Poetry in motion

Joan Sullivan
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'Dark Horse' exhibition full of energy and grace

"A horse is a fantastic thing to paint," visual artist Greg Bennett is quoted as saying in the "Dark Horse" catalogue.

"The inherent sense of power/peacefulness in their nature can both enthrall and frighten. I wanted to paint something designed and orchestrated for painting, to take more control over the entire process. I also wanted to put movement and action back into my painting."

I hadn't noticed a lack of motion in Bennett's paintings. His canvases, inspired by film stills from "Valley of the Dolls," were blurred lenses of voyeuristic action, while a series on bonfires was awhirl and aflare with sparks.

Greg Bennetts Wizard Be Great I Oil on canvas 2009 Submitted photo

"A horse is a fantastic thing to paint," visual artist Greg Bennett is quoted as saying in the "Dark Horse" catalogue.

"The inherent sense of power/peacefulness in their nature can both enthrall and frighten. I wanted to paint something designed and orchestrated for painting, to take more control over the entire process. I also wanted to put movement and action back into my painting."

I hadn't noticed a lack of motion in Bennett's paintings. His canvases, inspired by film stills from "Valley of the Dolls," were blurred lenses of voyeuristic action, while a series on bonfires was awhirl and aflare with sparks.

But (I think) I do see what he means. The brunt of his imagery has been still, composed and, most importantly, often juxtaposed in dreamy, at times disquieting, pairings. Activity was often submerged in the paint, surfacing in reflected, askant views. Whereas "Dark Horse" is primarily concerned with energy: skittish, intent, harnessed, released, encased in creatures built to run.

This exhibition includes eight oil-on-canvas paintings, all of good size, all from 2009 (when Bennett was artist-in-residence at The Rooms). They are full of natural colours, light and dark beiges and browns, lit and underscored by buffs and creams, with the occasional radiant pool of a red bulb or lashings of white roofing struts for oomph and contrast.

The horses are composed of gorgeous, athletic lines. They are concentrations of muscle and grace. Every line fuses movement and character.

You could call these paintings portraits, as most clearly centre and show the horse's face and eyes, but more accurately they are portraits of action, and the potential for action, asking: what horse is ever still? What single line of heft or sinew of any horse is ever still? Altogether they configure an expressionistic poetry in motion.

Bennett has also succeeded in wedging a kind of realism and surrealism together. Every painting is recognizable as showing a horse. But there are layers and time lapses of observation and manipulations of paint embedding a spectrum of views or even other times. They are attuned to and follow each animal's own altering vigour.

These horses are all shown inside, in an interior space, a track or a stable, with backgrounds of wooden grids and pods of artificial illumination. The pieces include "Dodger," "Dark Horse I," "Dark Horse II," "Wizard Be Great II," "Hay Burner," "Tango," "Wizard Be Great I,' and "Roger."

Bennett hasn't lost his taste for couplings and doublings. These are all duets. Sometimes they are almost mirror images of each other, as in "Roger" and "Dodger," or "Wizard Be Great I" and "II." In others, elements shift, with the scene seeming to move a beat ahead. In "Dark Horse I," the horse's face is pulsed out by a strobe of red and white light, then in "Dark Horse II," we have the same view, but the shape of the horse is unobstructed. In "Hay Burner," the moving horse has a blurred face, while in "Tango" that horse has now turned and tossed its head, which appears molten and fused and draped like a mummer's mask, while its right foreleg has become somewhat abstract and elongated.

This is Bennett's way of pulling form from canvas; that's how it feels, like a dynamic process, a wrestling. The kinesis of the subject has been attentively distilled; the dark horse, of course, is the one to keep your eye on.

"Dark Horse" continues at The Rooms until March 21.

Organizations: Bennett's, The Rooms

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