For its grand opening at the end of May 2014, Westport, Connecticut’s newest art hub, the Worrell Smith Gallery housed an exhibition of local creatives, appropriately named “Home.” It was there that we discovered the marvelous world of Nina Bentley. The artist contributed eight pieces to the group show, and each “diorama,” which she refers to as “three dimensional assemblage sculptures,” carried as much charm as it did social import.
Bentley is no emerging artist. In fact, the 75-year-old has been an active part of the Westport scene for many years. “I lived in Europe for about 15 years and then I lived in Larchmont for 15 years, then we moved to Westport,” Bentley shares with CH. There, she’s graced the boards of many arts organizations, all the while pursuing her personal craft. As to why she enjoys exhibiting in the area, she explains, “It’s easy to exhibit locally and it’s a lot of fun because you get a lot of feedback. You think, ‘Don’t you really want to be in New York?’ Not so much. I want to be near my friends and this gallery is just so delicious.”
“I’ve really done everything,” she continues—addressing her painting, sculpture and collage work. Bentley’s drawn much attention for her ornate, sculptural shoes, but began exploring typewriters as a source of inspiration, and other assemblages. “I got more and more involved in found objects as time went on. I’m a big collector. Sometimes, I will get an idea and then I’ll find the materials to make that idea work visually. Other times I will bump into something, like a whole mass of cake choppers—I once got a carton of old knives—or multiples of an interesting materiel. That sometimes is what starts the project.” From there, Bentley’s work finds definition in her own self-exploration: “Part of me is crazy wild, part of me is very controlled.”
I want viewers to look and say, “Ah, I know what she means, I feel that way too.”
A history major and one-time copywriter, Bentley uses her art as an expressive way of avoiding psychotherapy. “My family, my weight, my age; all of these issues grip me. That’s what my art is about. I’m really interested in conveying feelings, emotions and thoughts. I’m not so much interested in color. I like orderliness. I like orderliness of thought and I like order in design.” Her sculptures reflect this, balancing highly emotive subjects within taut structural arrangements. And, unlike many other artists, although she seeks a reaction, Bentley wants audiences to connect rather than be shocked. “I want viewers to look and say, ‘Ah, I know what she means, I feel that way too,'” she explains.
“They actually are my absolute newest work,” Bentley notes of her contributions to Worrell Smith. “My daughter recently went through a divorce. This is my working through that incident—the whole family event through art. I wanted the work to hold together because it was in a small space. I found myself addressing marriage, dating, divorce.” There’s a clever humor to each piece, with layer upon layer of thought and meaning coalescing into very smart, entirely enjoyable, art. Bentley’s personality infuses each piece.
Nina Bentley’s work will be on view through 26 July 2014 at Worrell Smith Gallery in Westport, Connecticut.
Images courtesy of Worrell Smith Gallery