Folksy, Funky and Fun
Bayou City Art Festival’s Featured Artist Amanda Bennett Defies Convention
By Cheryl Alexander
Amanda Bennett, this year’s Bayou City Art Festival Featured Artist, is a self-taught, mixed media artist who has fused together acrylic paint and photographs on plywood to create her own unique, folksy style that is as hip as it gets. The images she creates are iconic and evocative. Baby boomers, gen-Xers and millennials alike are unable to view Bennett’s art without triggering a memory. It’s funky, it’s retro, it’s Southern and it’s way cool.
Bennett’s own interest and affinity for pop art has heavily influenced her creations. “I am drawn to and seek to create familiar images that people are drawn to,” she explained. “I think my work is kind of an abstract-pop art combination that people seem to really relate to.”
Bennett remembers painting with her grandmother as a child, who used a spatula as her primary tool. “All the paintings I ever saw were painted with a spatula,” said Bennett, “so when I eventually started to paint, I used a Rubbermaid spatula.” She had spent many hours watching her grandmother do it, so she simply copied what she had seen.
Though Bennett’s artistic spark was ignited as a child and encouraged by her creative grandmother and mother, it wasn’t until years later, staring at the blank walls of her loft in Birmingham, Alabama, where she was teaching school, that Bennett rediscovered her passion for the process of creation. Though she began painting out of a need to be practical in her youthful poverty, her resourcefulness inspired her to develop her own style.
Like her grandmother, who taught a young Amanda that “perfect was boring,” Bennett describes herself as an outsider who doesn’t follow the rules because she doesn’t know them. She learned to accept mistakes and challenge convention by doing things with her art that others might not ever consider, like creating art on brown paper bags or transferring photos that she builds digitally and then painting on them—which is the type of art she’s being celebrated for at the Bayou City festival.
An Alabama native, Bennett eventually moved to Nashville where she worked successfully in sales before getting serious about her art. As a singer in a local band, she found a stimulus for her art in music. Soon her signature guitars could be found hanging on the walls of local hot spots.
When she finally decided to relinquish the constraints of a nine to five world, her art began to change, morphing from primarily abstracts to her now fully fantastic mixed media. In this style, Bennett has married a few of her favorite things—mid-century advertising, acrylic mediums and photography— to formulate a recognizable, “pop art-inspired, funk style, mash-up on plywood.”
She began showing her art in 2010, and the encouragement of friends. Initially, Bennett’s foray into shows was simple, close to home and low impact, such as coffee houses and the Pancakes & Booze pop up shows.
“Those shows were great vehicles for me,” she explained. “As a ‘new’ artist, I gained confidence in shows where I could hang three or four pieces without a lot of intimidation.”
Those venues allowed Bennett to make some good sales and establish some commercial connections where she eventually began to sell more volume.
Recently, Bennett moved to New Orleans, where she can be found photographing the locals and their hangouts, capturing the Southern soul and flavor of the Big Easy and the other plethora of interesting places along the Mississippi Delta.
“I’m totally a Southern girl through and through,” said Bennett. She admits that she’s considered moving away from the South many times to places some consider more cosmopolitan and forward-thinking, but she just can’t seem to escape the richness of her Southern roots. Her latest series demonstrates her Deep South perspective in a story told through photographs.
Her series and individual pieces typically begin as an item on a “To-Do” list she keeps on her phone. When an idea pops into her head when she’s travelling or even those midnight inspirations, she records them to jog her memory, sort through and filter. Some make it to the plywood board and some are discarded. But Bennett says she doesn’t sketch anything, “I just dive in and get going.”
This is the third time she has shown her art at the Bayou City Art Festival which will be held this year on March 24-26. She loves traveling the country, meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends. She relishes interacting with art enthusiasts and consumers and cultivating relationships with clients and different galleries. However, Bennett never strays far from her grandmother’s easel, where she draws inspiration from the spirit and style of her first teacher. For more information, visit bennettartgallery.com.