Chandran Gallery in San Francisco is pleased to present Bathing, a solo show of new paintings on wood by Oakland, California based artist, Drew Bennett. This is Bennett’s first exhibition at the gallery. Based on his own and found photography, Bennett’s paintings are visceral in their explorations of freedom and nature, channeling the great painters of the Hudson River School in their dedication to the landscape and the figurative intimacy of Andrew Wyeth. The artist explores the idea of bathing as a metaphor for rebirth and reconnection, constructing our last three years as a need for healing and humanity. Bennett’s oil on wood panel paintings depict sublime scenes of nature from back-to-the-land experiences in the artist’s, and his friends, lives. His principal interest is in the relationships between humans and nature, water, and each other. He interprets the process of painting as similar to communion with nature in that they are both efforts towards heightened presence through direct experience and observation. The exhibition will run through October 28th, 2022.

“We are water. We are one.” Bennett starts Bathing with a simple declaration. In art historical uses, water is about purity, a cleanse of mind and body. Where someone like David Hockney used water as almost elegant and decadent material, Bennett’s use of water is more akin to Albert Bierstadt, exploring the American West as almost untouched and sacred. Color is central here, where Bennett continues to find value in the hues and temperatures, moving the viewer to feel how the environment can envelop us if we rid ourselves of inhibitions. That he bases his work on photographs seems to be a catalyst for memory and immersion. “These photographs contain an essence that I find meaningful enough to attempt to explain,” Bennett explains. “The subject of the painting is the idea, the essence of experience, the essence of life.”

“I work from quiet but active observation. My subject matter predominantly comes from photographic source material that contains a quality expressing my experience with Mother Nature or a more humble quality of the sublime.  The concept of portal or “holographic image” is central to my belief system and the way I work. I believe in the soul of the earth as a place where all life comes from. This place is everywhere but is not readily visible or accessible in our contemporary lives.”

By working via photographs, Bennet’s paintings are like traversing a mountain range with a map. You have to look at the map to stay on course from time to time but that’s it. The process is about the experience of getting lost, going into the unknown while still using this visual aid to keep you from getting too off course. 

There is also a bit of play and vulnerability in the works. Bennett once said, “Working from nature is all about getting nude and not everyone’s down for nakie time.” But that boldness is laid bare in Bathing, where it is essential for the viewer to find themselves in moments of pure ecstasy and risk. And yet Bennett is asking to forgo risk and be immersed, find what moves you and allows yourself to succumb to the beauty of nature. What was taken from us is now open again, and our reliance on nature to give us value for ourselves has never been more apparent.