“I love the art world. I love everything in it, from Mark Rothko to John Asaro,” says Bothell, Washington, artist Liana Bennett. “I started working in a studio at age 19, so this is all I?ve ever done.” Bennett, who studied on scholarship at Chouinard (now California Institute of the Arts), began teaching nearly 30 years ago and has been running her own art center for the past 18 years. In addition to her work at the center and her own painting, Bennett is constantly visiting galleries and soaking up inspiration from her contemporaries. “If I?m a little low, all I have to do is walk through the art walks or go through galleries and it nourishes me?all the colors and textures and the different ideas people have.”
Working on her own paintings 10-20 hours a week, Bennett paints a variety of subjects in styles that range from pure abstract to strict photorealism. But her passion lies in her portraits. “The figure excites me the most,” she says. “I try to make my figures say something to the viewer. It doesn?t necessarily have to be what I intended, but I want my figures to convey a message or feeling.” To capture that feeling on canvas as in Connie (at left), Bennett relies on her drawings from life as well as her photo references. To begin this potrait, the artist built up some texture on the canvas using modeling paste. Then she did a charcoal sketch to work out the composition and began to quickly block in the middle values and lines. “This is the most crucial time in my painting,” says Bennett. “It?s where I resolve any problems and decide where I want to go with it.” She uses acrylics for the block-in but then may switch to oils, depending on the effects she wants to achieve for a given piece. “It just depends on whatever I?m feeling at the moment. I like mixed media and creating a lot of textural feel and dimension,” she says. In fact, she added a strip of canvas around most of the perimeter of Connie to give the painting a three-dimensional quality.
But whatever she?s working on, Bennett doesn?t plan every step. “I like to let the painting dictate where it wants to go. I leave a lot of things open-ended so I can be surprised,” she says. “That?s why I like abstract work. Nothing is really set out for me. I can jump in and I?m not really sure where I?m going.”
As a working artist and a teacher, Bennett says she?s constantly learning from her students. “A teacher once told me that to teach is to learn twice. And every word of that is true. Because I?ve had to teach my students all the basic fundamentals, I have a concrete foundation for my own work,” Bennett says. But more than her technique has been strengthened by her experience. “I?m not just happy, I?m extremely fortunate because I?ve been able to earn money doing what I do best and love the most. And because I have an art center, I?m surrounded by people who love art also. I have the best of all worlds.”