“Art should be like snapshots of an artist’s life,” explains Nathan Bennett. “I create images that best capture the inner workings of me, my soul, and my thoughts. As a young boy, I remember a particular sunset deep with color...golds, reds, and blues.”
These works born of fire and mineral are the dream of a young man. “I told my father that I wished I could paint so that I could make something as beautiful as those sunsets. He told me, ‘don’t worry, someday you will be able to….’ From that evening to today, I have looked at the sky in a different way. The moon, the stars, and tree branches all silhouetted by an amber sky. That night became the reason, the demand, that I had in my soul to be an artist.”
“I am a master patineur. It just comes naturally to me. Most people have a hard time grasping the concept of how I paint. My paintings are created on a silicon bronze plate. Iron, silver, copper, and other chemical compounds are suspended in water to achieve the colors that you see. Fire from a handheld torch is used to infuse the chemicals onto the bronze, merging the compounds with the metal. Unlike tubes of paint with easy colors like red, blue and yellow, my palette comes from ferric nitrate, cupric nitrate, and potassium sulfide. It is a centuries old process and had been handed down from one generation of artists to the next with great secrecy. So out of respect to the process and those masters before me, I don’t like to get into the specifics of the patina process.”
How is a new art form born? In the case of Patina-Painting, the process emerged from the marriage of two distinct and seemingly incompatible crafts in the hands of Utah artist Nathan Bennett.
Bennett knew he wished to be an artist from a very early age, and as an 18 year-old he got his first job in the arts working as an illustrator. He was hired by Zion Marketing to illustrate a book, and though he attacked the project with vigor, he soon found the life of an illustrator was not all he had imagined it to be. "By the time I was twenty illustrations into the fortieth illustration project, I knew that illustrating wasn't for me," the artist recounts. "I didn't like my work to be dictated by the project, I wanted to create my own work."
The opportunity presented itself in an unexpected, and round-about way. After deciding not to pursue a college degree in illustrating, and forfeiting scholarships he had received to that end, Bennett applied for a job at a fine art foundry that cast bronze sculpture for some of the best known sculptors in the country. "I took the job," says Bennett, "not because I wanted to sculpt, but because I wanted to be involved with the arts in some way and this seemed like the kind of work that would allow me to pursue drawing and painting on the side while still being involved with the business of art on a daily basis."
Bennett worked in many different departments of the foundry, including chipping, blasting and mold-making, but when the foundry owner approached him to learn the patina process, an important link in the artist's life was being forged. The foundry employed a master-patinuer, Ray Jonas, to apply the final chemical coat to the bronze sculpture, which gives the work its final color, but the man was pursuing his own sculpture career and wasn't interested in the incredible effort that was needed to keep up with the foundry's production. Bennett was apprenticed to the artisan and says that learning the patina process came naturally and easy to him.
"Patina is an ancient, and, in many ways, very secretive art," says Bennett. "The chemical combinations, and the temperatures and techniques used to apply them were closely guarded by a small handful of master-patinuers. They were usually passed from father to son, and it has only been very recently that anything but the most simple patina was known to more than 25-30 people in the world. I was very lucky to learn when I did and to be taught by such an incredible artist."
Before long, Bennett's skill had increased to an advanced degree, and sculptors were soon requesting him by name. He developed rich patinas that became his signature and helped the sculptors increase the value of their work. In 1996 he struck out on his own and formed Signature Patina where he could patina sculpture from many of the various artists around the country.
While developing his skill as a patinuer, another random and unlikely event occurred which led him down his current path. He was working one night on a large, bronze base, and while it was tilted on its side he realized that his patina, which covered the lower portion of the piece, resembled a landscape, and that the raw bronze left on the upper reaches of the slab resembled a radiant sky. This observation remained on his mind after he had finished the piece and soon he saw, in his imagination, a full, detailed landscape created using the patina on bronze plate. The chemicals, oxides, nitrates and acids would be his paints, and an eighth inch thick sheet of silica bronze his canvas.
Soon he had created his first piece using this technique, and though his first attempt was not all that he had hoped for, he knew the potential was there. He had discovered that the skill he had gained as a patinuer, could now be applied to his first passion, which was creating visually stimulating, representational, two-dimensional artwork. And now, not only did he have the skill and eye to be able to create the work, he had built relationships with artists of the highest caliber through his foundry work, and these artists were willing to critique his work and help him improve his talent.
The patina-paintings that have resulted from having pursued this technique are dynamic and engaging. The polished metal that he works on gives Bennett's work a dancing and holographic dimension. What in oil or another traditional media might be a static landscape, becomes a vibrant, ever-changing scene when infused in the metal.
"It has been a difficult process," Bennett says, "because I am the only one doing this kind of work. There are no examples to look up to, no existing works to learn from. Every time I start a new work, I am literally stepping into new territory."
Bennett has proven up to the challenge, and his patina-paintings have been hailed by collectors looking for work that is new and exciting.
Learn more about Nathan Bennett on Youtube at:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibQyUswbQfQ