British artist Rachael Bennett was born in Hampshire in 1956. She attended art school in Winchester and Liverpool before setting up a textile design business in London, selling for the interior market world wide. She contributed to the teaching programmes in several universities during the next 20 years alongside her design practice in London and later in Devon.
Rachael then took the decision to focus solely on her personal art making and has become an established artist, producing evocative, powerful descriptions of the natural world. Rachael has representation with 4 galleries in the South West and takes part in group and solo exhibitions and events regularly. This year she will be having a solo show at Birdwood House in Totnes and then taking part in Devon Open Studios in September.
I am interested in the liminal spaces within landscape created by natural transitions; those uncertain, indeterminate spaces caught between one world and another. My work is descriptive of form, light and place in an atmospheric way.
I want the viewer to experience, for example, that psychological state of mind created at the moment between wakefulness and dreaming, that threshold moment where alchemy happens and limitless contemplation is possible.
I look at landscapes, seascapes and the ever changing weather. The intimate landscape beneath my feet is just as engrossing as the grander view, and the interplay between the two, the near and the far, just as stimulating. With my painting, relationship between materials used and image created is everything to me. One is responsible for the other, it is symbiotic. The resultant conversation is where the true dialogue can happen. This is the entry point, the place where the liminal experience is possible – this is the essence of my work.
What is your background?
I was born in 1956 and grew up in Winchester, Hampshire. I have always drawn and painted throughout my life. I did my Foundation year at Winchester School of Art. In those days, students did a physical tour of art schools to decide where to go for their 3 year degree. I chose Liverpool which was an unusual choice but I was attracted to the total change and cosmopolitan life. My degree is in textile design but the good thing about the course in Liverpool was that it was very broad and hands on with lots of different types of drawing encouraged. This aspect has, I think stood me in good stead and made me confident to experiment. After art school I moved to London straight away and started selling my textile designs world wide, eventually focusing on designs for interiors. This was an exciting time. I loved designing and was fortunate to work with top end companies, I was successful and loved London life!
However, some years down the line I realised there was no time or mental space for personal art and life is too short to not follow your heart. By this time, I had moved to Devon and began to retrain in art therapy and I did my PGCE. I began the re-entry into fine art making expecting it to be easy as I was at the top of my game design wise. I was in for a shock, it felt like starting all over again but it is a fascinating journey and one that I have never regretted. I eventually secured gallery representation and exhibiting solo and with other artists and organisations. I have developed a network of like-minded artists who I collaborate with on various projects making for a very interesting artistic practice.
What inspires you and what is your creative process?
I am interested in liminal space, both physically and emotionally. I want my paintings to be a meditation, where the viewer is freed to experience their own story. I live right by the sea in Teignmouth, South Devon, it is my back yard. Behind me is the estuary and Dartmoor so I am immersed by weather, water and seasons that shape the landscape from its beginning to its end in the sea and the sky. I also spend several weeks a year in a remote area of Lanzarote - again right by the sea and amidst tough landscape, the energy, power and emotion of these two environments feeds my creative process.
What is your favourite subject matter and why?
In essence I guess water is the linking element in my work. This is because it is the link between environments and it is how transitions are made, water achieves conversations and makes change of all kinds possible. Physically water is a significant element in my art making process. I enjoy the power and character of water to make my paintings often in ways that are aligned to the natural processes of the tides, weather and currents and its interaction with form, light and colour.
What is/are your favourite medium(s)?
My work has the ubiquitous label of mixed media, often too complicated to list. It is the question I most frequently get asked.
I build surfaces using papers, card, sand, plaster and work in an integrated way with dyes, inks and acrylic. My intention is that the mediums used and the conversation I am creating are as one, so the materials are as much part of the story as the colour, form, composition and intention.
Do you like working on different pieces at the same time?
Yes, I very often work in series as part of a specific intention so that I can create a conversational triangle of sorts to develop thought. For me this lessons the too precious intensity that can come with working on one painting at a time. My intention is for the ongoing group of paintings or drawings to have conversation if you like, keeping clarity and giving work space to mature.
Who are your biggest influences?
I like art that stirs me, makes me cry and moves me emotionally. I am not interested in super slick realism or technical tricks to produce an effect. I like Van Gough, Anslem Kieffer and Rothko, the big hitters who make us uncomfortable. But I look at all kinds of artists; lately I have been looking at 20th Century landscape artists such as Ravilious, Nash, Eardley, Colquhourn and Piper because I have been focusing my local landscape and drawing as a response to the pandemic.
How have you stayed inspired and energised during the pandemic?
This last year has bought both deprivation and opportunity creatively. Fortunately, I am part of a group called Contemporary Mark Makers, a sharing and experimental group of artists. We have been meeting physically for years and collaborating on various projects and exhibitions. I was stuck in Lanzarote at the beginning of lock down (another story) when we changed to meeting by zoom. This was very alien at the start but has developed into a powerful and enhancing creative force for which I feel truly grateful to be part of. We have continued to work on projects and shared ideas and have become, surprisingly, much closer during the process. For example, we are now developing a major collaborative project with “The Moors Poets” creating work together across disciplines towards a moot exhibition next year.
Projects & Collaborations
2022 (June 24th – July 8th) Exhibition FirstSight, Words and Pictures Gallery, Teignmouth, Devon, TQ14 8AX, tel: 01626 870387.
Sept 11th to 26th 2021 – I am showing from my studio as part of Devon Open Studios.
Aug 8th to 14th 2021 – Exhibition with friend and sculptor Angela Holmes at Birdwood House in Totnes.