Abstraction to Representation to Abstraction Again
By Rick Bennett
1. Design: Using a chalk line, I start my seascapes by dividing the canvas into horizontal bands that establish a horizon line and the progressive layers of water, depth, and color. The bands are also an important aspect of the composition. I’ve always been interested in design, and I look for a specific proportional relationship, as in the degree of taper or graduation in a Greek column or the relationship between the body, shoulder, and neck in a classical vase.
2. Geometric Abstraction: Next I paint in a rough approximation of the colors with Golden acrylic thinner added to the acrylic. At this point, all my paintings look like hard-edged, geometric abstractions. During this stage I work with and adjust the colors and proportions, as if I were going to finish the painting in this hard-edged, geometric style.
3. Unblended Colors: I do a rough sketch of the water and sand patterns. Then I build up layers of opaque and transparent acrylic color (transparent over opaque). I work quickly, using large bristle brushes. (I leave the marks unblended in order to create textures and spontaneous patterns. I’m working, at this stage, with intense colors, while I exaggerate the combinations of warm/cool and light/dark tones.)
4. Letting Layers Show Through: As the painting progressed, I narrowed the range of colors but always let some of the previous layers show through. This process results in a more natural local color through the phenomenon of optical blending (our eyes mix the colors). Letting some of the previous layers show through also creates vibration and reverberation that are analogous to the movement of the water—and the resulting shifts of color, reflection, and refraction.
5. Reworking the Patterns: I worked and reworked the patterns of the waves and the underlying sand dunes. While these patterns conform to the laws of perspective, there are always variations, and in order to keep the painting from looking too mechanical, I build up textures and nuances of color by applying and mixing the paint on the canvas with crumpled paper, plastic bags, and scrub brushes.
6. A Complex Surface: For the final marks that describe the reflections and refractions in this evocation of the southern Caribbean Sea, I used acrylic paint thickened with Liquitex Slow-Dri blending gel, dragging the paintbrush over the surface textures. I also used paint thinned with Golden Open acrylic thinner and applied that thinned paint with a Chinese calligraphy brush so that I could vary the weight of the line and make longer continuous marks, as well.
Although the paintings in this series may look similar, each one is a new adventure to me; each one requires its own specific approach. In each case I look for a balance between simplicity and complexity, motion and stillness, abstraction and illusion.
Meet Rick Bennett
The first picture Rick Bennett fell in love with was Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. “I began to understand the language of painting and to appreciate painting for its own sake as opposed to seeing what was represented,” says Bennett. He earned a master of fine arts degree at Indiana University Bloomington and a bachelor of arts degree in studio art at Centre College in Kentucky. The following galleries represent his work: Swanson Contemporary, Louisville, Kentucky; Eye on Art Gallery, Indianapolis; New Editions Gallery, Lexington, Kentucky; and Marta Hewett Gallery, Cincinnati. A professor of art and art history at Hanover College in Indiana, he also teaches philosophy and literature. He cites The Book of Tao Teh Ching and Teh by Lao Zi as being influential to his work. To read a review of his work, go to