Amy Bennett: Small Changes Every Day
September 10 – October 22, 2016
Richard Heller Gallery, Santa Monica
By Shana Nys Dambrot
How I have walked… day after day, and all alone, to see if there was not something among the old things which was new! –Thomas Cole
Amy Bennett channels Thomas Cole and other Hudson River School painters in her latest exhibition, a series of oil paintings on canvas depicting the gradual transformation of pristine New England-style wilderness into farmland and townships — changes she herself inflicted over a four-year period on the 8-foot square 3D miniature model she built in her studio. Out of handmade mountains, verdant forests and sparkling rivers, she cleared crops, roads, and pastures. Over the years, she eventually fabricated and arranged over 450 wooden buildings in 1/500 scale — barns, churches, houses, industrial buildings, storefronts, silos, and schools. Her daily pausing to document the progress of this analog game of The Sims comes to resemble a kind of time-lapse of this self-generating fantasy as it was unfolding.
Cole was laudably conscious that he was working at the precipice of industrial domination that would come to define the 19th century. He was painting his beloved Hudson River Valley in both elegy and eulogy, as pristine gave way to agricultural gave way to townships, industry, cities and eventual defilement. But save the perennial trope of the smoldering lightning-blasted tree trunk in his foregrounds, his was not an aesthetic of doom. Like Bennett’s it was pastoral, majestic, dreamlike, and even though it was based on real locations, it too breathed the clean country air of dreams, fantasy, memory and poetry. Often he found a view that juxtaposed expanses of virgin landscape with early, yet affectingly picturesque incursions along the very lines of Bennett’s genteel proliferation of farm houses, elegant country manors, fishponds, proper villages, and tilled fields.
Bennett’s sensibility may hearken back over a century, but her techniques and approaches to space, perspective, and detail are thoroughly modern. She demonstrates a lot of action in the salient nexus between abstraction and representation, as her loose brushwork both evokes dreamlike haze and post-effects of photography and her low, forced aerial perspective is distinctly drone-informed. Despite the narrative arc of a certain oppression of nature by the growing needs of our population, the endpoint of her game remains rural and nostalgic in its archetypal small town linearity, so much more organic than the tumult of any city. The gentle but persistent changes wrought to her miniature world were artist-directed, strengthening the case for reading the story as a personal allegory of self, as well as a formal meditation on the nature of perception and the passage of time.