Artist Interview: Graham Bennett - Art Collector

25 July 2011

New Zealand artist Graham Bennett will be featured by Whitespace Contemporary Art at Auckland Art Fair this year. Bennett discusses his influences, ideas and the eclectic choice of music he plays in his studio.

Graham Bennett, Auger Augur. Courtesy: the artist

Can you tell me about what you are working on at the moment?

Completing a series called Weighting and Waiting. These works comprise a (flimsy) mechanism akin to a time piece with the measure on the last quadrant. I am thinking about our impact on the globe, the measures we take and make, and how we fool ourselves.

What will you be showing at the Auckland Art Fair?

Auger – Augur, a 4.8 meter stainless steel column with 18 flights of an auger twisted in two different directions atop a painted hemisphere/globe and mounted on a wind sensitive bearing. I feel that current technologies offer a sense of precision; the sparkle of bling and an improbable construct. Also, I think that highly reflective surfaces engage the surrounding environment and hopefully give pause for us to reflect on our actions.

You were trained in photography, but your recent works all seem to be sculptural. What made you make the transition?

At art school I found black and white photography fascinating. Then I played with the blacks and whites, bleaching, over-painting, cutting out, reassembling and what resulted was a raft of sequential works. The photograph itself gradually disappeared and was replaced by a different, constructed reality. A description of an early exhibition of my work included an intriguing question – is this fat drawing or thin sculpture?

Are there elements of the photograph, or the photographic gaze in your works?

Notions of photography are important tools in my thinking, especially in the seeing and analyzing process. I always think about isolation, slices of vision, windows and frames.

How do you begin working on a new piece? Do you have a set procedure, or a routine to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally when you begin a new work?

I have a spacious thinking/planning room in the roof space of my house. My process is chaotic with numerous ideas on numerous tables and work surfaces all calling out to me … I draw a lot, make notes, make maquettes which centre around questions regarding the appropriate scale and the choice of materials.

The recent earthquakes really shook up this space, and ideas from way back literally reappeared on top of current works in progress – adding to the cranial scramble.

Do you listen to music when you work?

Music is always part of my workspace. I enjoy a range of music from Toru Takemitsu to the Cinematic Orchestra but I often choose Jan Garbarek’s collaborations. Currently I seem to have (on repeat) a selection of 60’s blues mixed with The National – the latter courtesy of my daughter.

What do you enjoy doing on your days away from the studio?

I enjoy maintaining my properties both at home and at the workshop. I love the smell of newly mown grass [and] spending time (plus thinking about spending time) at our bach by the sea - 6 hours away - is always pleasurable. I need a regular fix of the sea and time for reading and more drawing.

Which artists, thinkers, politicians, public figures do you look up to?

During my time in Barcelona in my formative years, exhibitions of the works of Tapies and Miro had an impact on me. The skills and techniques of early Pacific navigators have also long been a source of fascination.

I have exhibited a number of times in Japan and the aesthetics exemplified in Japanese gardens and traditions of architecture are inspirational. I admire the works of Isamu Noguchi, Anish Kapoor and the structures of Calatrava. The list goes on.

What has been the most interesting response you have received from an audience member after they’ve seen your works?

Children’s responses have been the most memorable – two come to mind. Firstly, a class of eight-year olds from Hong Kong wrote letters of thanks for a talk about my exhibition. Each responded with genuine enthusiasm, in their own way, to different aspects of the work that had appealed – such a range of fresh responses.

Secondly, two little girls spontaneously dancing with outstretched arms absorbed in mimicking the potential movement of my work
Reasons for Voyaging – the entrance sculpture outside the Christchurch Art Gallery.

I like to think the work is done when I exhibit a piece and feel my talking can be limiting or clumsy. What others bring to it is a better next step in engagement.

Graham Bennett will be exhibiting with Whitespace Contemporary Art at the Auckland Art Fair 4-7 August 2011.

Amy Yang

Graham Bennett, Auger Augur. Courtesy: the artist

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