Charlie Bennell is a Sydney based artist who creates in multiple different mediums, clay, etchings, paintings and digital illustrations name only a few of the creative avenues she excels in. Charlie creates magnificent and dreamy scenes with her incredible techniques and soft palette that make the viewer feel as though they are being transported into an Oasis.
Profile image and image above taken by photographer Magnolia Sparke ( @magnolia.msparke )
Which art form did you start out with, digital or physical and did you ever study either?
I started out with physical mediums in painting. I enjoyed it a lot in high school and went on to study at UNSW Art and Design and Parsons School of Design in New York. However recently I’ve really been enjoying the flexibility of digital mediums a lot because I feel there’s more room for play and experimentation.
Which do you find yourself leaning towards more, digital or physical creating?
I actually don’t think I’m leaning one way or the other, I think both mediums are useful for different reasons. I am finding that digital means of creating is great for collaborations, for example I just did a collaboration with Slowdown Studio making puzzles for the COVID lockdown period using digital sketches which was lots of fun! Physical creating helps me slow down and I love being lost in podcasts or music while I paint and mixing colours. It’s a meditative process for me and helps to clear my mind.
How long have you been creating and when did you feel as though you had started to develop a specific style and artistic profile?
I have been dabbling in creating things since I was young, I used to try and draw the cartoons while I was watching tv! I started learning about painting in my final year of high school and fell in love with it which led to my decision to study it and learn more.
I don’t think I ever felt as though I had to develop a specific style, it happened pretty organically the more I created I just started moving towards a certain thing and it started feeling more myself. When I look through my old sketches and progress dairies I can see little hints of what it has developed into now. I think my work will always continue to develop and change as my personal life does.
How do you come up and create the architectural scenes within your artworks? Are they from spaces and places you have experienced or wish to one day?
A lot of my inspiration came from a trip traveling around Turkey a few years ago and being in awe of all the beautiful architectural ruins in some areas of the country. I am also always inspired by interesting architectural shapes and structures and sometimes I like to mesh them with natural landscapes. I find the contrast in that interesting. This year since travel has been off the cards, a lot of my work has been imagining spaces I am wishing to be experiencing, whether real or more imagined.
Charlie Bennell, Desert Castle, Digital print, 2019.
How do you think the relationship with our surrounding environments effects the mind and how do you create in a response to this?
I use my practice as a means to contemplate the relation of the body and mind to its surrounding environment and the way this relationship informs our lives. It seems there is an elusive kind of disruption in our sense of self that occurs when we lose a sense of connection to our environments and rather begin to see them as the mere space that surrounds us.
I am interested in the architectural aspects of our world that we forget to notice in the fast-paced nature of the day-to-day. I enjoy looking at everyday structures that we pass through unconsciously, like a staircase or a doorway, and playing with formalist ideas around light and shadow and colour. Using minimal/naive lines and vibrant colours is the way I envision a child might see these environments before becoming used to them. The end result is usually something that hovers in the otherworldly, invoking a quiet narrative.
The process of creating is a meditative practice and helps to slow me down. I hope to inspire the same introspection in those who view my art as I get from creating it.
Charlie Bennell, Holman House, Oil on canvas, 2020.
Are ceramics still a large part of your creative output? Do you think there is a relationship between the structure subject matter of your paintings and structural materiality of clay and your ceramics?
I have been working on a ceramic series lately which at the moment has mostly been for my own enjoyment and I haven’t really shared much of what I have created with the medium yet. It has been mostly functional bowls and mugs so far as I find a lot of pleasure in using things I have made everyday.
I hadn’t thought about it before but now that you ask it does seem like there is a link in the structures I create with clay and with paint. I like the idea of taking rigid structures and imbuing them with an emphasis of the imperfect human hand. Architectural buildings that have wonky lines or are slightly slanted and bowls that are a bit wobbly and organic in shape.
I’ve noticed you take a lot of architectural sculptural inspiration into your paintings, have you ever considered replicating this in a smaller scale with your ceramics?
Definitely! I don’t know about replicating them but rather making some vague ceramic shapes inspired by similar subject matter as my paintings. It could be fun to pair them together in an installation.
Who do you draw most of your artistic inspiration from and who do you draw your architectural inspiration from when creating your scenes?
One of my favourite architects, Antti Lovag states he intends for his spaces to be “A place where all artistic expression, beauty, flexibility, harmony and balance leave free rein to the imagination”. I love that and aim to achieve a sense of this in the utopian kind of spaces I create – colour full, naive and minimally minded, to be supportive of constructive energies.
Two of my favourite artistic inspirations are Hilma Af Klint and James Turrell. I saw Hilma Af Klint’s exhibition last year at the Guggenheim while I was living in New York and it was so inspiring. Her abstract renderings that reflect organic matter with such beautiful naive lines has been big influence on my work.
I find James Turrell’s work really amazing in the way he often plays with lighting, empty space, silence, darkness and nature. I was lucky to have been able to see his ‘Perceptual Cell’ work at MONA in Tasmania a few years ago and it was one of the most intense visual experiences I have ever had. The lighting triggers hallucinatory visions which was both overwhelming as well as intimate and meditative.
I am a massive modernist fan and am very jealous you got to visit the Stahl house in Hollywood. Your architecture style varies, do you find yourself more drawn towards modernist styles or organic Gaudi shapes?
Yes, the Stahl house was stunning! I would say I try to convey a sense of both modernist and more organic shapes in my work. As I said earlier, I’m really interested in the way our surrounding external environment greatly reflects our internal landscape and vice versa. Through the pandemic this year and lockdown period I grew more interested in this, especially the impact of spending an abundance of time indoors within the confines of architectural spaces compared with experiences in nature. I have been experimenting with presenting these in unison, indoor living room scenes that are flown and unconfined or even completely outdoors.
I also really love Lovag’s organic shapes like his Le Palais Bulles work and how he almost rejects the current structure and definition of cityscapes and rather dreams of an alternate habitat, as if living in the womb. His whole philosophy is around creating a cell around the person so that it reflects them, believing the architecture should reflect the “inside” and I find that very fascinating.
I love your use of pastels with bright highlight colours, what inspires most of your colour pallets and how important do you believe colours are in your pieces?
I think the way I approach colour is mostly intuitive and I am always searching in daily life for interesting colours and combinations. There are natural relationships between particular sensations and emotions to colour and I pay a lot of attention to this as I am creating to generate an uplifting, supportive feeling. Because in a kind of primal way, colour is a sign of energy.
Sometimes it seems like being colourful or joyful can spark judgement or be dismissed as childish, unserious or too feminine. In a world that feels quite divided and politically polarized at the moment, underneath it all, there is a part in everyone that can access joy and a sense of ease in visual vibrancy and is a reminder of our common humanity and somewhat shared experience of the physical world.
Have you got any exhibitions or new releases of work coming our soon that the readers would be able to follow?
At the moment I am working on a large series of oil paintings that I am hoping to exhibit early next year, stay tuned!
A massive thank you to Charlie for her incredible response, If you would like to see more of her you’ll be able to follow her on instagram ( @charliebennell ) or interact on her website ( http://charliebennell.com/ )which should be up and running soon!