Marin has always been rich in landscape painting traditions. Famed artists Russell Chatham and his grandfather Gottardo Piazzoni are examples of Northern California artists who presented their surroundings as personal relationships through their art. Both were known to capture the special lighting and colors seen in the breathtaking coastlines and dramatic mountain ranges seen in the Northern California landscape with their muted palette.
Another example of a local artist who lives in Marin and is wonderful at capturing the local landscape layered beauty is my good friend Maria Bennett. Maria attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate majoring in physiology. While at Cal, she participated in art classes (and was heavily influenced) by her professor, past art department chair of UC Berkeley, and well known Bay Area artist Chris Brown. Chris’ painting and printmaking techniques and his ability to capture “memories of different times into one image” affected Maria’s practice.
Maria lives and practices in West Marin in a new home and art studio located in beautiful Inverness. She comes from an artistic background; her father, Dick Warton, was the Director of Photography at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Her mother, Connie Mery, lives currently in Point Reyes Station and is a full-time artist who paints, draws, and creates art journals combining collage and text.
Maria, who likes to practice her art daily, has felt challenged since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in producing art in her typical productive fashion. Like many artists, the stress and anxiety of sheltering in place created a roadblock for any artistic fertility.
It was not until the Woodward Fire, which ignited in Point Reyes on August 18th, that Maria felt she finally experienced an artistic breakthrough. She went outside and taught herself the art of marbling. Donning an N95 mask, she tackled the intense smoke and unbreathable air with its orange skies and the fear of the unknown. Maria’s marbling exploration, transferring floating ink paints onto paper and drying them in the outdoor wildfire smoke layers, created mesmerizing, mediative patterns that took on the surrounding fires’ turmoil. The art process became therapeutic and helped her get through a difficult episode with the surrounding Northern California wildfires.
Maria has now used these colorful marbled patterns as her backgrounds for her newest landscape creations of familiar, treasured West Marin sights – and has named them the “Fire Paintings” series. The following are some examples of Maria’s work, which demonstrate the transformation of her style in response to COVID-19 and the wildfires. In the new work, favorite destinations, such as Shell Beach and Downtown Point Reyes, are layered on top of the marbled patterns using pen and hand made walnut ink in her distinctive, distortive style, conveying emotional feelings rather than a photo-realistic style reaction.
The painting below is of Point Reyes and was created by layering paint over gouache. Maria likes to depict hidden treasures, locations, and landscapes beloved by locals — taking some liberties with details so that her perspective is often slightly warped and uniquely her own.
You may view more of Maria’s wonderful and ever-changing art making process on her Instagram account: @MariaWBennettPainter
Jennifer Wechsler is Curator for FAULTline Art Shows promoting and exhibiting emerging and established artists in unique spaces. She serves as an Art & Cultural Commissioner for Marin County and serves on boards at UCLA ARTS and The Oxbow School in Napa.