Nature Configurations: Sandra Benny at the Massillon Museum
With the weather changing here in North East Ohio, may I suggest a trip to Massillon Museum’s Studio M to look at the mood-altering drawings of Sandra Benny? The gallery is an explosion of color like a tropical botanical garden. The drawings fill the room with marriages between feathers and flowers. It is the first time that I noticed the gallery walls are light gray.
I stood staring at the layering of alternating flowers and feathers in her Nature Layers drawings. The dimensionality and depth are transfixing. The feather appears to be flowing just behind these floral ribbons of color. If a flower were to dream, it would dream of flight. Benny’s images have a dreamlike quality to them, informing the relationship between flower and feather, altering and flowing in different patterns. The spatial relationship between layers is weaving, and each layer is interrupting the next as they meld together, creating a stunning composition.
Benny’s paintings have this subtle movement to them like waves hitting the shore on a lazy summer day. A waltz between two beautiful images. I saw this exhibit twice, once at the opening, and once alone in the gallery. I felt stimulated by the drawings at the gallery opening in a room full of people. Viewing the show solely, I felt my breathing slow as I walked through the gallery; it was relaxing. You can feel the kindness of the creator of these experiences when you interact with them.
I asked Emily Vigil, curator for Studio M, to speak on her selection of Sandra Benny for exhibition, she responded:
One thing that is remarkable about Sandra’s work is the way that she combines the two types of imagery (floral elements and feathers) in subtly different ways in each piece. I love how you can see “through” the horizontal bands of botanical images to continuous feathers, as you can see in “Disparate Nature I”. And in the artwork, “Nature Zones”, she compresses and stretches out the petal elements so that they become concentrated bands of texture and color that offset the variety of colorful feathers in between. I am amazed at how she can balance many colors (indeed many bright colors) with such elegance. It is not easy to do, but I think she pulls it off because she often has one repeated, high key color, like the yellow in “Nature Zones.” I think this is the most colorful show we have had to date in this Studio M space.
The feathers are all drawn from actual feathers from the multitude of boxes of feathers she owns. Benny possesses expansive knowledge of feathers and has given lectures on them at Bronx Zoo Ornithology Department. The image details are meticulous, right down to the barbs and after feather (the fluffy bottom part). Sandra Benny said that no two feathers are alike. She finds beauty in their unique qualities.
The flowers she draws are from her gardens, but when she cannot draw from life, she draws from her own photos, attaching importance to the ownership of the image. She invests an enormous amount of time and energy invested in each.
I heard Benny say at the opening that she finds feathers and flowers to be sexy. You can feel the artist’s excitement towards her subject matter as you walk about the gallery. Sandra Benny’s work is essential because of awareness it brings to the infinite beauty of Nature. Her images have a silk-like quality to them. It reminds me of the softness of an Owl or Hawk feather when you stroke it across your cheek, a feeling both soothing and stimulating simultaneously.
In several of her drawings, the scale is altered to a microscopic view, like in her Nature Fragment series. She wants you to experience the multifaceted beauty when you take the time to investigate a flower or a feather. It has said that the heart cannot grieve what the eye does not see. The way Sandra Benny forces you to see nature is also supporting and caring for the environment in that the viewing will gain a more profound concern for what they see.
Benny’s inspiration comes from nature, but the creativity of her family nurtures her and her craft. Her husband, Richard Vaux, is the painter of light, which contrasts and compliments Benny’s drawings. Their son, Joe Vaux, is a distinctive fine artist but is known for his storyboard art and directing for the widely known series, Family Guy. Creativity begets creativity like the interaction of the sun and the flowers and the flying pollinators; this family is a creative ecosystem.
Sandra Benny’s drawing will be on view until December 1st, 2019. The Massillon Museum, studio M is located 121 Lincoln Way, Massillon, Ohio, 44646, Second floor. You can view more of Sandra Benny’s work on her very clever website.