Showing their true colours

Showing their true colours

An American artist uses bright colours to turn portraits of ordinary people into something far more special, writes Ariel Conant

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Stephen Bennett says art should be about people, not fame and fortune
Stephen Bennett says art should be about people, not fame and fortune
Photo: The Venetian Macao

coverfacesoflight.artgildfhnn.1facesoflightwithstephenbennettstephenbennett-port.jpg

Bennett offers tips for students from Macao Polytechnic Institute
Bennett offers tips for students from Macao Polytechnic Institute
Photo: The Venetian Macao

coverfacesoflight.artgildfhnn.1facesoflightwithstephenbennettstephenbennett-port.1.jpg

Bennett offers tips for students from Macao Polytechnic Institute
Bennett offers tips for students from Macao Polytechnic Institute
Photo: The Venetian Macao

A bustle of activity ran through the room as American artist Stephen Bennett called out: "only 60 more seconds!"

Visual arts students from Macao Polytechnic Institute, taking part in a portrait-painting lesson, hurried to finish their paintings. The room was full of bright colours and smiling faces.

The workshop was part of the opening ceremony for Bennett's exhibition, "Faces of Light", held at the Venetian Macao last month.

Bennett offered the students tips and encouragement as they painted their portraits in the vibrant, multi-coloured style for which Bennett is known.

"Students in Hong Kong and Macau seem to be in touch with art here," Bennett said. "They seem more relaxed" than Western students.

Bennett has spent the past two decades travelling around the globe. He's visited more than 30 countries, holding workshops with countless students.

"I try to get to know the local teachers and find out where there's a need [for more exposure to art]," he said. "As an artist, you're often seen as an outsider. But as a teacher, you're someone who [is] invited in.

"People are more relaxed with you when you're a teacher, I've found."

Bennett draws inspiration for his own art by getting involved in local communities. His large-scale portraits are of individuals he has met on his travels. He captures the spirit of each person using a "hyper-realist" style, which is almost like a photo, and focuses on the imperfections that make each face unique.

"The paintings are all about people, finding out how their inadequacies can be perceived as beautiful," Bennett said. "Everyone is equal. No matter who they are, no matter where they are, they're important."

For each face, Bennett selects unique colour combinations. Some portraits explode with a wild rainbow of neon colours, while others are more subdued with natural shades.

But all the faces stare out of the canvas and gradually draw the viewer in.

Bennett hopes these faces show the spirit and life of native people from across the world.

"The people who I enjoy painting the most are outsiders, the people who are on the fringes," he said. "They're the ones that keep the traditions going. They're the soul of [a] country, the essence of it."

Bennett hopes his artwork can encourage more young people to explore their own creativity.

"You can be an artist and be successful and do it by having fun," he said. "You can do it easily if you persist and you enjoy [yourself]. If you're passionate, you will attract success."

But Bennett stressed that art shouldn't be about fame and fortune, but people.

"I paint because I love people," he said. "And I want to inspire young artists to work and to persevere."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Showing their true colours

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