Oil painter Jenna Von Benedikt has been preparing for “Spirited Skies,” a new show at Gallery Wild Santa Fe opening November 17th. Her works often draw attention for their serene beauty and playful hummingbirds that flit through many of her compositions. Her perspective is unique as a western artist who was born in England and has now built her home and family in Idaho. She has a Bachelors of Fine Art from BYU, where she also had the opportunity to study abroad in Florece, Italy. Her art is highly influenced by the colors she observes in nature and the places she has been, natural or urban.
We were curious about how her personal journey has informed her art practice, and how living in the American west influences her work. Jenna welcomed our curiosity and gave us some wonderful insight into her life and recent artistic influences. Here’s what she had to say in response to our questions:
You started out abstract painting when pursuing your degree, how did your work develop from that way of thinking to where it is now?
My first show in college was made purely of abstracts. Bright, bold color that I wanted to show through textures replicated in the Utah scenery— particularly water or craggy rocks. I paint in a similar way today, with lots of layering on a flat surface. I rarely paint upright. I wanted to allow the paint to move naturally with the medium on the surface and not be forced by gravity resulting in drips. Once the textures were created, I could then choose to keep, eliminate or cover them up. I’ve always loved spending time with my backgrounds and find freedom creating subtle spaces for my (hummingbird) subjects now. I wanted to add more to my work than just color. A number of my fellow artists (at the time) were making self-portraits. Instead of following that path, I decided to look up the meaning of Jenna— one of which was 'little bird'— and decided to pursue a personal series in that way.
Silver Wings | Oil on Panel | 40 x 60"
What is your relationship to color? How do you decide to use it?
I adore calming and soothing colors— which is why the whites or magical touches of metallic gold and silvers are so prevalent in my pieces. The spiritual concept of Light vs Dark is important to me, so contrast is key. Other than how I see color (in nature) varying though the seasons- I feel like I actually wear many of these colors, not just admire them on a wall. Would these 'Little Birds’ tell their story within these bold designs— would they still convey a softness and energy through positive or negative spaces?
Joyful Passages | Oil on Panel | 18 x 36"
Swiftly to Victory | Mixed Media | 48 x 60"
What do hummingbirds represent to you? How do you choose your subject matter?
After finding one meaning of Jenna was Little Bird, I could have picked any small bird, I suppose. However— returning again to the Light and Dark contrasts, hummingbirds hold the same qualities to them. So not only do I enjoy that concept for my backgrounds, I enjoy knowing that hummingbirds, when seen in just the right Light, shine those gemstone-colors differently (incredibly vibrant) than at other angles of observation, when they can appear much duller, grey or black. They have an energy, feistiness and spiritual quality to them that make them a pleasure to watch and very magical to observers. I get many at my own home and darting outside my studio.
What has been really inspiring you recently? In/out of the art world?
Many things inspire me— people doing kind, creative things (The Great British baking Show ;)), and people taking the time to make thoughtful art or positive music. It’s Autumn now. I live up a dirt road and the hillsides around me have been on fire with color. There’s a part of me that believes we are made of the same stuff as the planet so when we see a truly striking, colorful scene, it does something to inspire us and make us joyful.
Family Circles | Oil on Panel | 36 x 36"
How does your creative ritual begin?
Busy with four children, I use my time to work during the hours they are at school. Early in the morning, I give myself some devotional time, sometimes write down impressions or thoughts, plan out what has to be achieved, then get to painting-- One layer at a time on several pieces at a time. If there are panels to gesso or other things to prep, I do that towards the end of my time working so I am ready to begin again in the morning. Though I have several sketches hung up on my walls (in ink or graphite) I often dive into lightly sketching the subject on the background when I’m ready. My practices have changed over the years to adjust to family life, better organization and realizing the need to slow down and keep room for inspiration.
Do you listen to music while you paint? What do you listen to?
Always. I love violins and string, dance music, country, today’s hits (according to Pandora radio haha), and gospel. No one musician in particular— it just has to be clean and upbeat. We become what we surround ourselves with, including media I believe, and it influences our day.
Sweeping Horizons | Mixed Media | 24 x 48"
Sparkling Skies | Oil on Panel | 24 x 24"
What do you hope to convey with your pieces?
I don’t ever intend for a heaviness in my work. I want people to recognize the light and joy that is painted and feel happy they saw my work. That’s not shallow— that’s a wonderful thing to uplift and make someone feel good and cheerful or to bring a positive energy and design into someone’s home. Only I know how much fun it was to create a piece, but I do hope they feel more joy and curiosity in their day because of the work.
What does the "West" mean to you and how does it influence your work?
The first two thoughts that come to mind are Open Skies and Freedom. Whether it’s sunsets in the desert or wide expanses seen after hiking on top of a ridge of the Rocky Mountains, the scenery is spectacular & stunning. Open spaces or skies have always been a bridge between the daily grind on earth to something calming and connecting above and the West has a deep history of industry and faith. It’s the place where pioneers and people with ambition knew they could design a different sort of life. I love designing these ethereal, bold, open scenes for my subjects to live in. Having emigrated to the West from Europe myself, my paintings are in many ways, my own story of a different life within the Open, Spirited Skies.
With this perspective into Jenna’s mindset and dedication, her works take on an even more meaningful expression of joy, reverence, and organic beauty. Come experience them in person this November 17th through the 29th under the desert skies of Santa Fe, opening reception on November 17th from 4-7pm.