Chris Bennie

Opening at The Arts Centre this weekend, On Top, In Front is a playful and intriguing exhibition by the Coast’s Chris Bennie.

We speak with Chris about challenging audiences understanding of art and his habit of placing things on top and in front of one another.

Tell us about your upcoming exhibition at The Arts Centre

On Top, In Front has stemmed from personal reflection on ten years of art making and the observance of a process that I seem to regularly employ – placing something on top, or in front of something else. It provides my audience the opportunity to see the pluralism of my interests and will include work familiar to local audiences including The Kissing Swans (2013) and The Waves (2015) as well as new pieces. I’m excited about the diversity of a show grounded through a coherent and consistent methodology. 

Is there a piece you can’t wait to unveil?

I’m keen to see how the experiments I’ve made using video, photography, painting and collage create a dynamic experience for visitors to the Gold Coast City Gallery’s foyer. It will be clear I’ve included pieces that could be considered challenging in terms of a general understanding of art. However it’s my hope people will spend time with the exhibition, seeking out nuances and subtleties within and between the works.

How long have you been showcasing your art on the Gold Coast?

I studied Fine Art at Griffith University, graduating with a Bachelors Degree in 2002, an Honours Degree in 2003 and a Doctorate in 2009. I’ve been exhibiting in the region and nationally consistently since my undergraduate degree and have had my work shown in the Gold Coast City Gallery numerous times. In 2012 my work The Western Fields was awarded the Gold Coast Art Prize by judge Dr Campbell Gray, Director University of Queensland Art Museum, and in 2013 I won the Swell Sculpture Festival with my transformed flood-affected caravan The Kissing Swans (2013), judged by Julie Ewington, Curatorial Manager Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.

How do you describe the type of art you create?

My work could be described as spontaneously developed reconsiderations of authentic experience within contexts and frameworks of the spectacle of contemporary existence, including its perceived homogeneity, with an emphasis on ridiculousness and play.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Everywhere. In particular the glaring paradoxes I see daily. The Gold Coast has many including an obvious dichotomy between the majesty of the ocean to our east and the absurdity of say Cavill Avenue at 2am on a Saturday night. However I draw my motivation to make art from highly considered and unique reflections on contemporary existence that other contemporary artists seem to make. Sculptors like Mark Manders and Isa Genzken provide incredibly satisfying proposals for what sculpture can be at the same time as making us question their use of materials and conceptual concerns.

How do you see the art culture on the Gold Coast?

Art and culture seem to mean different things to different people on the Gold Coast. After spending 10 years at a university engaging in the fantastically complex, dynamic and flawed history of art in order to be armed enough to contribute to it in unique and potentially lasting ways, I find it confusing and somewhat problematic that entertainment and café culture is included in the regions assumption of what culture is. Clearly culture is developed within a social framework, and cafe culture is valuable in that regard. However I’d like to see support and possibly even findings funneled towards more non-traditional forms of culture – ones that might make us look at ourselves in new ways. This should include a more dynamic public art strategy, the implementation of a Gold Coast Art Biennale (event) and the re-establishment of a dedicated visual art degree at Griffith University on the Gold Coast. That said the regions’ support for theatre and music seems to be growing.

Tell us about your career up to this point, how did you come to be where you are?

Persistence and a desire to always portray or unearth a new project or artwork. I’m very lucky to be able to work as a lecturer in Visual Art at Griffith University, which supports my art practice while providing incredible joy in the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with new artists. 

What else is happening in the world of Chris Bennie?

My ongoing project New Bodies of Water consists of dozens of amateur landscape paintings, on which I have over-painted any water (rivers, lakes, ocean) in burgundy acrylic paint, was recently included in Sculpture at Scenic World in the Blue Mountains. At the same time I presented a major solo exhibition titled Mood Swings at Pop Gallery in Brisbane that featured a commissioned essay by Brisbane curator Miranda Hine and an accompanying catalogue that can be downloaded form my website. I’m currently very busy with work at Griffith, it’s assessment time and I have a lot of marking to do. Once that’s complete I will begin developing new work for a solo exhibition for the Clutch Collective – an artist run initiative in Brisbane who present art projects in a large white removalist truck. In September a photograph from the project New Bodies of Water will be a finalist in the Sunshine Coast Art Prize.

Your favourite piece of life advice…

Eat well, enjoy your own company, enjoy the company of others, exercise daily, read, get off social media, leave the house often, get petrol on the way home, dance in the kitchen…

Being a Gold Coast local we have to ask your favourites…

Beach: Burleigh in summer on Wednesday mornings for the free surf swim sessions
Café: Bam Bam Bakehouse
Gallery: The Walls Artspace, 18 Mountainview Ave, Miami

Weekend hang: Pacific Fair