Gretchen Frances Bennett: Air, the free or unconfined space above the surface of the earth

February 16 – June 2, 2019

Working primarily in drawing, Seattle-based artist Gretchen Frances Bennett explores visual perception at the intersection of personal and historical memory. Her atmospheric color pencil translations of personal photographs and artifacts of popular media convey the emotional potency of everyday moments, paradoxically seeking to articulate ineffable aspects of subjective experience that elude documentation. Acknowledging the fragmentary and intermediary nature of her source material, Bennett often includes “surface evidence” within her drawings, like accidental tears in the original photograph, the grain of lo-fi digital video imagery, or the color imbalances of inkjet print-outs.

Air, the free or unconfined space above the surface of the earth describes, in Bennett’s words, “a shifting self,” bringing key works from the last ten years together with five new drawings and a collaborative slideshow that reflect the artist’s ongoing search for freedom, authenticity, and interconnection. The new works radiate outward from a pivotal moment in 2017 when, prompted by her mother’s death, Bennett retraced a family trip to Bratislava, Slovakia, seeking to rediscover the wonder and openness of her youth. Her meditation on the fluidity of pre-adolescence—evidenced here by interpretations of resonant depictions of that time of life, like the film Tomboy (2011) by French director Céline Sciamma—coincided with a personal awakening which provoked broader questions about the contingency of individual identity and the interrelatedness of all things. Bennett’s recent drawings organize the internal sources that guide her process and give pattern to personal signifiers, while also seeking ways to communicate transcendent experiences.

Slowly building each image through the accumulation of tiny, interlocking markings, the artist sees her drawings as energy nets that retain the time and attention she puts into them. Bennett offers this energy to others through the interface of her drawings, and in the context of this exhibition, refracts it through the camera-eye of local artist Paulo Castillo, who has contributed a series of photographs inspired by the moods and references embedded in Bennett’s recent work. The air—that “unnamed element of mystery”—suspended in and between the artists’ images, here becomes the essential subject of the show. As Bennett writes, “To talk about the ‘air’ of things is to let some space hang—between what’s revealed and what reveals itself.”

Gretchen Frances Bennett’s (American, b. 1960, Portland, Oregon) recent projects include the exhibitions Becoming American, San Juan Island, WA (2018); Fire in the Mountains, Jackson, WY (2018); and The Rough Draft of Everything, Bridge Productions, Seattle, WA (2017). She has read her writing at the Holiday Forever Gallery, Jackson, WY (2017) and as part of the series This Might Not Work at INCA, Seattle, WA (2016). In 2014, Bennett received the Seattle Art Museum’s Betty Bowen Special Recognition Award and completed postgraduate work at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is presently at work on her first collection of essays.

Gretchen Frances Bennett: Air, the free or unconfined space above the surface of the earth is organized by the Frye Art Museum and curated by Amanda Donnan. Generous support is provided by Vulcan, Inc.

Gretchen Frances Bennett. Vesna is Spring, Venus is Venus. 2017. Graphite pencil on Japanese screen paper. 38 x 66 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jueqian Fang.

Gretchen Frances Bennett. Sunburst, from Céline Sciamma’s film, ‘Tomboy’, 2018. Colored pencil on paper. 38 x 50 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jueqian Fang.

Gretchen Frances Bennett. Blue Like Nevermind (Last Days), 2008. Colored pencil on paper. 13 x 20 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Steven Miller.

Gretchen Frances Bennett. Geometries, 2018. Colored pencil on paper. 38 x 50 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jueqian Fang.

Gretchen Frances Bennett. Honeymoon View with Windscreen and Small Tear, 2016. Colored pencil on paper. 38 x 50 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jueqian Fang.

Gretchen Frances Bennett. Vesna is Spring, Venus is Venus. 2017. Graphite pencil on Japanese screen paper. 38 x 66 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jueqian Fang.

Gretchen Frances Bennett. Sunburst, from Céline Sciamma’s film, ‘Tomboy’, 2018. Colored pencil on paper. 38 x 50 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jueqian Fang.

Gretchen Frances Bennett. Blue Like Nevermind (Last Days), 2008. Colored pencil on paper. 13 x 20 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Steven Miller.

Gretchen Frances Bennett. Geometries, 2018. Colored pencil on paper. 38 x 50 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jueqian Fang.

Gretchen Frances Bennett. Honeymoon View with Windscreen and Small Tear, 2016. Colored pencil on paper. 38 x 50 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jueqian Fang.