Cory Benhatzel, an artist from Amherst, New York, creates gorgeous artwork that combines elements of nature, the occult, symbolism, layers of multiple meaning and much more. What strikes me the most about Benhatzel's artwork are the ornate, decorative qualities and the beautiful colors that make up her creations. Benhatzel spoke with ArtSeen about her artwork and artistic inspirations.
Can you tell us a little about your artwork, artistic background, and artistic processes?
Ever since I was a kid I loved drawing and painting, and it always made me feel very special from the attention that it got me. Making art always made me so happy and I always knew that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
At eighteen I moved cross country, alone, to Los Angeles to attend Otis College of Art and Design and continued to live there for several years after I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. After graduation I tried several art-related fields including tattooing, teaching, and gallery work, but I always felt unsatisfied. Particularly from working for galleries, I came to realize that I wanted to be a full time artist, making artwork for myself, and to one day be self-employed. It took me a long time to become disciplined enough to develop a work ethic for this and humble enough to realize that I had (and have still) so much more to learn.
My artistic process involves using reference material mostly from the natural world that I find inspiration from and can then attempt to create the images that I see in my head. I make a design and transfer that onto birch panels. Then I draw more freehand onto the board and add a layer of matte medium. I then paint with Liquitex acrylics and Golden gloss medium, sometimes layering more, glazing colors, and sometimes keeping it simple, letting the wood grain show through. I love white gesso, and oftentimes use black gesso, and other color tinted gessos that I’ve mixed and always seem to gravitate towards. Once the painting is to where I want it I varnish it to make it nice, glossy, and fade resistant.
What inspires you as an artist? Why do you create art?
The animal world has always been my major source of inspiration; the intelligence, magic, and dignity of animals has fascinated me since I was a child and was a major factor in my decision to move back to upstate New York three and a half years ago from Los Angeles. The duality of the beauty and brutality of nature is another source of constant inspiration.
Besides nature, music, the occult, including various forms of divination, and magic are all inspirational. The idea of hidden messages, all forms of symbolism, has always been important, as well. I use Floriography (the Victorian era practice of sending coded messages using flower arrangements) in my work, so every flower in each painting holds a specific meaning pertinent to the overall theme of the work.
Basically I create work because I have to; it’s compulsive, and it’s the only thing I’ve ever been really good at.
What types of themes, ideas, or concepts do you explore within in your artwork?
The natural world meeting the mystical world; the occult, Norse paganism, the doppelganger, divination, victory, protection, the dance between life and death, triumph, and love.
|"Charming (The Spirits)" 2012|
Are there any artists that inspire you? If so, who would they be and why?
Yes, there are always artists who make me feel like I need to up my skill level, too many to list. It’s inspirational to see what other people are up to.
What do you think the role of the artist is?
I honestly have no idea how to answer that question. For me personally, I can really think of myself as an artist now because I work really, really hard at what I do and always try to get better. I’ve learned that it’s best to stay humble and learn as much as I can; that it’s always best to be as kind as possible.
|"Unmasking Secrets" 2012|
What projects or gallery shows would you consider career highlights or personally important to you as an artist?
Well, I recently had my first real solo show called Talisman at Modern Eden gallery in San Francisco, so that was especially exciting.
And finally, what advice would you give to other artists?
Work hard, stay humble, and be nice! Never stop researching and putting yourself out there. Be as professional as possible. Learn time management! Always put out the highest quality of work that you possibly can. Whatever your idea of success is, don’t stop working towards it, and keep making the goal bigger and bigger.
The best advice is to figure things out for yourself. Like anything else in life, you will make mistakes and have bad experiences, but it’s important to learn from that, and persevere.
|"The Peafowl Widow" 2012|
For more information about Benhatzel and her artwork, you can visit her website, blog and Twitter.
All images provided by Cory Benhatzel.