work with these new materials...

Scott: Exactly. I was learning ways that acrylic paint could be handled and any parameters that existed. I started as a watercolorist out of high school, so it felt natural to flow into using acrylic, so to speak.I wanted to do whatever felt right. I was experimenting with spraying. I would often spray on top of very, very wet liquid paint, which would cause a type of cracking, crazing. I could create this wonderful colored crazing by spraying on top of piled up soft mounds of paint and gel. As it dried, the skin on the surface would open up and you'd have these wonderful colored crazes. This created a period when I was fascinated with allowing what we think of as surface defects (what we call surface defects in tech land today) and using them in the work.

Mark: You developed a wonderful ability to speak to how you were achieving these things and the real knowledge base that you were building. How these things work and how the material interacts, the kind of alchemy of working with the paint versus technical. That's why it was really appealing to me when you said you'd be willing to learn the technical side and do presentations around the country.

Scott: Yes, our first trip was in 1990 to Edmonton, Alberta.

Mark: While you're teaching, sharing these tools with other people, how did that investigation - or did that investigation into materials and the more technical side - did that have an influence on your art making?

Scott: I know that I'm certainly more quickly aware of new products that come out and with my technical knowledge, much more aware of certain aspects of acrylic paint that I think does help me in the studio.

Mark: You've always been able to separate your role in providing a technical resource from your painting world. I think you've really been able to pick and choose those things that fit your aesthetic.

Scott: Yes, I do. There could easily be the tendency to want to use everything because of my increased awareness of what's available.

Mark: You've taught the other things but that's because that was part of the requirement; to learn what the other tools are and how artists might manipulate them.

Scott: I enjoy talking to other artists, seeing what they're trying to do with the paints. I always enjoy when an artist calls up or I'm emailing an artist, and it's a question that I know I have a lot of experience in, and I can help them and pass on that experience. And I realize - in the course of a day in the studio, I'm not thinking about my knowledge. I'm making a painting. However, now and then, I realize how lucky I am to have amassed so many years of experience with acrylic paints and mediums. Being a part of GOLDEN has been a very fortunate situation for a variety of reasons and not only because I have employment with a wonderful company. The technical knowledge adds to my expertise in the studio.

Mark: It's been exciting to see so many lovely letters and emails written back to you, Scott, thanking you for the care and responding to their needs as another artist. I don't think we could do it any better than having an artist with your level of skill being able to respond back to someone else. It's a great service for folks - to be able to provide that information. Where sometimes it just seems like you can't find it on a website. You can't find it other places. But there's a live person who responds no matter what your question is. Scott, at some point in your career, you managed to pull together your own world of these mechanical slants and the illustration and the abstract, and all of the mark making that you've produced to come up with a whole other style of working with materials.

Scott: I painted non-objective pictures from about 1974 to around 1991, when I started making representational pictures. At that time I decided to focus on one or the other. If I was going to make landscapes and still lifes and explore that, I felt that I needed to focus on it exclusively. So I stopped making non-objective pictures for quite some time. It was two years ago that I started making new abstract or non-objective pictures. And I've been making landscapes, still lifes, and a new series of abstract pictures, and going back and forth. I've become fascinated again with the kind of mark making that I had in my past; very loose, traditional ways of handling acrylic paint combined with alternative methods and tools. I'm combining pouring, pushing, scraping, piling on paint with what's considered more traditional brush handling. And so, I've been able to make my way as a painter.