SPOTLIGHT: Joseph Bennett
Amidst the blur and beauty of a week with old friends down in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I had the good fortune to visit the winsome home and studio of San Diego-based assemblage sculptor Joseph Bennett for the second installation of our Spotlight series. His abode, located off of a charming San Miguel side street, opened into a well lit gallery featuring a body of his own work that was recently shown in conjunction with a fundraiser for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. During the opening, which was evidently very well attended, each visitor was given a little red dot to mark his or her favorite piece, a process which Bennett says encourages people to look closer at the work.
Born on the east coast, Mr. Bennett moved to San Diego fifteen years ago and has since worked in several different trades. Apart from being an assemblage artist for the last eleven years, he has an MBA, worked in health care and as a social worker, is a licensed masseuse, a clinical hypnotherapist, and runs his own interior design company with his partner (who is currently writing a screenplay on Frida Kahlo). In recounting his entrance into art making, he spoke of the effects of first seeing the work of Joseph Cornell: “I was always under this belief, like I can’t draw a picture and I don’t paint that well, so I am not an artist, but then I saw this work of found objects and I thought, that I can do.”
In assemblage, Bennett found his voice. “I’ve tried other mediums, but I keep going back to this one”, he said, “[assemblage] fits in so well with my mission, which is that we are such a disposable society and we throw so much away and the landfills are getting cluttered up…what if we take that which we throw away and consider the beauty of it, make art out of it? How might our lives change? How might that shift our consciousness?” And indeed, by drastically altering the situational context in which we are used to seeing objects, Bennett’s work allows us to consider things without the corruption of our normal prejudices or preconceived notions. Mirrors, clocks, birds, maps, dolls, candles, wires, boxes, and a myriad of other forgotten momentos come together to form unique statements of our society, our culture, and our tastes.
The themes of his work are heavy. From his past life as a social worker, he said he draws on issues of, among others, “poverty and homelessness, the mentally ill, incest, and sexual abuse”. He went on to say that “the unconscious also shows up a lot in [his] work”, which certainly makes sense as there is a clear dreamlike quality to the way in which such diverse objects get woven together. In terms of the source of his material, when Bennett says he uses ‘found objects’, he typically means found in the trash. Interestingly, he explicitly prefers American trash. “I ship a lot of the things down here”, he told me, “…in Mexico, they have a different kind of trash”. He went on to explain the obvious, that Americans tend to throw away things that Mexicans would never dream of getting rid of, and this point seemed to redouble the weight of his commentary on American culture, on what we find worth holding on to. Having said that, he does occasionally find objects in old Mexican markets, incorporating them from time to time in a sort of whimsical Mexican aesthetic that compliments the antiquated American imagery.
From the street entrance
My good friend and Andrews Gallery assemblage-artist Michael McAlister warned me in advance of my visit to Mr. Bennett’s studio that I would surely run into the ghost of Joseph Cornell. I must say, as impossible as it would be for anyone to replicate Cornell’s wondrous works, Bennett channels his spirit well. If you are down in San Miguel and haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to get in touch with him, I know he’ll show you the same hospitality he did me. For the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait until he makes his return stateside, a return I highly anticipate.
Loved seeing SD CityBeat down in San Miguel (Bennett was a past featured cover artist)
For more on Joseph Bennet visit his website: http://www.artbybennett.com