In medieval times, chemical science aimed to transmute base metals into gold. Although that was never achieved, modern-day artist Nathan Bennett has found a way to transform base metals into another form of gold—luminous paintings that beckon us and whisper of magic.
In the studio, Bennett curves his safety-helmeted head toward the bronze plate on his workbench, blowtorch in hand. With the focus and attention of a cheetah on prey, the artist knows from years of experience when the bronze reaches optimum temperature to fuse with chemicals. He quickly begins the laborious process of applying deconstructed metal or elemental compounds to the bronze in a formula known only to him. There’s a sense of smoke and energy in the air—the wizard at work, plying his alchemy to create another incandescent composition.
Since the early 1990s, Bennett has been refining his unique technique through study and experimentation. Built upon seven years of foundry experience and decades as an artist, he is now at the top of his game. Distinctive from “cold” patina painting, where an artist applies color agents onto room temperature metal, Bennett’s “hot” patina method involves applying liquefied elements such as iron, silver, copper, bismuth, zinc and others while the bronze is hot. The medium does not just lie on the surface, but is fused into the pores of the bronze, which requires an extremely high level of skill and a deep understanding of each metal’s innate properties. He is not decorating the surface of the bronze, but transforming it through a metallurgic reaction to become something entirely new. Grinding, spraying, brushing, polishing and more all add signature elements to each artwork.
New paintings begin with thoughtful analysis. Bennett creates a small sketch to work out compositional aspects and then, essential to the final effect, he determines which chemicals will be needed and in what order to apply them to achieve the desired result. It’s a sophisticated system. The order in which chemicals are applied affects the hues, the translucence and depth of field of each painting—and one misjudgment can ruin it.
There is a mystical, often moody quality about Bennett’s paintings. He says he is attracted to “scenes of dark against light”—trees silhouetted against the majestic reds, golds, and blues of a sunrise or sunset; moonlight turning a forest into a silvery, intriguing mystery; a powerful locomotive blasting through a snowy landscape. It’s “mist, rain, fog, the unknowability of the moon gliding through a night sky, the bewitching hours between day and night” that draw him in.
A measure of success for an artist can often be the conversations his work evokes. How Nathan Bennett harnesses metallurgy and transforms nature’s elements to create singular scenes of beauty will continue to stir viewers, garner awards and recognition.