It’s no secret that art can be a physical and spiritual activity, but one Philadelphia artist has dedicated her life with tenacity to this endeavor.
Growing up just outside of Philadelphia in Bala Cynwyd, local artist Paulette Bensignor (pbensignor.com) is famed for her stunning landscape paintings rooted in abstract forms, secrets, symbols and verve. Her latest masterpiece manifests itself within a collection of two-panel paintings, illustrating insight into the way humans interpret life. These and other works from Bensignor can be viewed in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ 101 Artists show, which opened this month. Curated by Fred Danzinger, the show will run through July in the academy’s Alumni Gallery located in the Historic Landmark Building. The theme of the show emphasizes and encourages the appreciation of interacting with art in person, proving that collecting art can be for everyone. Here, Bensignor sheds some light on the inspiration and process behind some of these featured pieces.
What inspired you to become an artist?
"I grew up in Germantown, and my family home was part of the Peale Estate off of Belfield Avenue. I was lucky in that my bedroom here was an artist studio, but I did not know its history at that time. The very first night I spent in my new room, I saw Charles Wilson Peale, and he stressed that this occupation was born to me. Maybe it was my imagination or maybe it was real, but I was baffled by the visit, and I rationalized the meaning of this meeting years later."
How has Bala Cynwyd and the surrounding areas influenced your work?
"I lived in Philadelphia most of my life, but I now live on the Belmont Hills part of Bala Cynwyd. Here, I am able to be one with Philadelphia’s environment. While looking out my window, I can feel the heartbeat of the city, and it transcends into my painting. I love to immerse myself in locations, like Chanticleer Garden and Morris Arboretum, for inspiration in tame or cultivated landscapes. Conversely, I like to spend time along the Manayunk Canal and the Appalachian Mountains for influences in untamed landscapes. I try to express these energies using the idea of good vs. evil in my paintings."
Can you tell me about your process?
"I usually write myself notes, sketch or paint in watercolor and take photos to remind me of the idea that I hope to create. Back in the studio, I will draw a montage of images on a surface using the line with charcoal, pencil or paint. As I work, I will keep refining my images using colors, line painting in layers of light and shadow. I make constant decisions when I am working, usually painting and repainting for months. At times, the process can be frustrating, but it is so rewarding when my improvisation takes over to the imagined. I get the joy of knowing that the work I create is the best that I can accomplish at that moment, and it will bring happiness to the viewer, even if that viewer might be only myself alone in the studio."
What types of symbols and abstract forms can people find in your landscapes?
"I try to hide the symbolism in my work, like elements in nature, letters, human forms and animals. Those who are interested or knowledgable about symbols and their interpretations may discover a deeper understanding of the spirit or heart of my work. A common symbol I use is the Tree of Life or Knowledge. It is a common symbol in ancient Mediterranean civilizations and many other cultures."
Bensignor's "Grove" painting, oil on linen
Photography by: Courtesy of Paulette Bensignor