Conversations with an Artist: Linda Benenati
We met Linda and were charmed by her amusing encaustic paintings with their complex themes that often begin with a simple lyric, a favorite phrase or vivid memory. Colorful, humorous and provocative, she is also inspired by the art masters, theater, 1920’s and 30’s collectibles, bees, dogs, cats and anything French. She employs the ancient technique of heating and melting a beeswax mixture with added pigments and collage elements with which she paints, fuses with a gun and sometimes re-melts to create a variety of effects. We're carrying two theses: "duplicity" and "call of the wild".
Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
I’ve known since I was a young child that making art is what I most love to do. I was a solitary child who spent hours drawing and designing things such as paper dolls and greeting cards. I collected junk off the streets and turned it into to “art.” I still do this.
A pivotal period in my life occurred after college and a succession of boring jobs when I began to have recurring dreams of babies. In a dream-interpretation workshop, the leader pointed out perhaps my dream was telling me that my life was lacking a creative outlet. My soul was essentially starving. This lead me to aggressively focus and pursue a career in graphics and tech writing. Once retired, I finally had the time to explore and pursue my artistic passions.
Sea Alchemy $450
What themes do you pursue in your art?
My encaustic art inspiration might come from a small simple idea, a favorite phrase, or just one word. Often, these simple images evolve into more complex themes or stories. A menagerie of animals (especially bees since I am using a beeswax-based medium) and vintage inspired figures continue to pop up in my work. I like to create works of whimsy with a strong narrative reflecting both past and present time periods. As an artist, I want to spark an emotional connection with the viewer and begin a conversation. Hopefully, viewers will complete the story, which may have sprung from a single word, with their own story.
Top: Peaches (Sold) / Bottom: Honey Bee Tea / $450
Tell us about what influences the direction for your encaustic painting collection.
Besides drawing inspiration from language, I also rely on my personal collections of vintage hats, tin toys, travel and carnival souvenirs, Asian prints, folk art, printed ephemera, old photographs and vintage children’s picture books for ideas.
A major influence on my work is art I see in museums. I have been influenced by themes, subjects, and elements of style such as line and color by many artists including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Marc Chagall, Maira Kalman, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, and David Cornell. I have painted tribute pieces to Gustav Klimt, René Magritte, David Hockney, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Wayne Thiebaud. Seeing the actual work of these artists pushes my limits and gets me out of my comfort zone. But, I always try to remain true to my own voice.
Honey Bee Tea / $450
How has your work developed over time?
My work is constantly developing. Part of the fun is being on this road of discovery. I have worked with many mediums including oil, acrylic, water color, and collage. I have made found-object and papier mâché sculptures. Around ten years ago, I ventured into encaustic painting, and with its vibrancy and versatility, it just might be my all-time favorite medium.
I now consider myself almost exclusively an encaustic artist. I am mainly self-taught and learn through experimentation. With lots of practice, I have become very familiar with many of the properties of encaustic medium and have developed some tricks of the trade. I try to keep a balance between knowing what I am doing and keeping it fresh with the element of surprise and sometimes simply “happy accidents.” The encaustic medium has somewhat a mind of its own (since you are applying heat with a hot air gun or torch), but I have mastered a degree of control over it.
Folie a Deux / $450
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
My brain is the tool I rely upon most in my studio. My brain is what makes the connections of what is going on in the narrative, layout and palette in any painting.
Ultimately it is not the tools or even my studio space which determines what a painting will be or how it will develop. I have a busy brain always searching for and making connections and imagining what might be. Ideas come to me throughout the day and sometimes in the middle of the night. I keep a bedside notebook. I have notebooks filled with ideas and computer files filled with images. I never seem to run out of ideas for new paintings. I am always excited to move on to a new piece.
Top: A Whole Lot of Rabbits Going On $400 / Bottom: Curious Case of the Queen's Communique $450
Do you collect anything?
I collect far too many things. I have accumulated much art (sculptures and paintings) over the years. I am drawn to naive, folk, and outsider art with a strong voice and narrative. These days, I am trying to edit and refine my collections rather than adding more. All of these collections influence my paintings, and many of the items I have collected occur repeatedly as images in my paintings.
A Whole Lot of Rabbits Going on $400
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
I loved and was inspired by the graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters—a multi-layered and incredibly illustrated book that is a work of genius. The illustrations have layer upon layer of complexity and the story itself (an intriguing mystery) although often dark has a positive message about honoring differences. The author is an amazing and inspiring woman who overcame much adversity including being a single mom, paralyzed from the waist down with the loss of the use of her drawing hand.
I also have a passion for films—mostly indies, foreign and documentary. Recently, I saw Blindspotting and found it had much to say on so many subjects including Oakland, gentrification, the criminal justice system, class, and race. The film authors Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, Oakland locals, are so talented. Diggs is an actor, singer, producer, writer and rapper who originated the role of, and won a Grammy and Tony for, the Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in the 2015 musical Hamilton. It is inspiring to know that people can be multi talented, doing more than one thing well.
What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
I would tell myself to never worry about going down paths which do not seem to lead anywhere. All experiences in life are valuable, and sometimes it is these random detours which lead us to discover more about who we are and what path we really should be on. We have more to say which is ultimately what all artists do: tell our stories and communicate our ideas.
Left: The Curious Case of the Klimptomaniacs / Right: The Curious Case of La Lune de Lapine / $450 each
Blog main page, post featured image: Banana Split (Sold)
Artist Linda Benenati has ventured into wonderland for her fanciful encaustic paintings. Stop by Poet and/the Bench to discover more!
~ Bonnie & Jeffrey