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Michael Bennett in Berlin

WORDS BY TODD WILLIAMS – PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICK BOWERS

Whether at work in his studio or showing on a global stage, Michael Bennett’s humility compliments his craft. Member of Higher Grounds Studios, Bennett’s works are held in private collections throughout Australia, London, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Tokyo, Oslo, Toronto and Copenhagen. Spending his time between Australia and Berlin we meet the man and discover the inner workings of his art, which is inspired by emotion and intimately connected to its surroundings.


Inside Michael’s Berlin studio.

ABSTRACTION ENCOURAGES BOTH visual and mental investigation, rather than functioning to obscure or adjust an existing image, theme or narrative. The use of found materials alongside tactile surfaces and evidence of human interaction help develop a sense of history and relatable existence within each of Michael Bennett’s works. This fusion of nostalgic sensibility and the universal languages of form, colour and scale ensures his work remains untainted, approachable and completely open to interpretation, whilst maintaining an aesthetic appeal and visual comfort.

Michael is a self-taught artist whose work and practice both focus on the idea of acknowledging the present moment, as well as concepts of inner exploration and personal perception. Working predominantly in the field of painting, as well as sculpture and installation, the works contain a sense of humanity and personality. In particular, they explore the sense of stillness and inner focus experienced during the creative process.

Regardless of the form, the works are always open to individual interpretation. Here, we gain some insight into Bennett’s own interpretations.

TODD WILLIAMS: So tell me a bit about the English-born Australian living in Berlin. What is the progression and how did this movement come about? Is this now home?

MICHAEL BENNETT: For now Berlin is my new home as an English-born Australian, yes. After starting my creative endeavours in Sydney and living there for many years I decided it was time to take my life and work somewhere different in search of new inspiration, motivation and exciting opportunities. Berlin seemed a natural choice.

“I DON’T THINK I WILL EVER STOP CREATING… IT IS NOT IMPORTANT TO PRODUCE A CERTAIN TYPE OF WORK, OR A CERTAIN NUMBER OF WORKS. IT’S ABOUT SUCCUMBING TO THE URGE TO CREATE.”

When did you first realise this was your thing?

It was really only a few years ago that I realised completely that my true passion lay in visual arts. I have always been intrigued and interested by the arts and all of its creative fields. It was graphic design at first, but as time went on it became apparent to me that I was enjoying my personal art-making practice much more than my job, so I decided to make the transition. This transition, I suppose, was really more of a commitment that just felt right. I don’t think I will ever stop creating works. For me it is not important to produce a certain type of work, or a certain number of works, for a particular reason. It’s about succumbing to the urge to create.

We are all influenced by something during the course of our creative process. Who or what has influenced your work? Are you forever chasing the perfect composition?

Artistic peers are a source of inspiration and motivation to work hard and stay true to yourself. Personally, I would say that both my artistic process and finished works have a continual flow of influences that I draw upon, rather than one particular event or moment. I’m largely influenced by my direct surroundings, my general appreciation for geometry within in our world — whether natural or man-made — as well as my mood and emotional wellbeing.

For me it is also incredibly important to be confident and trust yourself. If you are at peace with yourself in all aspects of life you can truly unveil these emotions and subconscious thoughts without having to force anything, which is integral to creating work as revealing and exposing as mine. Follow your heart. Think less and do more.

As far as chasing a perfect composition, I’m not sure it will ever happen, but nearly every day I come across things that are truly beautiful, well-balanced and visually stimulating.

It’s all about perception.

Earlier work denotes dada/pop tones moving into a contemporary feel. Is this representative of the evolution of your work?

Yes, I suppose this comparison does somewhat represent the development within my work. My earlier work certainly had a stronger and more direct connection to dadaism with additional hints of pop art, whilst my more recent works may be seen as a more stripped-back and honest. These progressions are very natural and unforced, driven by the desire to explore new things and not become limited or stuck too far inside a comfort zone, which is very important for an artist.


Wisdom of Stillness.

Art is very subjective in nature. What best describes the general reaction that people have to your art?

Many people say they feel calm or at peace when they view my work, which I really like and appreciate. The works are created to suggest rather than forcefully direct. They are open for interpretation and provide a visual catalyst for inner discovery, similar to the effects of meditation and mindfulness.

So, we are now the proud owners of a one of your paintings, something we’ve been chasing for a while now. What people see within your work can vary quite considerably. What comments have you had? What do you see? Is it purely geometry and abstraction or are there varying elements of emotion and symbolism?

The audience constantly views new and different things in my work, which I think is great — after all, in my opinion that is what they are all about. They are designed to stimulate without bias or particular narratives and encourage individual exploration. I endeavour to create work which is open enough to allow for multiple visual outcomes, determined by the viewer on a personal

level. It is important to me that my works remain abstract enough for the viewer to become completely immersed, providing a platform and the freedom to explore each image and create their own conclusions. I hope they are not limited to those of visually recognisable or literal ones, but also spiritual and emotional; reactionary and instinctive rather than over-thought and formulated.


Tools of the trade.

What does your creative process entail? Are there key elements in creating a good piece of art? Do you have any rituals when working on a series or piece?

I have a very personal connection with each of my works and my process reflects that. I have no set ritual or procedure, I try and let myself be as free, expressive and impulsive as possible, especially during the early stages. When creating a body of work I purposely try not to look too far forward to the final result, rather, I let the journey happen organically and create an appropriate solution once the time arrives.

It is particularly important within my practice to eliminate as many potential distractions as possible. By removing myself from the outside influences associated with daily life, I allow my mind and current state of focus to direct me. This way I can harness my most honest and true personal expressions in a visual form.

I’m not afraid to take risks, try new things and seemingly destroy something for the greater good or benefit of the final piece. Being too precious or attached to elements of the work during its creation hinders and compromises the honesty and integrity of the work, which I value highly. So I suppose the lack of ritual and complete freedom is the only consistency within my work.

What is the key element in creating a good mixed-media piece?

As far as I’m concerned a strong mixed-media piece doesn’t require a certain formula or combination of particular materials in a specific way. Rather, I think that [it should be] a cohesive, well-balanced and intriguing work which the audience feels compelled to investigate and spend time with.

Favourite show? Yours or otherwise…

It is nearly impossible to say, but the Mark Rothko room at the Tate Modern in London will be forever in my memory. The power and undeniable presence of those works are nothing short of incredible!

Has anything in particular had substantial effect on the progression of your work or you as an artist?

I will never forget — once, during school, I was asked ‘What is art?’… This seemingly limitless open-ended question, with its enormously stimulating and thought-provoking qualities, certainly had a substantial impact. This combined with realisations, awakenings in other aspects of my life have certainly had immeasurable effects and I’m sure will continue to do so.

Future plans?

To continue making work I’m excited about and enjoy the process. END


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